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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I may be a bit presumptuous with the title, but there are so many questions people in this forum have about generators that there needs to be a 'go to' thread to point them to. Also, this post will be based somewhat on Steven Harris' description of generators from The Survival Podcast, though I will be adding in a lot of my experiences and information as well.

When people think about prepping, for better or worse, one of the first things that comes to their mind is having a generator. There are many things one should do before buying a generator (i.e. store water, food, and medical supplies) and other means of producing electricity, but generators have their place as well.

First of all, you need to consider what your power needs in a disaster will be. This is the most critical question you should consider when determining whether to buy a generator and, if so, what kind. If you only need electricity to do things like keep your cellphone charged, recharge some AA batteries for flashlights and radios, and other small items, you do not need a generator at all! You can use your vehicle to do this very well either with an inverter to produce up to around 400 watts (~150 if you plug into a socket, more if you clamp onto your vehicle's battery) of AC power (like your house) or with DC equipment that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket.

If the only 'sizable' electrical item in your house that you want to run is your refrigerator, then do not worry about buying a generator. Most people don't have more than a few days worth of food in it, and replacing it after the disaster will cost far less than a generator and stored fuel (with one exception discussed below). If you have a lot of food stored in a chest freezer or something similar, that's a different matter altogether.

It is possible to run things like a refrigerator or freezer from an inverter connected to a vehicle, but some of these (like mine) are fussy and want a pure sine wave, which affordable inverters don't produce. Rather than invest in a very expensive pure sine wave inverter, it makes more sense for most people to invest in a generator.

Other items that you might be concerned with running in a disaster include a furnace, TV, water heater, air conditioner, sump pump, and well pump, among others. If your furnace is natural gas or propane, you still need power to run the igniter, the switch board, and the blower, which is generally less than 1,000 watts altogether in my experience. If it's electric, the sky's the limit (5k-10k watts). The same goes for your water heater, though a gas water heater will draw very little electricity. A small window unit air conditioner that plugs into a regular outlet usually doesn't draw more than about 2k watts, and many draw less than 1k. If it's a whole house air conditioner, it can pull 6k-12k watts. Unless they're deep, most sump pumps draw less than 2k watts. Well pumps typically draw at least 5k watts and can draw much more.

If you're noticing that a lot of items in your house could be run with a 2k watt generator, you're right! Refrigerators and freezers that aren't ancient, most sump pumps, TVs, small air conditioners, most gas furnaces, and gas water heaters can be run with a 2k watt generator, though not at the same time. You might have to run your air conditioner for a bit, then switch over to your gas water heater, TV, and refrigerator, but that's not too big of a deal. However, if you need to run a well pump, a whole house air conditioner, an electric stove, water heater, or furnace, then you will need a large generator, something at least 5k watts and maybe 10k watts or more. Also, if you're in this category, you will absolutely want a generator with 240 volt output.

Before we get into the different types of generators available, let's talk a bit about sizing your generator. Many people argue that you should get the biggest generator you can afford that will power everything you want to run with ease. There is good sense to this logic, but there is a cost that few discuss: fuel consumption. An 8k watt generator may consume close to one gallon of gasoline per hour. If that sounds like a lot, it is. By comparison, a Yamaha or Honda 1k watt inverter generator at half load will only consume a gallon of gasoline in twelve hours. That's a bit extreme, but I want you to understand that a generator with no fuel is like a gun with no ammo: almost worthless.

Now let's talk about the types of generators out there, beginning with the cheapest of all: two cycle generators (two cycle means you must add oil to the gas). There are a few of these out there, but the most widely known is the one sold by Harbor Freight and often priced on sale at $99. It can produce 800 watts of power, which isn't a lot, but it might be enough for you. If nothing else, it's not a bad backup to your main generator. There are a few 'upgrades' people make to these that I won't discuss here, but they are a passable option if you can't afford anything else.

