Where can you buy a mini generator?
September 21, 2008 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Where can I get a small generator for a cabin?

I want to build a small cabin of sorts on my property, and I wish I could get ahold of a mini generator of sorts.

Maybe 300 watts or something. I can use the heat it gives off to heat the cabin.

Of course there are micropower solutions involving fuel cells, etc, but like that does me any good with the ready availability of hydrogen.... and solar panels cost a small fortune. How am I going to store the energy, anyway? I'm thinking a mini generator is just the ticket.

I don't want to try to build my own.... I don't have any tools. I can't get into all kinds of interesting schemes, either. You must be able to buy them somewhere?
posted by Nish ton to Technology (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can use the heat it gives off to heat the cabin
You're not going to run this inside the house are you?
posted by Neiltupper at 8:30 PM on September 21, 2008

Home Depot or just about any hardware store. You probably want one like this Honda, small and quiet.
They are gasoline powered and you need to leave them outside when they are running.
posted by lee at 8:39 PM on September 21, 2008

Some friends had this setup, which worked .. reasonably well:

12V Marine batteries with some devices powered off 12V DC through a DC to DC converter. They also has a standard car inverter kicking around for the times they needed the real power. They used a standard battery charger off a generator to charge the batteries when needed.

Not the most green solution -- but cheap. And no, you dont heat with the generator--infact you will want it as far away as possible.
posted by SirStan at 8:46 PM on September 21, 2008

This only outputs up to 200 watts, but you'll certainly get warm using it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:52 PM on September 21, 2008

I can use the heat it gives off to heat the cabin.
I don't see how you can do this without poisoning yourself?

If you use solar panels, which work fine for cabins btw, you can use the 12V marine batteries to store the power. 3 or 4 will do it. You can buy kits or build your own. Keep the batteries warm and dry by enclosing them in a little hut and they are good for years.

Another option, and the most common by far, is to use propane for light, cooking and refrigeration and supplement with solar or a generator for electricity only as needed. It's much cheaper, especially as wall-mounted propane lamps will heat a fairly good sized cabin adequately in most climates. It's also easier than trying to run all your appliances off electricity. Just change out the propane tank once in a while and you're good to go. With a generator you're going to be doing a LOT of hauling fuel and maintaining parts and it's noisy and stinky and you have to go outside to fire it up every time.
posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can use the heat it gives off to heat the cabin.

You'll die if you try.

To get away with heating from your generator you'll have to build a heat exchanger, which would fall under the heading of "interesting schemes" which you've already rejected.

With a liquid cooled generator it wouldn't be that tricky, extend the coolant lines, run them through some kind of radiator inside the structure, include a thermostat to prevent flow when it's already hot inside (and a valve to stop it entirely in summer), and you're done. I think most of the low end generators would be aircooled though.

Solar energy isn't only available through the use of PV panels though, I'd suggest you instead build with passive solar heating in mind - direction of windows, thermal mass, really good insulation, et al.

If you're really dead set on using a diesel/petrol burning generator to power your cabin, don't do it directly unless you absolutely must - running efficient lighting, etc, in the cabin, and powering everything off a bank of batteries would be a better idea.

It's a more complex system, but if you build it this way, you can fairly easily add PV panels to the system later on as the price comes down. If you're even prepared to consider this possibility, take mounting points on the roof into account when you're designing your structure.

If you run off batteries you can use other generation methods as well as they become available, a small wind turbine - which might actually be more practical than PV, depending on site conditions - microhydro, and so on.

Keep in mind that the solar panels (or whatever) don't need to produce the full 300W, they only need to produce enough to keep your batteries charged - I don't imagine you're going to be in the cabin using power at all times, and even when you are you won't be using all of the available juice, which is when the solar tops up the battery for your use when you really need it.

To make it work you can't live like you're on the mains, you can't run a normal fridge, or normal incandescent lighting, you need to live efficiently. (But this doesn't mean it can't be comfortable - it just requires more thought.)

And just by the way, the idea with using hydrogen in a context like this (though I don't think it's practical at this stage) is to use solar to electrolise water and make your own, you then store it and process it through a fuel cell (or directly burn it in a stove) as and when you need to.
posted by The Monkey at 9:44 PM on September 21, 2008

as far as storing energy, the regular deep cycle batteries will work, but if you can find the large batts the army used to use(army surplus store), that would be the way to go.
posted by docmccoy at 10:04 PM on September 21, 2008

While I agree with fshgrl that propane is the better solution, there are plenty of places that sell smallish/inexpensive generators, though 900 watts seems to be as small as these typically go. Northern Tool is one such place (the link is to their small sized generator selection), and there are also specialty retailers like ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com.
posted by mosk at 12:12 AM on September 22, 2008

I highly recommend the small honda generators.

