DIYing a generator shelter
September 11, 2022 10:05 AM   Subscribe

What are the minimums and best practices for making a shelter over a gas generator while it's running outdoors?

I have a new Champion gas generator and a transfer switch. (Yay! Do your worst, storms!) I am in New England and have unreliable electric power, so we lose the lights several times per year from hurricanes, blizzards, fallen lines, and more.

I want to make a cover for when the power goes out, to keep the rain/snow off while it runs. We plan to park the generator in the driveway, so a permanent shed isn't really an option.

What do I need to make sure to do? I.e., how far out should it extend on each side? Should it go farther over the controls & outlets, to keep them dry? I know I need to leave openings for exhaust to vent, and I will need a way to access the fuel tank cap for refilling it.

I am aware of those nylon pop-up tents, but I would prefer something tougher. I was thinking about a piece of plywood that can sit on the top of the generator, cushioned by pipe insulation on the generator's rails. Does it really need sides, too?

I'd like it to be light enough for my wife to move easily, but that's not a total deal-breaker. I have some 1/2" plywood on hand, and am happy using power tools to build something.
posted by wenestvedt to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hate not answering the question as asked, but... the nylon tents are really tough and won't do any damage if they end up getting lifted by the wind and tossed at your house (which they likely won't because of how closely they fit to the generator)

You definitely do want some coverage on the sides; as much as possible -- rain and snow will go sideways in the type of weather you're talking about.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:12 AM on September 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

In addition to the engine exhaust, there will probably be another place on the generator set where it blows hot air that was used to cool the engine and/or generator. You should make sure your shelter structure doesn't impede that flow of air too much either.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:53 PM on September 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the non-permanent and blizzard/hurricane sorta makes things hard to not have it blow away with a strong gust of wind or collapse under the weight of snow.

How big is it? What clearance for refueling would you need? How portable does the shelter need to be? Since it's parked in your driveway....

You mention rails, so I'd start there and put a plywood roof on top with attached pipe/hose clamps to keep the top attached. Maybe needing a sorta covered hole/door in the top for fuel access, probably a bit better to make it a bit tilted instead of a flat top. It will be covered with some plastic or a tarp or something like that to make the falling rain fall off.

Then a bit of framing down from the top to near the ground with a sort of door on the front where the switches and such live. Plywood or even just tarp and staple gun wrap up the under the roof bit.

For ventilation, there are hooded vents and high temperature tubes and stuff that you can poke through the walls. Think like your dryer vent, that silver tube thing that's clamped on your dryer and pokes out the wall to that downward facing vent.

You could make something similar that's just a bit larger and put together and taken apart when needed by starting with a riser frame that attaches to the generator's frame and is just carriage bolt and wingnuts and brackets put together as needed. As long as the generator is heavy enough to not blow away, the riser off the generator attached to the roof attached to the frame bits attached to the wrapping layer, and the heat/exhaust pipes put into place.... You could have a shelter for your generator that sorta fits in a duffel bag like a tent until you need to take it out and put it back together.

Oh, and I might want a few cinderblocks to both strap it down to the ground and lift it up enough to avoid much more flooding. Just a bit more weight there.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:35 AM on September 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you can possibly move off the driveway... Look up Dog Ground Stake on Amazon. You'll find the spiral looking things that you pound into the ground a bit and then screw down with a lever. You could take like three or four of those and build a teepee like thing over the generator (same tarp wrapped sort of thing) that's attached to the ground really strongly. Then you could put the generator on a little wagon or something and pull it out to fill it up. And still end up with a duffel bag sort of "break out the generator and shelter thing from the garage" sort of thing.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:54 AM on September 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yesterday I found a video, where someone shares a design for an asymmetrical frame that breaks down to store flat:

I love that he uses bolts & wingnuts so that it can be disassembled easily for the 99% of the year that you don't need it!

I spent some time modifying that plan with your suggestions and my generator's dimensions, and I think I am going to go for it. Probably upgrading with light (maybe 1/2") wood paneling on the sides & one end instead of a blue tarp, but largely the same design.

zengargoyle, I love your idea of putting in a chunk of dryer vent line! And I had been thinking about ways to fit a pluggable hole on the top so I can refuel without disassembling the whole shelter. (I have a few plastic grommets for the hole in your desk for the power & network cable, which might be good start...)

I don't want t spend a fortune, so I'll need an hour or so of scavenging my parts shelves, but this should work out great.

Thanks, all!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:48 AM on September 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sesame Street: The Martians Discover a Telephone - YouTube

Yep, yep, yep! Dunno, I'd still probably do the roof a bit overhangy and put a simple latch on it with the hinges to go out and flip the roof over for refueling then flip it back. But yeah, you've go the basic idea. I might be a bit more bolts and wingnuts than screws, and try to standardize on at least a diameter of bolt so you only really have to worry about length.

But yeah, I guess you could have a nesting frame sort of thing versus taking the whole thing apart. One does tend to refine things over the years to make things just right.

Good luck.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:40 AM on September 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Final things. If you look around, wingnuts and bolts and screws and nails and such can be purchased 'by the pound'. That's where we get Penny (unit) - Wikipedia, it's much more the mass of metal to make the thing that determines the cost, the actual form factor is almost meaningless, go to the right place and you can buy the parts basically by weight, 90% of the cost is just the amount of metal in the part you're buying.

We used to build sheds and such out of Corrugated galvanised iron - Wikipedia or corrugated fiberglass instead of plywood. The trick there is when you screw or bolt them into place it's not a metal washer on the outside, it's a rubber gasket/washer that makes the head of the bolt/screw water tight.

I would probably build a frame and use that for the sheeting. If not all bolts with gaskets and wingnuts (or just plain nuts)... if you just want screws that's OK. On repeated building/teardown what you do is pack the old screw holes in the wood with toothpicks and wood glue so when you come back the next time around it's basically new wood. If you don't go the whole bolt and gasket and washer and wingnut right off the bat.

(old roofer wisdom, water flows down hill and payday is Friday) You could tar paper and shingle that thing like a bespoke doghouse. Just make sure it's out of flooding and not getting blown away.

But outdoor lumber and tarp will probably be at least a few years before you have to have to start messing with it or replacing bits and by then....

(Over Engineers Anonymous)
posted by zengargoyle at 8:17 AM on September 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

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