Two, you can get a standard generator. There is huge variability in the sizes and brands offered in this category. You can get a generator ranging from 1.5k watts to over 100k watts. Most are designed to run on gasoline, but lots of diesel models exist, as well as some dedicated to propane or natural gas, and many can run on gasoline, propane, or natural gas (tri-fuel). Most generators under 5k watts will have two to four 120 volt outlets; larger generators almost always have at least one 240 volt outlet as well. You need the 240 volt outlet for running large electrical appliances (i.e. furnace, oven, water heater, air conditioner) or for powering your entire house (more on that later). A 2k generator will run around $200 or less, and you can generally get a quality 8k generator for under $1,000. If you have natural gas at your home, I would strongly recommend that you get a generator with a tri-fuel kit already on it so that you can run it on natural gas.

Third, the newest types of generators are inverter generators. At low loads (wattage being drawn from the generator), they can turn at much lower speeds than standard generators, and they produce DC power which is inverted to AC output, hence the name. Their fuel consumption is usually a bit better than standard generators, and the power they produce is very 'clean', but the biggest advantage for most is that they are quiet. With a 2k or 3k model, the generators produce so little noise that you can carry on a normal conversation right next to one, especially at low loads. Honda and Yamaha are the very best out there. Other fairly respected brands are now available (i.e. Champion, Ryobi) for less money, but virtually no one disputes that Honda and Yamaha make the very best. Just so you know, I own a Yamaha 2,400 iSHC because they are far more capable of running air conditioners in RVs than are 2k generators. Be prepared to spend a lot for these. A 2k Honda or Yamaha will run $1,000, and larger models go up in price dramatically (a 3k Honda is about $2,000).

Fourth, you can get a generator whose sole purpose is to power your entire house. These are known as standby generators, and they are connected by professionals (only) to your electrical panel and either a natural gas line or a large propane tank. When the power goes out, these units turn themselves on automatically and will either power certain circuits in your house or all of them. Generac is the most common brand, and models start at around $4,000 plus installation and go up (rapidly) from there, depending on how much you want to power. I am not a fan of these for several reasons. First, they are at least as loud as a standard generator, often more so. Second, they are designed to run 24/7 when you have no power; as I will discuss below, this is a waste of fuel in most cases. Third, if you move from one place to another, you can't take your generator with you. Fourth, they are very expensive for the power they produce.

There are other types of generators out there (i.e. PTO generators that run from your tractor, generators that are so big they are powered by car engines and have their own trailer), but those outlined above are by far the most common.

Once you get a generator, you need to determine how you will get the power it produces into your home. The easiest way to do this is with extension cords. If you do this, get a lot, including a few medium (25') and long ones (100'). Be aware that the 14 gauge orange cords you typically see are only rated for 1200-1600 watts (10-14 amps), depending on the length. If you need more power than that in a single cord, get a thicker, lower gauge cord (i.e. 10 gauge).

In some areas, you can legally have an electrician install an interlock that will enable you to power certain circuits in your house with just one cord connecting your generator to your electrical panel. The 'best' way to power your house from a generator, though, is with a transfer switch. The transfer switch disconnects your electrical panel from the grid and allows you to power either certain circuits or your entire home directly from a generator. This is quite expensive, at least $400 including an electrician's installation, and is not worthwhile to do, IMHO, unless you have a large generator, at least 8k watts. Some people here will tell you that you can just use your generator to backfeed your house using an aptly named suicide cord (plugs into your generator and then plugs into an outlet in your house) that you have to make yourself. DON'T DO THIS!! Not only is it illegal, but it's very dangerous. There are no safeguards of any kind in this system, houses have burned down, and people have been severely injured and killed directly as a result of this. It might work 99 times out of 100, but I urge you to not take the risk unless it is absolutely, positively, necessary in a life or death situation.

Lastly, I want to discuss fuel consumption. If you need to run a generator 24/7 to power something critical, then I suggest that you consider getting the smallest generator available that will power that item. Doing so will reduce the amount of fuel you consume, possibly dramatically, compared to a larger model. For instance, we lost power for nearly a day during the summer last year. We knew that it was a temporary, local outage, so I just let my 2,400 watt Yamaha generator run continuously. During that time, it only consumed 3.2 gallons of gasoline (incidentally, I store enough gasoline to make the fire marshal wet himself, even though it's stored very safely). A large generator could have easily consumed six times that much in the same period of time. What's more, that extra power would have been wasted; we got all the power we needed from our relatively small generator.

