Electricity has made life a lot better and easier. That’s why some people who live off the grid or in places where power outages happen consider it a necessity to have a DIY generator.
It’s not a problem since various models of electric generators are available for sale. However, if the budget is tight or you simply want to make your own, you can definitely build one and enjoy the many benefits of a DIY generator. It will cost you much less and you’ll be putting to good use some “junk” around your house.
How Generators Work
The two main parts common in electric generators are the generator head and the rotor.
The generator head is the solid casing that holds an assembly of stationary and moving parts. They work together to create electricity. The parts include the stator (the stationary part which holds wire coils) and the rotor (the moving electromagnet part).
The electrical energy generated is stored in a battery to be available for use during emergency situations.
Affordable DIY Generators You Can Build
1. Bicycle Generator
Do you have an old bike that you’re not using anymore? You can use it as the main part or material to build your DIY bicycle generator following the steps below:
Step 1. Gather the needed tools and materials.
- Bicycle- You don’t need the whole bike for this generator as long as the back wheel turns when you pedal. The bike’s wheel will be the generator’s rotor.
- Wood slabs (2” x 4”) for the bicycle’s support to keep it from tilting or falling on its side, corner braces
- Wood nails or screws
- Motor (at least 12volts) with mounting material
- Light bulb
For the tools, you’ll need:
- Tape measure
- Multimeter to check the voltage output
Step 2. Remove the tire and tube off the back wheel.
Check if the chain moves when you pedal the bike.
Step 3. Build the stand for the back wheel.
The stand will keep the back wheel in place while elevated at 5 to 7 inches off the ground. If you can find a bike trainer, you can also use it to hold the elevated back wheel in place.
Step 4. Attach the motor to its stand.
The stand will keep the motor in place and aligned with the back wheel.
Step 5. Attach the drive belt along the back rim and the motor shaft.
The belt will spin the motor shaft when you pedal the bicycle. Make sure that the belt will not slip out of the bicycle wheel rim and the motor shaft.
Step 6. Connect the motor to a rechargeable battery with a diode in series.
The diode directs the current generated to the battery. Use a battery bank to store more current to be readily available when needed. The diode directs the current in one direction only preventing current reversal from the battery.
Step 7. Connect the battery to an AC inverter.
Then, plug your AC-powered devices and appliances into the inverter.
A bicycle generator can provide enough electricity to power a flashlight, an electric stove to boil water in a kettle, a 12-volt light bulb, and other devices needing low power to operate. For example, it can provide power to a cell phone to make a short call or a computer to check some emails.
2. Water Turbine / Hydroelectric Generator
A water turbine or hydroelectric generator is the most suitable standby source of electricity for people who live near or have access to running water. You’re lucky if you live near a river or stream. Enjoy nature’s free power source and make your homemade generator following the steps below:
Step 1. Gather the tools and materials
- Bicycle wheel – you only need the back wheel
- Plastic cups or hollow balls cut into halves
- Drill, screws, screwdriver, saw, welder
- Car Alternator, 12V
Step 2. Align the car alternator’s position with the wheel.
Attach a pulley to the alternator’s shaft. Wrap a chain around the wheel’s sprocket to the alternator’s shaft. The alternator shaft should turn with the wheel.
Step 3. Make the water wheel or turbine.
Attach the cups or hollow ball halves into the wheel. The cups should catch the water flow that will turn the wheel clockwise. Attach the cups about two inches apart. This will be the water wheel or turbine.
Step 4. Connect the alternator to a rechargeable battery bank.
The weight and force of running water will power the alternator to generate electricity. The output voltage will be depending on the setting of the head and flow. The head is the vertical distance between the cups and the water source. The flow is the volume of water falling into the cups. Electricity generated and stored in the battery will be directly proportional to the head and the flow.
If you don’t have access to a body of moving water, a good alternative would be to collect rainwater and store it in a reservoir. Then the water wheel will rotate when it is positioned along the flow of the water released from the reservoir.
Rainwater is not available the whole year round. However, a hydroelectric generator would be a good replacement for solar power on rainy days
3. Wind Turbine Homemade Generator
The wind turbine generator converts energy from the wind into electricity. The force of strong wind turns large blades into a wheel that spins the rotor. The rotating rotor is connected to a generator where mechanical energy is converted into electricity.
Take note that a wind turbine generator only works in places where the wind speed is constantly strong and with predictable movement patterns. Check with an anemometer if the wind speed is at least 10 kilometers per hour. If you’re lucky to be in a place with the kind of wind needed to run a wind turbine generator, you can build your own following the steps below:
Step 1. Gather the needed tools and materials.
