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30 below zero and the generator did not start



Living Off Grid at extremely low temperatures can be a challenge, Keeping Electrical Power is Critical when your house uses Propane forced air heat.  When the Sun doesn’t shine, we need to charge the batteries with a generator.


How Cold did it Get?


The first day of cold weather, I woke up at 4 am to check the temperature and battery charge.  The Outside thermometer was pegged to the negative side.   It goes to – 21 degrees.  Our neighbor, who lives 4 miles north of us is usually about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than our house due to the wind and landscape here.  He had 28 degrees below zero.

The temperature in the house was toasty 52 degrees!   Not the warmest for most people, but a lot warmer that being outside.  I turned the heat up to 60 degrees.  Unfortunately, the house and 40 acres we are leasing while we build our farm does not have wood heat.  The owners insurance will not allow a wood stove either.  It has a pellet stove, but it uses more power than the gas furnace and does not heat the house.

Starting the Generator

I waited until it was 20 below zero outside to start the generator.  We have a diesel generator and we add an anti-gel additive to the fuel to keep it from freezing in severe weather.  At least that was the theory.  I had added 2 times the amount recommended for temperatures below 0 degrees.

Anti Gel Additive



The generator started and for 40 minutes ran great!  At the 40 minute mark, the generator started running rough.  I got dressed warmly, and went out and shut the generator down.  It was actually a lot warmer, it was up to 15 below zero!  Yeah!  The batteries were well charged, so we had power for the day.  The Fuel filters had less than 10 hours of use on them, so they should fine.


I had recently place a new exhaust pipe on the generator to keep the exhaust outside of the generator shed. I removed the exhaust to make sure it was not blocked, per the trouble shooting sheet.  I checked the air filter, also new about 10 hours ago.  It was very dirty.  Probably from the shorter exhaust pipe we had previously had for the generator.



New exhaust installed on the Generator

After installing the new Air filter, the generator started, but still did not run smoothly once I increased the throttle to the proper setting for operation. Once I turned the circuit breaker on the generator, the generator ran good for about 5 minutes then once again started running poorly.

I shut it down. and removed the water/fuel separator and the 2 fuel filters.   I had just removed the fuel filters 3 weeks prior to check the condition of them, they were clean.   This time, there was a brown sludge/gel in every one.  Not so much on the final fuel filter, but enough to stop proper fuel flow.

It was getting dark and the temperature was close to 15 below zero.  We cleaned the canisters, added more anti-gel to the fuel tank. and also added an additive I had not used previously.  It is called 9-1-1.

9-1-1 for diesel fuel

The local auto parts store was out of this product.  The only place that had any was walmart. in the nearest big city, about 35 miles away.  I had never used this but I really needed to have power to heat the house.   I placed 25% 9-1-1 in each fuel filter canister and the fuel/water separator then poured the rest into the fuel tank.   It was now 20 below zero again, but we did have a propane heater running in the generator shed.  Yeah for Propane Space heaters!

Will it Run?


We went through the starting process:

  • Prime the fuel system
  • Glow plugs on for 60 seconds
  • Turn the switch to Start.

The Generator started, but it was coughing and running a bit rough.  Dale, our neighbor who was helping me recommended to let it run, and within 2 minutes started running smooth and clean.


Success and the lessons learned


So the Generator was running great.  We had succeeded in getting the power we needed and heat the house.  What we discovered is that even though we had more than enough additive in the fuel, that we will need to remove the tank and check it also.  The goop that we removed we believe came from the tank, and after so many cold days in a row was able to break loose.


The Tank strainer has been cleaned and re-installed and the generator is working great.  Lesson learned is that in extreme cold weather, change out the fuel filters and water/fuel separators more often.  We will be more alert to the cold temperatures as well as removing the fuel tank yearly to check for contaminants.

We will also build a rocket stove with lots of thermal storage for our home as we build it, right after the greenhouse is growing our food!

It is good to have power when you live off Grid! We are very aware of our power usage and conserve all that we can.

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Today is a Great Day

Chris Downs