To minimize fuel consumption, I strongly recommend the following method as a 'best practice' for using your generator. When you need to run some higher draw items, like your well pump, refrigerator, or furnace, also use a battery charger to recharge some deep cycle batteries (whole other topic). When you no longer need the high draw items, turn off your generator and use your batteries to give you the small amounts of power you need before the next cycle (i.e. AA battery charger, cellphones, small fans, laptop computers, modems, etc.). This is a FAR better use of your precious fuel than just running a generator all the time, especially when you don't need all the power that it's producing.

P.S. I have no financial involvement in either, but if you're interested in looking at generators, Amazon is not a bad place to start for small to mid-sized models, and www.generatorsales.com is another great place to search, especially if you're interested in large or tri-fuel generators; I love to drool over the huge generators they sell!
 

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Good info! Here's another item for gasoline powered gen sets - every time you shut it off, add fuel treatment to the fuel tank and run for a few minutes then turn fuel switch off letting the engine run out the fuel available to it. Run every couple of months as well for 10 minutes. Trust me - I'm spending $100 right now fixing one I didn't do that to. Good luck!
 

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I own many generators, But my primary ones are:
All are Tri fuel, Gasoline, Propane, and Natural Gas.
The first is a Honda EU2000, it's used for very small lite use of power needs.
The second is a Yamaha EF3000iSEB (3500 watts surge), This is my heavy use generator during power outages and powers both my fridges with ease and runs all my lights and electronics at the same time (within reason). It uses just a small amount more fuel than the EU2000 and it's also an inverter style generator.
The third is a Northern Tool 13000 watt Honda powered generator, It's only ran when I need 220 items like my well, hot water heater, air compressor, or welder.
This generator sucks fuel like a fat baby eats cake, but it runs big appliances with ease.
With this setup I feel I am ready for most all events (except emp) where as power is lost.
I will be adding a diesel generator to my setup in the future for even more options.















My battery backup and charger for storing power when I don't want to run a generator. I also have solar panels for for the batteries to charge them (not pictured).




 

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Very nice start. I would add these thoughts: store an extra fuel filter and at least 1 oil change and spark plug, a carb kit could handy. Put antiseize compound on the installed spark plug and the exhaust system nuts/bolts.

Get a book for it, factory manuals are the best. Have the tools to set valve clearances, change oil, filters and plugs.

Placement considerations: refueling, fumes, good air circulation and noise plus something to secure it to, I would ground the unit also.

If it's electric start get a good battery maintainer, cheap ones fry the battery. Or put it on the charger every month for a few hours.

Never let the unit run out of fuel under load, surges can fry your load. Run the gas out of the carb to avoid crud build it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Running a generator 'marathon'

I've wondered at times if someone wanted to have long-term generator power for relatively small items (i.e. refrigerator, deep freezer, battery charger, etc.), what would be the most efficient way to achieve this?

I believe the answer to be the Yamaha EF1000iS generator. At 1/4 load, it can run for 12 hours at 1/4 load (250 watts). If we double that to half load (500 watts), it can run for around 12 hours on one gallon of gasoline.

Let's say that we're running a refrigerator or chest freezer, a battery charger, and a couple other small items that total around 500 watts. Let's also assume that we're running these for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening for a total of four hours a day. That means we can go three days with one gallon of fuel.

Finally, let's extrapolate this to a year. You would only need 121.7 gallons of fuel to do this for a year. That's a very doable prospect. That would be just over eight 15 gallon drums of gasoline. I currently have two of these, and the rest of my stored fuel is in five gallon drums. The 15 gallon drums can be sealed very tightly, and this is the key to storing gasoline well. Further, I can buy them at my local recycling center for only $5 each.

