Tiny House Electrical System Overview

This weekend I began work on an upgrade to the electrical system in my tiny house.  I am going to remove the bulky pump controller which has been a little tempermental.  I am also replacing the Xantrex C40 charge controller with an MPPT unit made by Morning Star Solar.

One reason I wanted to post this is that there is not a lot of information on the internet on how to legally run a house on low voltage DC.  My tiny house runs on 12 volts DC and meets the requirements of the National Electrical Code.  There is no good reason to skimp on code when it comes to electrical.  Meeting code does not add any significant cost and gives you a simple upgrade path in the future should you decide to connect to the grid.

Oil Change for the Chevy Spark

Jiffy Lube

My journey into tiny living continues this weekend with an oil change for my Chevy Spark.  Typically, I use a oil change service like Jiffy Lube for oil changes.  Back in the day, you could get out of the oil change place for about $25 these days its more like $65.  Since I’m trying to reduce expenses so I can pursue the tiny lifestyle, I thought I should begin doing my own oil.

My “Lift”

The Spark has only 7 inches of clearance under it.  This is not enough for me to get under there and do work.  I needed a safe way to lift up the front end.  I settled upon a set of DIY ramps made out of scrap 2×8’s from my house build.

My power tools are in a heap at the back of the barn and I didn’t want to dig them out.  The chainsaw was handy so I cut my scrap 2×8’s into 5 short lengths for each side (I even beveled the edges).  The bottom board is about 40 inches long.  Each board that is stacked is about 8 inches shorter.  My ramp is stacked 5 boards high for a total of 7.5 inches of lift.

At the end of each ramp I tacked a short board to prevent driving off the end.  It’s a good thing I did this as I would have accidentally driven off the thing.  I also attached rope to each ramp which lets me drag the ramps around…they are pretty heavy.

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Completed ramp

Oil Change

Oil changes on the Spark are pretty easy.  The oil plug is very accessable and came off easily.  I was able to get the filter off without tools.  It was probably not tightened well enough by Jiffy Lube during the last oil change. It came off a bit too easily for my taste.

Once the oil drained, I reinstalled the plug.  I screwed on the filter which I pre-filled with oil.  I made sure the filter was tightened just a bit more than hand tight.  I then added 4 quarts of 5W30 oil and started the car.  After verifying there were no leaks and the oil levels, I backed it off the ramps.  Entire process took about 20 minutes.

 

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Draining the oil

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Good thing I put that board on the end!

My town dump recycles waste oil and I will deposit mine there this coming weekend.

How much does this save?

The oil filters for the Spark are only available from GM at this point.  I paid $6.02 for mine ordered online.  The oil I used was Quaker State  that I found at Wal-Mart for $14.50 for a 5 quart jug.  The Spark only uses 4 quarts so the cost of oil was $11.60.  Combined the total cost of my oil change was $17.62 which is about 1/2 – 1/3 of what I would have paid at an oil change place.

 

 

Honda Eu2000, The Perfect Tiny House Generator

This post I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the Honda EU2000i generator and generartors in general.  I have spent the past 2+ years building a house and living off grid.  For me the generator is an essential tool for everyday living.  Lets start with a video of my generator in action…but don’t stop reading there is a ton of additional information in this post!

The EU series of generator is very popular with RV’ers, sailboat guys, tailgaters, campers, cabin lovers, and other recreational users.  Its developed an excellent reputation over the years and is considered the gold standard for portable generators.  Yamaha is the other gold standard and is also an excellent generator.  If you have a Yamaha dealer near you for service then it probably better to buy one there.  In my area there are a number of respected Honda power equipment dealers so I bought a Honda.

Key Features

The Honda EU2000 is the size of a medium beer cooler and weighs about 50 pounds with just under a gallon of fuel.  You can draw 1600 watts from it continuously and 2000 watts for up to 30 minutes.  Its quiet enough to hold a conversation standing next to it at low loads.  Don’t underestimate the value of portability.  I am constantly moving the generator all over my 9 acre spread to help me do various tasks.

What can it power?

I managed to build my Bodega with every power tool I own without issue.  I did have to buy a pancake compressor for my air tools as my full size compressor barely runs off a heavy duty 25 amp household circuit…forget about running it from a generator.  Now that my house is complete, I use it to power my washing machine weekly.  In the summer it also powers a 5000BTU air conditioning unit without issue.

