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Need suggestions on small cabin electrical wiring  RSS feed

 
larahna hughes
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I have a small cabin 12x16 and I would like to install wiring so that I have plug-in power options. I am on a budget so it will be a phased in power plan. Here is my plan so far:
1. Wire the cabin with plug outlets (perhaps to a small breaker box) and lighting.
2. Power plan phase 1: 300 watt inverter connected to a 12 volt deep cycle battery with battery either charged from my car alternator or a separate battery charger (i have access to off site power)
3. Power plan phase 2: add solar panels and additional 1-2 batteries to the existing system.

I am not an electrician but I would like to design the system so that it is DIY friendly, has the option of connecting easily to a gas powered generator and solar panels.

I would appreciate any suggestions on a) wiring the cabin b) creating the connection point c)allowing for multiple power options (solar, generator, etc)


Thanks!
GA Homesteader
 
Vern Faulkner
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larahna hughes wrote:I have a small cabin 12x16 and I would like to install wiring so that I have plug-in power options. I am on a budget so it will be a phased in power plan. Here is my plan so far:
1. Wire the cabin with plug outlets (perhaps to a small breaker box) and lighting.
2. Power plan phase 1: 300 watt inverter connected to a 12 volt deep cycle battery with battery either charged from my car alternator or a separate battery charger (i have access to off site power)
3. Power plan phase 2: add solar panels and additional 1-2 batteries to the existing system.

I am not an electrician but I would like to design the system so that it is DIY friendly, has the option of connecting easily to a gas powered generator and solar panels.

I would appreciate any suggestions on a) wiring the cabin b) creating the connection point c)allowing for multiple power options (solar, generator, etc)


Thanks!
GA Homesteader


You may want to hunt down a inverter-charger. Now, before you go gung ho, I strongly suggest you lurk on solarpaneltalk.com, because the lessons will be worth learning. You really want to come to grips with your power use .... and the future power consumption. Adding bits and parts is unwise - because without a plan, you may well end up with a bunch of bits and parts that don't work with each other.

Above all, avoid Harbour Freight/Canadian Tire for solar panels/batteries. If you're going off-grid, buy off-grid stuff. If that means blowing $600 on a pair of 200-watt panels, consider it an investment.
 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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When I lived alone in a small cabin, I wired it for DC, which removed the need for the inverter. All I was running was a light or two, my laptop, a woodstove pipe fan, and an answering machine. I used scrounged AC outlets and wired positive to one side and negative to the other. Quite illegal I'm sure, but it worked, as long as I lived alone. But visitors would frequently fry AC stuff by plugging it into my DC outlets! Then I got a small cheap noisy inverter and used it for the occasional AC appliance, like a printer. The system started out with two small solar panels (72W total) and a couple of scrounged batteries. Later on I got bigger panels and four golfcart batteries. It's good to start small and then you make small mistakes. And I was coming at this from basically camping in a big tent with a kerosene lamp, so I didn't have power consumption assumptions to deal with.
 
Sam Ewbank
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Location: SW MI USA
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GA Homesteader-
In #1 you are installing outlets, lighting and a breaker box, do you already have electricity at/to the cabin?

If your running electrical wire and don't have a lot of experience, I would suggest you get a book from your library so you have something on hand as a reference guide.



Are you trying to do something similar to the attached diagram except where it says "utility" that's where your generator would be connected? or are you trying to charge your batteries with the generator?
As has been mentioned before do you know what your overall power consumption will be and will your site be able to support it. (PV site survey)

You may find builditsolar.com helpful. There are a couple of articles here "http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/PV/pv.htm" for small stand alone systems.

Good Luck

Sam
 
Rufus Laggren
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Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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The OP's plan sounds basically sensible, particularly if the cabin has interior finished walls which will cover the wiring and any plumbing, hold insulation, provide interior decor and generally will never be messed with again (hopefully). To install wiring you need some good understanding of basic electricity and wiring methods (to different topics); a good how-to book will cover this and several will provide more understanding and insurance. Actually doing your wiring to local codes won't cost much more and may add $5-$10k to the value of the building if you ever need to sell or get a loan; might also save you some hassle somewhere. Codes are a 3rd topic related to but not the same as basic electricity and wiring methods. Local electricians can help/advise and there are two or three inet sites where electricians talk shop directly related to codes.

