Common Whole House Generator Problems

image of the word problem depicting backup generator problems that homeowners experience

A whole-house generator can be a saving grace when there is an unexpected power outage. These machines can keep your home’s heat or cold air flowing, refrigerator running and devices working while everyone around you is concerned about when their power will be restored. However, if that generator fails to respond and your safety net is rendered useless, it can feel like your entire world is crashing down. It is almost inevitable that generator problems will occur at some point, but knowing when to call a professional for help can save a lot of time and a big headache.

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Signs Your Backup Generator Has A Problem

This article discusses some common standby generator issues that homeowners experience.

  • Spotty Power: If the power seems to stutter while you are using a generator, there may be a problem. Although flickering lights are an obvious sign, keep an eye out for appliance clocks that are suddenly blinking while displaying the incorrect time. This means your power went out, even if it was only for a second.
  • Obvious Leaks: Any puddles around the generator are usually an indication that there is a leak and may result in an obvious pool of fuel or oil. This requires quick action on your part – call a professional immediately to ensure your home and generator do not get damaged.
  • Strange Noises: Any sounds coming from your generator that are out of the norm should be treated as a warning sign that something is not right. If you hear something that sounds like a chattering, popping, or metal on metal, it is time to investigate. These noises could indicate a part is starting to fail. Another red flag is a sputtering sound, which could mean that bad fuel was mixed.
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Problems You May Experience With Your Whole-Home Generator

1. Battery Failure

One of the most common problems with generators derives from a battery that has been damaged or is simply old. For optimum performance, batteries should be swapped out every few years. Using the same battery for longer is extremely risky since old batteries cannot maintain their capacity and will produce less power.

2. Failure to Start

image of a homeowner during power outage because standby generator failed to start

If your generator simply refuses to start one day, check to see if the automatic operation controls are set. Generators will automatically kick in when it is necessary if the control switch is in the “off/reset” position. However, pressing the emergency stop button or otherwise setting off alarms located on the control switch will result in a generator that does not automatically turn on when duty calls. This may also occur following a service call when the generator simply needs the automatic controls to be reset.

3. Stalling During Operation

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why a generator may suddenly stall, and it usually requires an experienced technician to properly diagnose the problem. For example, a gas generator may experience spark plug issues that reduce the generator’s ability to perform.

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4. Clogged Fuel Lines

Diesel generators often have issues with clogged fuel lines, which causes the generator to stop working. This occurs because of oxidation, in which filthy sludge builds up in the fuel lines and eventually causes a clog. Oxidation cannot be avoided, but regular maintenance and fuel treatments can aid in preventing this problem.

5. Low Coolant

image of a power generator

When coolant is low, a sensor automatically recognizes it and pushes the generator into what is called a “no start” state. Running the generator despite depleting coolant can cause overheating since the liquid’s job is to spread the heat around the engine and keep all components at an acceptable temperature so they do not overheat or freeze. Over time, the coolant’s water will evaporate from the high temperatures within the generator, resulting in less and less coolant.

6. Leaks

If you add coolant on a routine basis, that is a red flag that could indicate a leak. There could be a simple solution, like a component coming loose due to the generator’s vibrations. Standard degradation from use over time, as well as cheaper products that were put in during maintenance or a service call that do not fit properly, may also cause this kind of problem.

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7. Overheating

Overheating can cause major problems. Simply add more coolant and see if the problem persists. If coolant levels are not to blame, the problem could be anything from dirty coolant blocking the core of the radiator to a damaged drive belt or hose. The issue is that overheating can quickly cause lasting damage to any of the generator’s components, including the exhaust valves, alternator, bearings, and rotor.


8. Wet Stacking

A fluid leak that may cause inefficiency, known as wet stacking, is a concern with diesel generators. It happens when unburned gasoline, condensed water, and oil stack up around the exhaust system and begin to leak. You may recognize this issue by its signature black material. Simply burning off any extra fuel can prevent this problem.

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9. Low or Depleted Fuel

Relying solely on fuel gauges can cause issues like having low fuel or depleting it entirely. Gauges could fail to provide accurate readings of levels, particularly if they get clogged with that dreaded sludge. Routine generator maintenance and a supply of backup fuel can ensure this problem never pops up.



Owning a generator requires routine maintenance to keep it running smoothly and prevent big problems from occurring when you need it the most. There are numerous other issues that could happen with your generator, from insufficient oil to a dirty filter to a closed shutoff valve, but most of these issues are preventable. When a problem does arise, save time and money by relying on a certified professional to take care of all of your concerns.

Call Townsend Energy For All Of Your Standby Generator Requirements

te logoTownsend Energy is a leading provider of generator installation services throughout New England. Not only do we offer backup generator installation but also maintenance, replacement, and repair services. We only employ top-quality service contractors who are well-trained in the most modern methods of HVAC and generator techniques. Therefore, call or contact Townsend Energy online today for more information on a whole-house generator installation today. We offer free, in-home estimates. Click the link to view our service area.

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