And at today's prices, you could buy that much fuel (around here at least) for about $223. Combined with the generator and fuel drums, that totals around $1,100. Personally, that sounds like a bargain to me considering that it's a year of power, even if only a relatively small amount.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Good info! Here's another item for gasoline powered gen sets - every time you shut it off, add fuel treatment to the fuel tank and run for a few minutes then turn fuel switch off letting the engine run out the fuel available to it. Run every couple of months as well for 10 minutes. Trust me - I'm spending $100 right now fixing one I didn't do that to. Good luck!
That's good advice. I try to run my generator every month for at least 10-15 minutes with a significant load on it. I usually don't bother with fuel treatment because I normally keep very little fuel in it, and I run it dry every time I stop it anyway.

IMHO, that's a significant drawback with the Honda EU2000i compared to the similar Yamaha model. There is no petcock fuel valve on the Honda, so you have to empty the fuel tank in order to run it dry (at least you did a couple of years ago when I considered buying one). That's not the case with the larger Honda generators though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Something I didn't address, mainly for space reasons, in the OP is in regards to tri-fuel generators. You must be aware that there is a loss in power and, in turn, available wattage from a generator designed to be run on gasoline when it's run on propane or natural gas. The rule of thumb is that there is a 10% loss of power when running propane, and a 20% loss when running natural gas. Generators run very smoothly on both of these fuels, and you don't have to worry about fuel treatment, running them empty, or anything like that at all.

So your 10,000 watt generator, which is probably only rated at 8,500 watts continuously, can provide, at most, around 9,000 watts when running on propane and 8,000 watts when running on natural gas. If you want to run on these fuels and the drop in power is unacceptable for you, then get a bigger generator to start with.

Note that if you are buying a generator specifically made for either propane or natural gas (not a tri-fuel generator), their wattage ratings have already taken this power loss into account.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
You want a BIG generator?

If you're wondering about how big of a generator you can get, check out these models.

This one is a 21kW Isuzu diesel generator on its own trailer. The fuel tank is built into the trailer and holds 50 gallons of fuel. At half load (10kW), it consumes about 1 gallon of fuel per hour, and 1.8 gallons at full load, so a full tank could easily power a couple of all electric houses for a couple of days if it was run continuously. In addition, it's surprisingly quiet at only 72 decibels at full load from 23 ft. away. The price? $12,229.
http://www.centralmainediesel.com/order/2000GMM.asp?page=2000GMM

But that's not big enough for you? Check out this 50kW turbocharged John Deere diesel generator on its own dual axle trailer. It holds 60 gallons of fuel and burns 3.6 gallons per hour at full load. Its sound level is very comparable to the Isuzu above. All for only $16,475!
http://www.centralmainediesel.com/order/JDM3PH50.asp?page=JDM50

You want MORE?!?! You want to run your OWN power grid in a disaster! Then look no further! Here's a 200kW (yes, that's right) turbocharged John Deere diesel generator. It can be purchased with or without a trailer and either a 100 or 250 gallon fuel tank. Fuel consumption at half load is 6.8 gallons per hour and 12.9 at full load. It's a fuel hungry beast, but that's the price you pay for BIG power. You could literally power a mid-sized neighborhood with this thing. As long as everyone isn't running their big AC or electric water heater at the same time, you could very comfortably power 50 homes with this bad boy. The generator itself is priced at $26,299, but you would really want the trailer with the 250 gallon fuel tank and the soundproof enclosure to make it very quiet, which ups the price to $33,748.
http://www.centralmainediesel.com/order/John-Deere-200Kw-Diesel-Generator.asp?page=JDO200

In all honesty, I don't see why the average prepper would need anything as big as these last two generators, though someone on a farm could easily need the 21kW Isuzu. What is surprising to me is how quickly the price per watt drops when you look at these huge generators. The Isuzu is $582 per kW, but the 50kW John Deere is only $329 per kW, and the 200kW beast is just $169 per kW with all the bells and whistles.