Grid, solar, wind, generator will all connect to the same distribution panel(s). They can all be added later. What can't be added later w/out remodeling the house is the outlets and switches.

Assuming you will have grid power, you must have "service" box for the meter; if the service box is more than (IIRC- you have to check this) 6' from the breaker panel (aka distribution panel, load center) the service box must have main breakers in it. You will need a breaker panel. If the service box has breakers then the panel doesn't need them and can be a "lug type" panel that holds only breakers for each of the building circuits; if the panel is close enough to the service entrance then the main breakers will be in panel and you will need a "main breaker" type panel. It should have space for at least 12 "regular" (1") breakers. It needs to be positioned (not necessarily centered) in a space 30" wide, mounted about chest high and have 36" clear directly in front of it. There must not be anything permanently installed (like a generator box) below it - ie. a person working on the panel must be able to stand directly in front of it and move back away from it easily. It cannot be in a bathroom or bedroom closet. It can be mount outside on the exterior of the building but I don't recommend that; it's a _real_ pain to go out into driving rain or snow to flip a breaker back on. Although 12 circuits may seem excessive the panels are cheap at the box stores and the "extra" circuits may be what makes it possible to "easily" install solar, inverters, generators, etc.; the switches and breakers used for these (down the road) connections usually take up two full size breaker spaces each. In my researches I found "SqareD" brand panels were constructed smaller and more compactly than most others which makes for a less obtrusive footprint in your home.

It's been my experience that it quickly pays to buy the "best" quality outlets and switches, not the "contractor grade". All it takes to pay for the lot is to have to replace one of them that fails. Don't use the type where you connect the wire to the outlet or switch just by sticking the bare wire into a hole in the back; get the type where you must tighten a screw onto the wire. Heat/cold cycles cause the little spring that's supposed to clamp the tip of the wire you stick into that little hole to loosen and then you have a light that flickers or a computer that reboots itself.

Also in my experience, more outlets are better. You won't use most of them but not tripping over extension cords is worth a lot.

Rufus
 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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This seems like it's getting way too complicated. Maybe I'm missing something?

If I understand the OP Larahna we're not talking about grid power. The points I got were:

1. a three hundred watt inverter ran off a single car battery, solar panels and a couple more batts someday.
2. a 12' X 16' Cabin
3. a modest budget and DIY friendly

Why not get a 300 watt inverter with two built-in AC outlets..you can get not-bad xantrex ones at the hardware store these days. Screw it into the wall somewhere convenient, next to batteries. Plug in two 15 foot extension cords and lead them to convenient places in the cabin. Done. Wiring would cost about twenty bucks and take thirty seconds.

I'm assuming we're talking about running one light, and maybe having an outlet for the computer / radio, or maybe one in the cooking area for the twenty second coffee grinder.

Larahna, you mentioned being able to hook up a generator and I'm assuming your talking about a small portable generator...I would think in this situation you could just plug an extension cord into it to power whatever you're using. Or you could use it to run an automotive battery charger to top off your car batt., but it's going to be really inefficient...you'll probably be happier getting those solar panels eventually. You mention access to off site power...you will be removing the battery and putting it on a battery charger off-site?

Some good advice earlier about learning a bit about what your power consumption will be, what panels can provide, and coming up with a solar power set up that will meet your needs. It's much cheaper to simplify the needs than to size up the solar power. Minimize the wire run from solar panel to battery, use some decent big battery cables when adding batteries to the bank.

(and i'm not advocating doing crazy dangerous stuff with heavy loads on twenty extension cords and octopus plugs and hundred and fifty foot runs, just two tidy short neat ones in a simple little cabin with a 300 watt inverter)



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