- Automotive alternator or DC motor
- Blades or propellers
- Nylon rope
- Battery bank
- Wood and Pole for Tower mount or stand with base.
- Welding tools
- Ball-bearing wheel as
- Other basic building tools
Step 2. Make or buy at least 5 propellers.
The propellers should have a curved edge so that the force of the wind will push them in the designed direction. You can make your own blades using sections of a PVC pipe.
Step 3. Attach the propellers to the ball-bearing wheel.
The wheel or the hub where the blades are attached at equal distances should have a pulley to hold the belt that will connect it to the motor shaft that rotates to generate electricity.
Step 4. Build the base and tower that will hold the wind turbine.
You can try various designs that would fit the wind turbine tower location. Aside from the base, try to brace the tower using nylon rope attached to wooden stakes partially buried in the ground.
The wind turbine should be located where there is no obstruction to its full exposure to strong winds. If you think the wind is too strong, exceeding 90 km/ hour, stop the turbine to avoid damage.
Step 5. Connect the generator to the battery.
Keep in mind the following:
- Wind turbines require regular maintenance to keep them running efficiently.
- You may need to deal with environmentalists who complain that even small wind turbines can kill birds. Check if there are laws prohibiting the building of windmills/wind turbines.
4. Solar Power Generator
A solar generator uses energy from the sun to generate electricity that you can use to power your gadgets, light bulbs, laptops, and other small appliances.
In addition to being safer than fossil fuel generators, this device operates quietly. There is no engine so you’ll hear only the buzz from the inverter. It requires minimal maintenance. You just need to check the solar panel from time to time to make sure it is clean and free of anything that can prevent its full exposure to sunlight.
If you would like to enjoy the many benefits of using solar power, build your own electric generator following the steps below.
Step 1. Gather the basic parts/components needed.
- Solar panels (rigid or flexible) to convert sun power into direct current electricity.
- Solar charge controller to standardize the degree of charge that goes into and out of your battery.
- Rechargeable battery to store the electricity generated so that it’s available on demand.
- Inverter to convert DC power (direct current) from the battery storage into AC power (alternating current) to be used by home appliances.
- Case to hold and protect the various parts of the solar generator
- Electrical wiring to connect the different parts.
- Breakers, power outlet, and switch.
- Wiring diagram
Step 2. Assemble the solar panel.
There are two types of solar panels – the rigid solar panel and the flexible or foldable solar panel. Choose the type based on the contour of the surface where the solar panel will be attached. Make the appropriate solar panel stand based on your location. Also, make sure that the solar panels will have a good connection with the battery.
Step 3. Arrange and connect the components in the case.
To protect the device from environmental elements, install the charge controller, battery, fuses, and inverter in a weatherproof case. Secure the various components in place and make the needed connections.
The solar panel and the connecting cables and sockets remain outside the case. Assembling the various parts in a case also makes your solar generator portable.
Step 4. Mark and drill or cut the openings on the case.
Review and identify the outlets for the components in the case that you will be connecting to the solar panel like the battery. Include the openings for the appliance outlets, plugs, and other such materials which should not interfere with each other.
Your DIY solar power device can’t generate enough electricity required for appliances like washing machines, refrigerators, and cooking ranges. However, it can provide you with much–needed electricity to continue using important gadgets and tools during an emergency situation or to reduce your electricity bills.
5. Biogas Generator
Do you have access to high volumes of organic waste such as manure, agricultural waste, food waste, sewage, and other biodegradable materials? Help save the environment by not allowing them to decompose and turn into harmful gases in open dumpsites.
Instead, put these organic wastes into a large bin or tank called a digester to produce biogas one of the energy sources that homemade generators use to produce electricity.
How Long Does It Take to Turn Organic Waste Into Biogas?
Biogas is produced after organic materials from plants and animals are broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. The process is called anaerobic digestion. Biogas is formed when bacteria digest organic matter (biomass) in the absence of oxygen.
The tank is completely sealed and free of oxygen. A temperature of around 35 degrees which is the optimum temperature for all the different bacteria is maintained inside the tank.
Turning organic waste into biogas takes approximately 5-90 days. In most cases, it takes 10-30 days. The time needed mainly depends on the makeup of the feedstock and the type of anaerobic digester. You can also speed up anaerobic digestion by cutting the organic waste into smaller pieces.
Why Should You Turn Organic Waste Into Biogas?
Processing your own biogas allows you not only to reduce your dependence on fossil fuel and save money but also to reduce the amount of waste on the dumpsites.