It's fun to dream...:rolleyes:
 

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Some people here will tell you that you can just use your generator to backfeed your house using an aptly named suicide cord (plugs into your generator and then plugs into an outlet in your house) that you have to make yourself. DON'T DO THIS!! Not only is it illegal, but it's very dangerous. There are no safeguards of any kind in this system, houses have burned down, and people have been severely injured and killed directly as a result of this. It might work 99 times out of 100, but I urge you to not take the risk unless it is absolutely, positively, necessary in a life or death situation.
Given a choice between frozen pipes, a flooded basement, and ruined hardwood floors or having a non-standard hookup, I might be tempted to use suicide cords. They are, of course, very dangerous. However, anyone forced to use one would do well to make sure the main circuit breaker is OFF, and then plug them into the house outlet first, and then into the generator, so that the plug at one end is never "hot"and hanging loose where it could be touched.

Many generator users feel that suicide cords are needed because transfer switches cost so much to buy and install. There is a third, and completely legal and safe option: you can buy an interlock kit which mounts on the electrical panel, and prevents both the "main" and "generator" breakers from being "on" at the same time. They are UL listed, and once one is installed, you can simply turn off the main breaker and then turn on the breaker that connects the generator to the system, and then all the generator's power is available for any use. It's important to keep track of the loads: depending on the size of the genset, you may have to kill your well pump, the freezer and/or refrigerator, etc. You may have to cycle between the various loads o as to keep the generator from tripping it's own breakers, but you'll have power anyplace you usually use it.

Convenience means complexity: you must discipline children not to leave lights on, not to turn on computers or TV sets, and not to fool with thermostats when they get cold. These added chores are the reason that most folks who own generators install separate panels sooner or later, to keep loads from sneaking into the power budget without being able to control them. I know a guy who told his kids to leave everything alone and then went to buy food: when he got back, there were two TV's running and a game console, and his kids had the nerve to bitch about how only some of the outlets were working! The excess load had tripped the generator breaker on one side of the 220 line, and that was the side that connected his furnace: he told me that if the shopping trip had been a half-hour longer, he would have had a flooded basement and a child-abuse complaint!

FWIW. YMMV. If you don't do it right and your house burns down and you find out that your insurance is void, that's tough and it's not my fault.

William Warren
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Given a choice between frozen pipes, a flooded basement, and ruined hardwood floors or having a non-standard hookup, I might be tempted to use suicide cords.
All true, but I would contest this somewhat. What critical items do you need to power that can't be powered with an extension cord? Sump pumps, gas furnaces, and the like can all be powered easily with extension cords.
 

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I used to use the small 5-6k generators through our port I had installed but soon found out that in order to run our well pump I would have to turn off any big loads to keep the genny from tripping its internal breaker.

So I decided to go all out and buy more than I figured I would need and have been very pleased with the 20kw diesel with a 100 gallon sub-base fuel tank. It will run the whole house plus the shop and well pump. And if its running a about a half load it only burns 3/4 - 1 gallon per hour.

I'm sure its not for most people but when we went out of town last summer and had the power go off for a few days I came home to the generator running and all of our food in our many freezers was still good even though it was 90-100 degrees outside.

We have it hooked up to an automatic transfer switch so it kicks on about 20-30 seconds after the power go off. I usually store about 1,400 - 1,500 gallons of diesel on our property for it and our many other diesel engines and trucks.

Still thought I love my little Honda EU2000's they are great for farm use and just small general projects if I am on a remote corner of the property.
Gas Electronics Soil Vehicle Machine

Transport Baggage Vehicle Suitcase Machine
 

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Excellent advice. We live in a remote area prone to hurricanes. We started with a Honda EU 2000, enough to run the essentials--freezer, refer, charge batteries etc. This was only limited and good for short times. In order to have lights in the house, TV, security system etc,we went to a 7.5 KW "contractor type". With electrician installed lock out and transfer switch. This took care of us for over 6 weeks after Ivan. Lots of disadvantages. We used over 100 gallons of gas, only running 2 hours in the morning, and 4 to 5 hours at night. We had 50 gallons stored--and got another supply of 50 gallons at the 3 week mark. We had to put the generator outside when running. Rain was an issue. We could not leave the house when the generator was running. Refer and Freezer were run AM and PM.