I have the 2000 watt version, and it's a champ. Quiet, reliable, fuel efficient, light, and small.

There's a 1000 watt, which is about the smallest you're going to find. It's more expensive than many other models, but it's worth the premium. Most generators are quite irritating loud, especially in comparison.
posted by flaterik at 1:57 AM on September 22, 2008

The reason you can't (easily) use the generator to heat the cabin is that a running gasoline engine produces carbon monoxide, which will kill you in a confined space. A running car in a closed garage will do the same thing, which is why people have committed suicide that way. Every hurricane season several people kill themselves by running a generator indoors — please don't do this.

So the generator needs to be outside (and not in a location where the exhaust fumes will be sucked inside), making it really hard to capture the heat of the running engine and bring it indoors without a complicated scheme of some sort.
posted by Forktine at 2:16 AM on September 22, 2008

Agree with Fishgrl on propane too. You can even get propane refrigerators, which work quite well (albeit don't keep things as cold as electric, or maybe the ones I've interacted with were just set to save fuel?).

Honda makes some good small generators -- I've used the 1000 and 2000w consumer models with success powering video equipment in the field. But DO NOT PUT IT INSIDE! As others have said, the carbon monoxide can kill you if you run it in an enclosed area.

Solar is expensive, but surprisingly capable, particularly in locations with good sun exposure. I've seen setups powering multiple computers off a modest array, deep-cycle batteries and an inverter, with a generator for backup.
posted by Alterscape at 4:19 AM on September 22, 2008

Solar hot water is a possible choice, especially if you did under slab heating. Doesn't solve your electricity problem, but it does solve the not-dying-from-CO-exposure problem.
posted by electroboy at 6:56 AM on September 22, 2008

Response by poster: Hm.... well, I'll check out these smaller generators. Thanks for your concern, you are quite right about the CO problem, but I already knew about it. It's easy enough to deal with - the generator goes inside, the exhaust goes out through a hole. You have to be careful, of course, and I would get a carbon monoxide alarm just in case. Heat exchangers are hardly an interesting scheme, just run the exhaust through a long metal pipe and convection does the rest.

Sigh. oh well. My parents have a friend who has gone the scrounged batteries and miscellaneous equimpent route, and it's not a easy as it sounds. It's also incredibly messy and difficult to set up - this stuff weighs a ton, it's sensitive to cold and moisture etc. etc. If you do things right the first time around, it could just be an order of magnitude simpler.

A generator can speed up when the load increases, so there's no real need for batteries, it's on demand, and the whole shebang is so much more efficient, you don't need to haul much fuel. I can handle a bit of fuel.

And car batteries, you're going to need to cart several of them out there at eight tons each sulfuric acid sloshing around, toxic lead dissolved in it, special (and highly inefficient) charging and conversion equipment, you need a trickle charger in winter or their toast (the eletrolyte freezes).

Oh well. Those 1kw generators sure look interesting, though, for $150. It didn't occur to me to search for that much capacity, but come to think of it, they can probably just operate at idle speed, and that would be good enough, if not ideal. Thanks.
posted by Nish ton at 5:03 PM on September 22, 2008

I don't know anything about your site, but Northern Tools has some nice wind generators, the small one is 400 watts.
posted by Marky at 8:19 PM on September 22, 2008

My parents have a friend who has gone the scrounged batteries and miscellaneous equimpent route, and it's not a easy as it sounds.

I've spent a whole lotta time living off the grid and it is pretty easy to have a propane/ solar/ wind/ battery system if you do your research. Certainly easier than using a generator to run everything. I don't know anyone who does that, anywhere.

If you have a small creek nearby land live somewhere it doesn't freeze look up "bicycle water wheel" or "micro hydro". Those are nifty as long as you have the flow to run one wihtout needing to dam or divert the creek (illegal without a permit)
posted by fshgrl at 9:53 PM on September 22, 2008

The most "green" solution, in consideration of all the other great comments posted here,
is to set up or build a small wind turbine...it's easier than you think...and you have the option just to purchase one outright, though that is more costly, but still economical enough.

Here's an article that provides more detail in this regard:

Build a Small Wind Turbine
posted by alextraversy at 11:00 AM on June 7, 2009

« Older They take a lickin' and keep on tickin...   |   Soundless Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.