What about 12V?

The EU2000 has a 12 volt DC output that can be accessed using a special cable available for cheap from Honda.  The label says for battery charging only which is very misleading IMO.  The output is actually a bit more than 12 volts which allows it to charge a 12V lead acid batteries.  Its actually what I would consider an unregulated 12V power source.  Items like 12V lights, radios, etc will run just fine.  BE SURE to check the specs on the 12V device and make sure it can handle an unregulated 12V power source.

12V adaper cable with alligator clips

12V adaper cable with alligator clips

You will discover that the 12 volt output makes a truly awful battery charger if you try and use it for that purpose.  It will give a dead battery enough life to get your car started but it won’t fully charge it up to any reasonable level. If you want to charge the battery bank in your tiny house, get a real battery charger the EU2000 WILL NOT do the job.

Fuel Consumption

Based on real world usage you can expect a gallon of fuel to last for 3 hours when running at 1600 watts output.  If you are running at 400 watts, a gallon of fuel should give you just over 9 hours of run time.   These are real world figures based on numbers collected by generator geeks with EU2000 experience and may differ (lower) than the official specs.

A word of caution about fuel.  The 10% ethanol laced concoction that passes for gasoline these days is prone to going bad in less than a year.  Bad fuel makes it hard to start your generator and make it run rough. I recommend using a fuel additive like PRI-G or Stabil if your generator is started less than once a month.  If you burn thru fuel on a regular basis like me its ok to skip the fuel additive.  When in doubt use the additive….its cheap insurance.

I also recommend that you store the generator with the fuel cap in the “off” position (if equipped).  The volatile components in the fuel evaporate first so your fuel will last longer with the fuel cap in the “off” position.

Alternative fuels?

The EU2000i can be operated on propane with a suitable conversion kit.  Obviously, installing a kit of this type will void your warranty.  The advantage of propane is that you may already be using propane for grilling and cooking so its convenient.  The main benefit of propane is fuel storage life.  Propane never goes bad so you won’t need to worry about fuel additives.  A standard 20 pound gas grill tank will operate your EU2000 for about 13 hours at 1600 watts.  In cold weather you may have a tough time running at full power as propane “flows” more slowly.  Some have reported that this problem goes away if you use a larger propane tank (30 or 40 pound).  Propane also burns much cleaner than gasoline and might prolong engine life.

Common tri fuel conversion...shop around many companies make conversions

Common tri fuel conversion…shop around many companies make conversions

Inverter vs Traditional Generators

The EU2000 is an inverter style generator.  In practical terms, that means it will run quieter and use less fuel than a traditional generator.  A traditional generator is a gas engine connected to a generator head.  The generator head when spun at a specified rate will produce 60 cycle AC power.  Most big box generators are rated at 5000 watts and power two 120V AC circuits that can be linked together to produce 220VAC.

Generator head disconnected from engine

Generator head disconnected from engine

Engine and generator head connected in finished unit

Engine and generator head connected in finished unit

An inverter generator spins a device similar to the alternator in your car.  The output of that “alternator” is connected to an inverter similar to one you might use to produce 120V from your car cigarette plug.  The “smarts” in the inverter determine how much load is being used and tells the engine to spin faster or slower.  You save fuel when powering small loads because the generator runs slow and quiet.

Pure Sine Wave vs Modified Sine Wave

Pretty fancy terms but its important to know what they mean when shopping for generators and inverters.  Simply put “true sine wave” is the kind of power that comes off the power grid.  A “modified sine wave” produces power that is similar to true sine wave but there are key differences that can cause some equipment to not function properly.  For example, the power adapter from my Macbook Air will not run from a modified sine wave inverter.

Pure sine wave output...this is what grid power looks like

Pure sine wave output…this is what grid power looks like

Modified Sine Wave Output

Modified Sine Wave Output

Inverters that are “true sine wave” output cost more to build and as a result are often listed as a key feature.  Many generators that do not provide true sine wave output try to hide this fact.  A great example is the Generac iX2000 which produces a modified sine wave and even the Q&A section on Northern tool attempts to hide this fact:

Is that yes or no?