After that, whole house 18 KW Natural Gas generator, with auto start and auto transfer switch. Life is far better. We have outages, up to 8 + hours about once a month. We still have air conditioning. No worry about fuel supply. Yes it does use a moderate amount of fuel, which is readily available.(At least so far). I have to disagree about the noise level--far less than the contractor generator--closer to the Honda EU 2000.

I have both lived a number of years with generator power, on boats. The idea was to make the run time short; 2 hours twice a day max. 5 to 8 KW diesel generators will run a compressor to cool eutectic holding plates for freezer and refer, heat water, and charge batteries at what ever rate the battery can take. Incidental 110 volt power is then available from a pure sine wave inverter. Most systems run off 12 volt golf cart batteries. Same philosophy as solar with back up generator.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Excellent advice. We live in a remote area prone to hurricanes. We started with a Honda EU 2000, enough to run the essentials--freezer, refer, charge batteries etc. This was only limited and good for short times. In order to have lights in the house, TV, security system etc,we went to a 7.5 KW "contractor type". With electrician installed lock out and transfer switch. This took care of us for over 6 weeks after Ivan. Lots of disadvantages. We used over 100 gallons of gas, only running 2 hours in the morning, and 4 to 5 hours at night. We had 50 gallons stored--and got another supply of 50 gallons at the 3 week mark. We had to put the generator outside when running. Rain was an issue. We could not leave the house when the generator was running. Refer and Freezer were run AM and PM.

After that, whole house 18 KW Natural Gas generator, with auto start and auto transfer switch. Life is far better. We have outages, up to 8 + hours about once a month. We still have air conditioning. No worry about fuel supply. Yes it does use a moderate amount of fuel, which is readily available.(At least so far). I have to disagree about the noise level--far less than the contractor generator--closer to the Honda EU 2000.

I have both lived a number of years with generator power, on boats. The idea was to make the run time short; 2 hours twice a day max. 5 to 8 KW diesel generators will run a compressor to cool eutectic holding plates for freezer and refer, heat water, and charge batteries at what ever rate the battery can take. Incidental 110 volt power is then available from a pure sine wave inverter. Most systems run off 12 volt golf cart batteries. Same philosophy as solar with back up generator.
I'm glad that you've gotten a generator that meets your needs well. I'm surprised to hear that the sound level wasn't bad on a standby model. The units I've personally seen were loud and could not be remotely compared to an inverter generator. Perhaps the type of enclosure you have is making the difference.

Dealing with a regular generator in the rain is not a fun task, as you clearly discovered. Creating a shelter of some sort to keep rain off of it is a must if you don't have a covered porch or something similar where it can sit. I'm not really surprised that your fuel usage was that high. Even at half load, most regular generators of that size will go through at least .5 gallon per hour, usually more. So going 21 days, 6-7 hours per day on 50 gallons is not bad at all. With a big generator, I think the minimum amount of fuel you want to keep on hand is at least 100 gallons.

If you're in an area that has frequent power outages or you are often away from your home for extended periods, then a standby makes a lot more sense, especially if you have natural gas. From the people I've talked to around us here in the inland Northwest, they can't remember ever losing their supply of natural gas. It's by far the most reliable of any utility.
 

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Excellent thread!

If anyone's interested, I'll post what we are currently installing for the LA Federal Reserve Building (Generator Upgrade). Would definitely power your fridge! :D:

That said, any recommendations and/or links to the Tri-fuel kits? What should we look for and/or stay away from?
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Excellent thread!

If anyone's interested, I'll post what we are currently installing for the LA Federal Reserve Building (Generator Upgrade). Would definitely power your fridge! :D:

That said, any recommendations and/or links to the Tri-fuel kits? What should we look for and/or stay away from?
It's far better to buy a generator that already has a tri-fuel kit installed on it.

If you're looking to buy a tri-fuel kit, I would recommend contacting Central Maine Diesel (www.generatorsales.com) for information. They sell these for a wide array of generators.
 

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A lot of useful info. However, most of the things discussed are for comfort, not survival. One may NEED two kinds of generators for survival:
1. Larger, quality generator to run well pump.
2. Three small (800-1000 w) generator to run filtering system for the shelter.

That's all, folks.
 
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