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Standby Generator Starting in VERY cold weather

Discussion in 'Home Power and Microgeneration' started by Ignoramus607, Dec 1, 2005.

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  1. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest

    Let me start a little tangential thread. My generator can be started
    in merely cold weather by use of glow plugs. But suppose that weather
    becomes extremely cold, such as -20F (It happened here). In times of
    outages, starting a generator becomes extremely urgent due to quick
    cooling of the house.

    Should I expect to be able to start my Onan DJE with just glow plugs?

    (I know that I should try that)

    If not, I have a cheap propane torch with little gas bottles. Would it
    be able to warm the generator and air in that enclosure, sufficiently?

    What is the practical thing to do under the circumstances to get the
    generator going?

    The genset is in an enclosure.

  2. Steve Spence

    Steve Spence Guest

    Park your gas grill in that enclosure and warm up the air inside. Helps
    if the crankcase oil gets warm as well, so the engine spins faster when
    cranking. That generates more heat for combustion.
  3. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest

    I could almost park my enclosure inside the gas grill. :)

    Seriously, I think that I will try to look for a torch that connects
    to a propane cylinder. My grill is based on NG, but I have a couple of
    gas cylinders lying around.

  4. Steve Spence

    Steve Spence Guest

    My generator is bigger than 10 bbq grills, so my vision of what you have
    may be off.

    maybe this will help.
  5. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Couple of possibilities, some much more suited to a "backup" than an
    "off-grid" setup (burning KWhs).

    The simple one. Your portable propane torch, direct it, lit, into the
    air intake, warming the intake air marginally. A common, quick, safe
    approach. Oversize the starting battery and cables, be sure that all
    battery & cable connections are clean and tight so that the starter is
    getting full power, use synthetic oil (at least during the winter) and
    you should be fine for most days. Most days you should not even need the

    The slightly more benign (no open flames) version of the above eats more
    battery, using a heating element in the intake manifold. My backhoe
    supposedly has this, but it appears to be broken, and I have not fixed
    it yet. Factory ether injection was also an option on the backhoe (but
    there are no glow plugs on it). I think the smart money would use
    separate batteries for cranking and heating, though the backhoe is not
    set up that way.

    The consumptive one - slap one of those engine block or oil pan heaters
    on an appropriate part of the thing. Waste electricity keeping it warm -
    when the power goes out, it will be warm, you can start it, if you don't
    wait too long. Insulating the enclosure helps, but it's still power

    Since you are on-grid a quality (smart) battery maintainer, or a dumb
    charger hooked to a timer switch will help keep the battery up to snuff.
    Off-grid a solar panel (either small enough that it can't overcharge, or
    with a charge controller to serve as the "smart" charger) will do the

    Put a solar air heater on the south side of the well-insulated
    enclosure, if it gets any sun to speak of. Only works on sunny days.

    Variations on "airplane tales form the arctic" - drain the oil, keep it
    in the house. Have a camp stove or barbecue to heat the oil before
    pouring it in the generator just prior to starting it. Place oil lamps
    or other simple heaters under the engine, inside insulated enclosure. A
    hassle, and/or a fire risk. One of those propane catalytic heaters might
    lower the fire risk (no open flame), but it's yet another fuel to keep

    A small gasoline generator would be another option (again, two fuels) -
    easier to start in the cold, provides heat and power to help get the
    diesel up and running - or set up a gasoline engine as a "pony" motor to
    actually serve as the starter for the diesel (a common older setup on

    Dropping the enclosure into the ground (ie, the generator is in the
    "basement" of a power shack, or its own "root cellar" or "storm cellar")
    helps to moderate the temperature a great deal if the basement reaches
    below frost line, and the walls/roof are well insulated. This can also
    make it a lot quieter, and/or less obvious (you still need air in, and
    air/exhaust out).
  6. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest

  7. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest

    Makes sense. Is warming of the generator itself (crankcase etc, not
    only the incoming air) necessary?
    I did that already, I use 1 gauge gattery cables with proper lugs,
    Sounds good. I will experiment this winter.
    I agree.
    I have a smart trickle charger (with built in timet to wake up and
    recharge). I already hooked it all up.
    I have a small gas generator, a 40 year old Sears generator that
    I bought for $3, but I need to fix it.
    What do you think about a propane torch like this?

