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Power Source for Your Small Cabin

Main Choice: ON- or OFF- Grid

Small Cabin - Power Grid Image The power for your small cabin and getaway property can come either from a local power utility company or from other off-grid alternative power sources.

If you have the option of using a local power utility company and decide to subscribe to their service, you can skip this page – your small cabin power source is determined.

If your property does not have electricity service, or you decide not to use it (like me), you may want to consider and alternative power sources.

A renewable energy system can be composed of many parts: a solar panel module, a wind turbine, a micro-hydro turbine, or (though it can't be called renewable) a fossil-fueled generator. With these energy-harvesting methods, the system can then produce electricity. Often, it's a combination of methods that creates a hybrid renewable energy system for your small cabin.

Although I do not live at my small cabin all the time - it is an occasional use property - I do use it quite often during the warm part of the year (on weekends and vacations), sometimes for several days in a row.
Also, I do not use large power-draining appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, large TVs, electrical stoves, etc.
Generally, off-grid power can come from one or more of the following sources:

Gasoline Power Generator

Small Cabin Power Generator Picture I discarded the power generator option right away. It is noisy, costly to buy (up to $1000 and more), expensive to use (cost of gasoline), and you often run out of fuel when least expected. In addition, it is not environmentally friendly.
Renting a gasoline power generator for powering power tools, etc., is a viable option during cabin construction.


Small Cabin Of-Grid Power - Propane Tank This is a reasonably good alternative power source for heating your cabin. However, it will not provide you with electrical power unless you have a gas-powered generator (we will not go there). I use my old propane BBQ with side burner for meal preparation/cooking.

Wind Power

Small Cabin Off-Grid Solar Power - Wind Mill Picture Wind power, although fairly abundant in some areas, can be quite expensive to setup. A basic wind turbine costs $1000+. Also, if your property is located in a wooded area (like mine is), you will need to place the wind turbine on a high tower for it to perform as expected. You also need to take into account that there will be many days without a reasonably strong wind.

Despite these drawbacks, wind power can be a good addition to the power supply system of your cabin property.

Water / Hydro

Small Cabin Off-Grid Water Power - Water Mill Picture This is a fairly attractive option, provided you have a steady stream of water.
Although I have a river at the edge of my property, the water flow is too slow to generate power.
Consider a simple water turbine or mill wheel if you have a river or small creek/stream on your property with good and steady water flow.
A word of caution:
Carefully consider the design of your water turbine setup. If you intend to build a small dumb in an area of environmental value to the surrounding ecosystem, you are likely to have problems with local environmental authorities.
So if you decide to use waterpower, proceed with a non-invasive option, i.e. one without environmental impact.
Water power can also be used in combination with other power options.
I do not use it as a power source in my small cabin, so I cannot comment more. Perhaps some readers can share their experiences.

Solar Power Setup of my Small Cabin

Small Cabin Solar Power - Power Box Setup Picture In my view, solar power is by far the best power source option for an occasional-use small cabin.
A solar panel, combined with a charge controller, battery, and optional inverter can be an inexpensive, reliable, and maintenance-free solution. Just set it up and don't worry.
Small Cabin Solar Power - Power Box Setup Picture I have installed a modest solar power system in my small cabin and I'm quite happy with it. It has served me quite well and I do not regret this choice.
The best thing is, I don’t have another utility bill to pay every month.

Solar Power Limitations:
Besides the obvious requirement for direct sunlight, the disadvantage of a small solar power setup is that it will not power high power-consuming equipment and appliances, like a refrigerator, stove, air conditioner, or a large TV.
To do this, you need to put real money into a high-output system, that has many solar panels and battery packs, powerful invertors, etc.

There are households that live year-round exclusively on solar power, but since I only use my small cabin occasionally, I'd rather reduce my power consumption and simplify my stay there.

Keep in mind power consumption limitations when selecting power tools, appliances, and other equipment.
If possible, choose 12V tools. There are many of them available that are designed for use of a car battery. You can find 12V TVs, oscillating fans, lanterns, etc.

Small Cabin Off-Grid Power - 12V fan picture Small Cabin Off-Grid Power - 12V TV Picture Small Cabin Off-Grid Power - 12V Vac Picture

See separate section on selecting economical power tools.

Cabin Solar Power Setup:
The solar panel array should be mounted so that it takes full advantage of available sunlight.
In the northern hemisphere, it should face south - true south is best, but a deviation of 15 degrees east or west will not overly affect performance.
In most cases, the mounting is fixed at one angle - a right angle to the sun at noon - but can be adjusted according to the season.
Try to mount it into an open location.

I used an Eliminator solar panel, charge controller, and Power Box. The Power Box has a built-in battery pack and and inverter that provides 1200W of power @ 110V and 12V output with short-circuit protection.

Cost of Solar Power Setup:
The cost of my entire solar power setup is:

Total: $340.

To my knowledge and experience, this 15W solar panel will provide enough power for charging the battery on cloudy days and under 1 ft of snow.

Not bad for a worry-free decent power source in my occasionally-used getaway small cabin in the wilderness!

See detailed description of my small cabin off-grid power setup components.

I've been using this setup for few years now. At first, I was worried that the battery would go bad during the freezing winter months, but then I thought - doesn’t the same lead-acid battery last in cars all year-round? So I leave the entire setup at my cabin property over the winter months. The key is to leave the battery connected to the solar panel and charge controller so that it is always fully charged.

Does anyone have any other thoughts or suggestions on alternative power sources for the small cabin? Please feel free to comment and share your experiences.

Read on our Small Cabin Forum what other people do:

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