Is that yes or no?

They don’t outright lie but come pretty close IMO.

Its so…expensive why buy this one?

The Honda inverter generators are a proven system in all kinds of applications and at pretty much any temperature.  They have been around for many years and they just work.  If you are off grid in your tiny house and need power you don’t want to be screwing around with a poorly operating generator.  During my build, I had exactly two weekend days each week to work on the house.  If the generator failed on a Sat morning I would have lost a weekends work.  If the repairs needed more than a week to complete, I would have had to decide on buying a second generator or losing another weekends work.  It was just not worth the $300-400 savings to take that risk.

Chinese “POS” Generators

Honda and Yamaha are the gold standard that many companies attempt to copy.  Some,  produce truly awful generators with modified sine wave output that are loud enough to wake the dead.  Others, build generators so cheap that they fall apart right out of the package (or are unsafe).  If you decide to get anything other than a Honda or Yamaha, read the reviews carefully and hope for the best…you are rolling the dice IMO.  Based on my research, there is nothing out there with a very long track record to judge quality. By the time it breaks you may discover that parts and service are nowhere to be found.

1000 vs 2000 vs 3000?

The EU series comes in 1000, 2000, and 3000 watt models.  The 1000 watt model is very compact, light, and quiet.  At $800 its not a great value unless you need something really compact….possibly on a small sailboat?  It won’t power large power tools like chop saws and table saws.  You might get lucky and power a tiny chop saw or undersized table saw, but you are likely to trip the red light often.  I highly doubt that the 1000 watt unit will reliably run even a small AC unit.  Really the only thing going for it is the small size and weight.

Honda EU Lineup

Honda EU Lineup

For an additional $200-300 you can buy the 2000 watt model which will power pretty much anything.  The 2000 watt model is the most popular and will maintain the best resale value of the models if you ever need quick cash.

The 3000 watt model is an awful deal.  The base model is $2000 which is nearly double the price of the 2000 watt model.  Why not just buy a pair of 2000 watt models and a parallel operation kit and have redundant 2000 watt power AND 4000 watts of total power with the parallel kit?   To be fair, the 3000 watt model does come with an remote electric start option for an extra $300….that would be pretty darn cool!

What about 220V devices?

If you require 220V for a well pump or furnace, then you need a step up transformer or need to get another type of generator.  A step up transformer takes the 120V AC and converts it to 220V AC.  This conversion will be a bit inefficient and you won’t be able to make use of the rated load of the generator.  I suggest you have a qualified electrician verify the installation and operation of your equipment when powered from a step up transformer via generator.  Some large motor loads may not like to start up on a small generator like the EU2000.  Honestly, if you have large 220V loads, a larger generator may be a better choice.

Heavy duty 2000 watt step up/down transformer.

Heavy duty 2000 watt step up/down transformer.

Maintenance

The EU2000 gets its oil changed after the first 20 hours and then again at 50 hour intervals.  I use a quality 10W-30 motor oil based on recommendation from the manual.  You should also check, clean, replace the air filter every 50 hours as well.  Honestly, I’ve never replaced mine….this article has prompted me to go out and buy a fresh one :)

Oil changes are a total pain in the ass on this generator (a real weak spot IMO) since the oil spills and runs all over the place.  Save your sanity and buy an aftermarket oil filler tube.  They are readily available on eBay and Amazon for short money.  The other nice to have tool for filling is an oil pump that attaches to your oil bottle.  You can get them for just a few bucks on Amazon or at a local auto parts store.

Oil bottle pump attaches to quart sized motor oil bottles

Oil bottle pump attaches to quart sized motor oil bottles

Oil filler tube makes less of a mess!

Oil filler tube makes less of a mess!

Link to Stuff in This Article:

HONDA EU2000i Inverter Generator, 1600W

Impco Tri-Fuel Conversion Kit Honda Eu2000i

Honda DC Charging Cable 10′ For EU Models

Mess Free Oil Honda EU2000i

No Mess Oil Bottle Pump

120 to 220V Step Up Transformer

Honda EU2000i Parallel Operation Kit

PRI-G Fuel Stabilizer

 

Note: The links posted above are affiliate links which means I get a small commission should you buy something.  This costs you nothing and the revenue helps me produce this blog.