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Small Cabin Forum / Off-Grid Living / Is generator power a good solution?
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WILL1E
Moderator
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 13:10
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In case you haven't read my other post, we just bought 6 vacant acres with no utilities on it. I'm awaiting cost to bring power in, near term for our 5th wheel camper and then long term for when i build a tiny cabin.

This weekend i went and bought a 3500 watt generator. Primarily because i was worried about a shortage with all the bad weather these days, secondly that the cost to bring power in is going to be more than i can afford.

So as i wait to finally close on the land and to hear back from the power company on cost, i wonder if having nothing but generator power could be a long'ish term solution?

Keep in mind i'm in Wisconsin, winter is fast approaching and i plan to use the land/camper year-round. The camper has electric/propane furnace, electric fireplace (no propane condensation), electric A/C, electric only fridge.

We'll mainly use it on weekends. So is running a generator non-stop from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening something people do? Am i going to go broke buying gas (I bought the Predator 3500w from Harbor)? I have 80+% hearing loss, but my wife and son don't, are they going to go nuts hearing that run all day and through the night?

Just trying to think through all my scenarios while i sit and wait

mj1angier
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 13:36
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You can do it but it's a bit of a pain. I stayed in out camper as I was up fitting the shed cabin. I used genny all day to run saws, air compressor, fans... and also had camper hooked to it to charge the batteries on camper. I would also use it for ac at night. (in south so heat is problem not cold). You need to check the owners manual about how many hours you can run between oil changes. I don't think you want to run it 24/7. Get a good battery bank on camper and some solar panels and just learn to plan when you need the genny on. Also family needs to understand that things are different of grid unless you really want to drop some money into it.The sound of ours was ok but it was an inverter style generator.

Houska
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 14:12
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I think most people will find running 100% off a genny, including an inverter one, tiresome (due to the noise and the maintenance) and expensive (the gas $ will add up, and the efficiency isn't great, except under very specific conditions) over the long term.

You mention "electric/propane" furnace and electric A/C and fridge. While you're stuck with what you've got with the trailer, once people build they generally find heating and refrigeration aren't cost-effective with electricity (on- or off-grid). And if you need A/C often in a fairly northerly climate, you've built wrong.

Around where I'm at (Ontario - similar climate), people generally and pretty sensibly gravitate towards mixed-fuel off-grid solutions, which also provide alternatives when something invariably goes wrong so you don't need to 100% focus attention right then and there to fixing it, whatever you had planned.

With the drop in prices in solar, I expect you'll gravitate long-term most likely to primarily solar electricity charging a battery bank, with a generator as backup (when you draw down heavily e.g. during construction, or the weather is bad), with a mix of wood and propane for heat. Refrigeration varies, depending a lot on your needs (size, always on vs fridge on when you're there vs a few hours on Sunday morning when your ice has melted...)

I also expect that unless you have utilities right at the property line, the cost of bringing in on-grid electricity will be pretty darn high. Meanwhile the cost of solar has come down. So off-grid quite likely quite feasible, as long as your expectations are reasonable.

Nobadays
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 14:52
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My question would be how did you use your 5th wheel before... only camp where you could plug in? Does it have a battery bank and inverter/charger already in it?

We have a Predator inverter/generator, I think you have the same one as from what I see the 3500 is the inverter/generator. It is really pretty quiet. Be sure you take the time to do the break-in run and oil change... Google breaking this unit in. Ours has over 600 hours on it and runs like a champ (after I took the carbon gas tank fume vent off it... over fill it once and you will understand why!). We have ours in a generator shack about 50 feet away from the cabin and we really don't here it... when we run it which is not often anymore. Solar takes care if all our needs now.

Your propane furnace should not condensate within the 5th wheel as the exhaust should be vented. Are you sure the blower motor is 120vac and not 12vdc? You could run your electric fireplace off the generator but the furnace, even if the blower is 120v, will be much more efficient and work your generator less.

If your experience is like most off-grid folks living near, but not close to power, solar is likely to be way cheaper than bringing in electricity... and once installed no bill! We did ours all ourselves with a schematic provided by the solar supplier where we got most of our equipment. It wasn't that hard and we passed the electrical inspection with flying colors. With 2200 watts of PV and 12kw of storage we are able to run fridge, freezer, washing machine, toaster, microwave and satellite internet... of course lights. We have less than $7,000 in our system.

Brettny
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 15:42
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How much is it to bring power in? Buying power from the grid is always cheaper in the end if the cost to bring it in isnt to high. If you want all the luxury of home be prepared to spend big bucks on solar.