  8. Guest

    My diesel tractor has a 460 W block heater with no thermostat. This helps:

  9. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    If the starting system is up to snuff, and the oil is synthetic,
    preheating just the combustion air should be enough for most cases. If
    you find that that won't cut it below temperature X, _safely_ heating
    the entire enclosure is probably your best bet. You do pretty much need
    to try things on an individual setup to find what actually works.
    That a catalytic propane heater (looks like a "bug-eye") or a torpedo
    heater (but those usually need electricity) is much less likely to get
    you a visit from the boys in the bright red shiny trucks. "Weed burners"
    are "massive" open flame - they are also a pain to get lit in the cold.
    Pointing one into your generator shed is pretty close to arson. The
    ceramics folks I know use these to fire their trash-can-kilns (lined
    with ceramic fiber blanket). 2-5 feet of flame is not atypical. Use a
    nice, normal, small propane torch if you're pointing a torch down the
    intake, and a catalytic heater if you're trying for gas heat.

    Also, be sure to hit your diesel fuel supply with "winterizer"
    anti-gelling additives, often also with biocide/stabilizers. Be sure
    that the motor has run on winterized fuel before winter, so the fuel
    system on the engine is not full of goo when it gets cold.
  10. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest


    I did not realize that those torches are so powerful.

    The fuel I have is Diesel Fuel Winter Blend. Shouldn't this be good by


  11. Hey Ignore, why bother with, all that heating of the encloser, heating
    the Oil, ether, ect. Your DJE has Manifold Air Heaters on the Intake
    Manifold, as well as Glowplugs on each cyl. If these are working, you
    really will not have a problem starting the engine, if your battery
    has any stiffness to it at all. The only thing it takes to make a
    diesel fire, is HOT AIR and FUEL. If you supply both IT WILL START.
    The Glowplugs, and Intake Manifold Heaters are really nothing more than
    a way to get HOT AIR into the cyl. If the Air is HOT, IT WILL FIRE,
    every time. The handheld torch will also make for HOT AIR down the
    Intake Manifold, as long as you REMOVE the Air Filter while using
    the torch. If you don't remove the Air Filter, your likely to start
    the filter on fire with the torch. Not really a good idea. Never
    use ether on a xDJx series engine, as you will likely crack a piston
    or start the Air Filter burning, should you get a flashback up the
    Intake valve. Again, not a really good thing to happen. These are
    really simple engines to operate if properly maintained. I used to
    have a pair of DJC's and never had any trouble getting them going
    even when it was -40F. At that temp 5W40 oil is manditory however,
    or your likely to have significant bearing wear on startup, unless
    you have a prelube cycle on your autostart system. Diesel engine
    cold Wx starting isn't Rocket Science, but it does require that
    one understands the basics of Diesel Engineering.

    Bruce in alaska
  12. Ignoramus607

    Ignoramus607 Guest

    I see. My glowplugs are working and I had no trouble starting my
    genset in moderately cold weather (about 5F). Seems like I am worrying
    about nothing!

    Thanks Bruce...

  13. RF Dude

    RF Dude Guest

    When I was a temp working in the railway, we used these large propane
    torches to de-ice the switch machines. Biggest problem was snow getting into
    the points and turning to ice. Worked pretty well. And if the wooden
    railway ties caught fire there was plenty of snow around to put it out.

  14. One thing that will help with the cranking speed is to use synthetic oil in
    the crankcase. I use it on my generator and on all our vehicles that don't
    leak or burn oil and it's great. Cranks over in -15ºF temps just as well as
    it does when the temp is 80ºF.

    Take care,

    Mark & Mary Ann Weiss

    Hear my Kurzweil Creations at:
    Business sites at:
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