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Farm and Ranch Backup Power Generators

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

A lot of planning goes into installing and maintaining a backup power generator on the farm. Take a look at these tips to keep your system operating safely and ready for the unexpected. At American Family Insurance, we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Being without power is no longer an option in many agricultural settings where dependency on a reliable, continuous electrical supply is required to maintain day to day operations. And an extended power outage on the farm can result in a big financial loss. If a power outage were to occur on your farm or ranch, would your operation be ready?

Backup generators can help protect against the unexpected. Knowing that your generator is going to start up safely when an outage occurs is a question you want answered long before you really need to know. Take a look at these important tips to educate yourself about choosing a generator, its maintenance and safety. Next time the power goes out, you’ll have some real peace of mind knowing that you’re ready for anything.

Find a Backup Generator Expert

Before you buy a generator, it’s important that you calculate the electrical load your generator will be expected to deliver. Hiring a backup generator specialist is a great idea here as factors about load, output and capacity are going to be more familiar to an industry insider than they will be to general electricians. If you’re still not sure whether you need a generator, you can find additional expert advice on installing and maintaining one in our Why You Need a Commercial Generator for Your Business article.

Prioritize your electrical needs. Start by considering your business needs carefully, eyeing where you stand to suffer the greatest financial hit if you lost power. Build a plan to deliver emergency power to those areas of your operation first. The best practices and knowhow will make hiring a specialist worth the time and money. They’re going to look back on what went wrong with similar installations and help you make informed decisions about the design, purchase, installation, operation and maintenance of emergency power generation.

Getting the load right. Estimate the electrical load that it would take to keep critical elements of your business up and running during a power outage. Build a list of power needs in order of importance for the specialist to review and calculate that entire load, remembering to round up. Your total electrical load should never exceed the generator’s rating.

Coding, permits and maintenance plans. When building an estimate of costs, make sure that the consultant factors in the purchase of permits and bids the project out that follows local municipal codes. The purchase of a new or used backup power systems will frequently come with a limited maintenance plan which can be extended for a fee. Lastly, before purchasing, remember to verify that the manufacturer is fully insured and that you receive a written warranty for the generator upon installation.

Generator Location and Safety Concerns

Choose a spot for the generator that will best suit your needs. Cable distance from the generator to the breaker box can get expensive, so pick a spot that is near the electric main to keep those costs down. Vibration and noise levels can be an issue as well, and livestock can be impacted by sudden shifts in their environment, if they’re nearby.

Outdoor site considerations. Larger generators are sometimes located outside and may require a reinfoced cement foundation in addition to other grounding hardware to be in place before the installation. It’s best to review the manufacturer’s requirements on generator placement before you purchase, so there’s no surprises once it arrives.

Locating the generator indoors. If you choose to install the generator indoors, intake venting and exhaust lines will have to be considered. Review the manual for intake flow requirements, and consider backdraft dampers/wall shutters to ensure that incoming fresh air is supplied when needed. Because these will be closed when not in use, they’ll also assist in keep heating costs down in the winter, compared to louvered venting systems which are always in an open position. Be sure the target location’s floor is rated to support the weight of the generator. Additionally, indoor systems have to vent exhaust to the exterior of the building. Having the proper insulated pipe, thimble, and clearences is critical to help prevent a hot exhaust pipe from potentially starting a fire. And if the exhaust exposes livestock or other operations to these fumes, you may need to take other steps like routing the exhaust above the roofline to keep them safe.

Carbon monoxide detectors will need to be installed and maintained.

Installation and Inspection

After you’ve selected a generator, your next task is going to be to hire a contractor to install the system. Seek out local contracting groups that have installed your brand of generator in the past. Request references and get at least three quotes for installation. Be certain the contractor is insured, bonded and certified to install the generator because certain brands and models require specific training. They should provide you with a guarantee that the generator will perform according to manufacturer’s specifications after the installation is complete.

The electronic transfer switch. It’s really important that you get a certified electrician to install the generator transfer switch in order to be in compliance with local and national codes. So make sure that you have one lined up in the event that your installer isn’t certified.

Understand routine maintenance processes. After installation, get the manufacturer’s operational manuals and be sure to file them where they can be easily accessed. Have the installer walk you through the paces of performing regular maintenance on the system at that time. Take special note of which parts will likely need regular inspection and replacement due to wear and tear. You should know that just firing up the generator is no guarantee that the electric transfer switch is functioning correctly. Your installation specialist or certified electrician should teach you how to simulate a power outage that will trigger the switch into operating, where you’ll be able to verify that the whole system is working correctly.

Routine Generator Maintenance

When backup generators fail, they typically do so because maintenance and testing wasn’t performed on a regular schedule. So mark your calendar and make a date with your generator according to the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations.

Managing the generator. Like any internal combustion engine, generators will require oil, coolant, spark plugs, new hoses and gaskets as time goes on. One important difference between vehicles and generators is that aging fuel sources need to be taken into consideration. Oxidation will occur in diesel systems and you’ll need to add a fuel stabilizer if you plan on keeping the diesel for more than a year. Store your fuel tank a safe distance away from the generator to prevent fumes from igniting, and never refill the tank while the generator is running. Don’t forget that a running generator’s exhaust line will get hot and can ignite nearby debris, so be sure to clean around the exhaust manifold regularly. Placing an annually-certified, fully-charged fire extinguisher near the generator is another precaution that should definitely be in place.

Inspection and parts replacement. Another problem with dormant tanks is the risk of fuel lines clogging up with sediment from the tank, so be sure to inspect and replace the fuel filter regularly. Verify that incoming air vents aren’t blocked and remember to take a look at the air filter as well. Hoses, gaskets, gages can go bad over time, too. Electrical wiring can get brittle and hoses will crack eventually, so look carefully for signs of trouble and replace anything that looks at all suspect. Check out the grounding line from the generator when inspecting and verify it’s properly installed and be sure that the cable is securely attached to both the generator and the grounding rod. This may sound like a lot to manage, but you’ll be glad you took these extra steps when the power fails, and your generator kicks on without a hitch.

Know your numbers. Your user’s manual will identify standard operating pressures and temperatures for the generator, so when it’s running verify that these figures are within those ranges. Consider replacing gauges if they’re giving you irregular results or if they look corroded.

Alerting Systems

Like most everything else, generators are now smartphone enabled offering real-time status and generator condition details — greatly improving your chances of being ready for an outage. Status information can be shared with multiple people as well, so that repair contractors or third party monitoring groups can be alerted the moment issues arise. An app hooks into the system giving regular updates right from your smartphone or any internet-connected device. Many monitoring systems tie directly into the local cell network and may require an additional contract to enable this feature.

Regularly update your maintenance log. Another good practice is to build a checklist for inspecting the generator and keep a record of all statistics and details each time you examine the machine. Careful review of this information over time may spot problems before they turn into failures.

A Backup Plan for Your Backup Generator

Having an effective business plan in place to manage emergencies like power outages can help keep you up and running while utility crews are busy restoring power to your operation. But what if the outage goes on for several days or more? You’ll need a plan to maintain core operations which should include regular delivery of fuel to your generator. And it’s also wise to have another portable generator on stand-by in the event that your backup should fail.

Good business emergency plans will have resources like backup generators ready before you need them so that when the unexpected happens, you’re prepared. Another important step in this process is to review your farm and ranch policy with an American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab). We’ll help you create a customized policy that works as hard as you do.

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