The best thing I can tell you about making a generator quiet is buy a 12g 100ft extension cord or two.

scott100
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 16:02 - Edited by: scott100
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Running a generator 24/7 would get old (and expensive) real fast, especially if you (or your neighbors) enjoy the quiet sound of nature. If you install an off grid solar system, you can run all but your electric fireplace easily. Just the peace and quiet will be worth it.

Our place is about 1/2-3/4 miles from the closest electric pole. Running electricity out there would have been outrageously expensive, and that was 20 years ago. Solar pricing has come down a whole lot since then, and am now glad we waited and recently put in the cabin with solar rather than building a house up there 20 years ago with the added expense of grid electricity. Added plus is that our electricity works ALL the time.

WILL1E
Moderator
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 16:03
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We only camped at places with shore power...which, when your hauling a 5th wheel those are usually the only places you can fit. Yes, it currently has 1 battery in it and a built in inverter (i'll have to look at what size it is).

The condensation reference was to our old camper. It wasn't necessarily from the furnace, just that the windows built up condensation when we camped in the winter. The furnce blower can run on the battery...it's the fireplace that cannot.

I'm in the woods so i'd have to clear a fair amount of trees to get a full days worth of solar. Second, to bring power in "should" based on my calculations be less than $3k worse case scenario. I'll know more after friday.

Brettny
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 16:48
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For $3k bring in power. Sounds like the trees wont give you much sun exposure. But the good thing is all you have to do is drag the camper out there with your generator and a KillAwatt meter and measure what your useing..then go from there.

$3k can buy you a nice solar setup but that's just it it's all yours to maintain, keep an eye on and make sure it's working properly. Where as the grid power is someone else's problem. It also gives you the ability to use heat tape on your pipes to keep things from freezing. Most solar cant do that.

jhp
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 17:33
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Something else to consider, the $3k you pay to bring in power basically increases the property value by that much or more.

If you are thinking you want to just get something set up so you can enjoy your place this fall or next spring or whatever, just buy the generator and see how you like it.

If you take care of it and want to unload it after a year it would not be hard to get 75% of what you paid for it which makes it a pretty cheap "rental" in the big picture.

Houska
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 18:13
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For $3k US or C$, I'd bring in grid power, for sure. Our "indicative quote" was $24k for 2km (i.e. a bit over 1 mile), which is a different ballgame.

DaveBell
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 18:31
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In WV, I talked to the power guys and they told me if I have a building permit, they will run power in for free. Not sure about your state, but a phone call may be worth the time.

scott100
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 20:38
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Agreed, for 3k, would be worth it to just bring in power.

redneckpaul
Member
# Posted: 8 Sep 2020 21:23
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If running a generator 24/7 is gonna get you to your property so you can enjoy it do it. I`ve been using one for the last 4 years. On a cold weekend I run mine for 48 hours straight. That's on a 3500 watt champion. The brushes went out on 4200 hours and was a $25 fix. A month ago I bought a new 3800 watt gen as I don`t want to go into winter with a gen that has 4200 hours on it. I keep it at the cabin for a spare.

WILL1E
Moderator
# Posted: 9 Sep 2020 08:10
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When i bought that generator, that's exactly what i had in mind...basically consider the resale value once i don't need it anymore. I just saw this morning there is frost advisories out for where my land is located so winter is knocking at the door already!

I'll report back after my meeting at the land with the power designer and see what the damage will be to bring power in.

keystone
Member
# Posted: 10 Sep 2020 12:33
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For 3K I’d say it’s a no-brained to bring in grid power, and as someone else mentioned, it will more than pay for itself in terms of the value it adds to your property. You can always still set up solar/generator in the future if you want to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

fitzpatt
Member
# Posted: 10 Sep 2020 15:29
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Regardless of what you decide, I would still invest in a small generator enclosure. On 6 acres, you can easily find a spot 100ft or more away. This will greatly reduce any sound pollution. We built ours about 110ft away and wired it to our cabin, which can be used as as a compliment to a solar system. I bought some conduit and ran the power cord inside, sealing on each end with spray foam and steel wool to keep the rodents out. You will likely have the generator running a lot during your building phase and it makes a big difference in the enjoyment factor when you can hear nature and not a running engine all day.

Irrigation Guy
Member
# Posted: 10 Sep 2020 19:44
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If you are just camping and don’t want to spend a bunch of time and money building a shack for a your genny, a simple piece of plywood leaning against it will defect much of the noise. Before I got the power to my place I was using a small inverter type generator And would do this so that after I was done working on the cabin in evening I could relax a bit without the drone of the generator. I would shut it off when I went to sleep though.

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