Wastes on open dumpsites cause environmental pollution. Harmful gases that contribute to global warming are released into the atmosphere during decomposition.
How Much Electricity Can a DIY Biogas Generator Produce?
According to some biogas generator users, a cubic meter of biogas can provide the energy needed to generate about 2 kWh of electricity. The yield would be able to power a 50W bulb for 40 hours. You are sure to have some light for a few days.
If you’re interested in building your own electric generator, just follow the steps below.
Step 1. Prepare the materials and tools
- 30-50 gallon plastic drum with removable lid
- PVC pipes (1 and 2-inch diameter), T-connectors, socket
- Gas hose
- Power drill
- Tube tire to store biogas
- Combustion engine
Step 2. Prepare the biogas digester.
Use a 30-50 gallon plastic drum with a removable lid as a digester. Provide the drum with a PVC feed pipe for the organic waste and a hose as a gas outlet. All connections should be tightly sealed to prevent gas leakage.
Step 3. Add a drain valve to the digester.
Step 4. Make the biogas storage.
The hose, which is the gas outlet in the digester, will be connected to an inflatable tube (the one that holds the air in a car tire). The inflatable tube, an airtight container, will be used to store biogas.
Step 5. Turn biogas into electricity.
Use biogas from the inflatable tube to run the combustion chamber of the generator. If necessary, use a small pump (an aquarium pump will do) to transfer gas from the tube to the carburetor of the engine.. So, you run your electric generator using biogas instead of gasoline or diesel fuel.
Benefits of Building a DIY Generator
Why should you build your own electric generator when there are different types of standby electric generators that you can buy? Actually, there are many benefits that you should look into before you buy a ready-to-use generator.
1. Lower Cost
You can build DIY generators using items that you and other people are no longer using. Utilizing those found items lowers the cost of DIY electric generators. Actually, the biggest investment is your time to research the build instructions and find the needed materials and parts to actually assemble the generator.
Even if you don’t have the needed parts on hand, they are not difficult to find. For example, you can get many of them from a junked vehicle that still has its engine and other parts in good shape.
2. Easy Maintenance and Repairs
You built the device yourself, so it will be easier and faster for you to check what went wrong and what you need to fix it. It will be easy for you to maintain and repair.
When you buy a ready-to-use device, you may have to go to your dealer for repairs which can be expensive after the warranty period. Sometimes you have no choice because many products have parts that should be replaced with original parts from the manufacturer.
3. Free Energy Sources
Store-bought generators generally use gas or diesel fuel. You have to stock the required fuel on hand for emergencies. Make sure to keep the fuel in a safe place to avoid fire.
To enjoy free energy you can build DIY generators that depend on things from nature like water, wind, and sunlight. It’s also safer because you don’t need to store flammable fuel.
4. Sense of Accomplishment
Anyone can’t help but feel good and proud after building something themselves and being able to use it. You feel that sense of accomplishment. That’s one of the reasons why some people spend time and effort learning and building projects.
When you build your own generator, you will not only save a lot, but you will also learn things that could help you do more in the future. Most of them would agree that the most important reward is personal satisfaction.
Limited Applications of DIY Generators
While there are many benefits when you build a DIY electric generator, it is important to understand its limited capabilities.
For example, DIY generators are not capable of generating enough electricity to power important appliances, like a refrigerator, found in most houses. However, you can depend on it to continue using LED electric bulbs and your smartphone to make short calls.
Things to Consider Before Building Your DIY Generator
You don’t have to be an electrician or engineer to be able to build your own generator as long as you have the following:
- Detailed instructions or guide to building the generator. There are written and video instructions online that specify the needed materials, equipment, and tools as well as the step-by-step procedure.
- The time and ability to understand the detailed guide or instructions.
- The time and interest to do DIY projects.
After the initial assessment, it’s important to consider the following additional factors before you decide which generator will be best for you.
1. How Much Power Do You Need From Your DIY Generator?
There are many types of generators that you can build yourself to power specific devices in your home. To determine the type of generator that will meet your requirements, make a list of your appliances and devices and how much electricity they need to run. Which of them do you intend to run with electricity during an emergency situation?
Each type of DIY generator will generate a different amount of electricity. For example, a hand crank generator can only produce 5 to 10 watts. Will that be enough for your requirements? You have to estimate how much electricity you’ll need to run the important devices you need to continue running.
Your budget will be one of the major factors that will determine the type of generator you will build. If you intend to build a DIY generator at a much lower cost, then you should search for the type that uses more materials that you don’t have to buy.
If you expect to build a generator that can provide more electricity, you should be prepared for a higher budget. High-output generators would most likely need heavy-duty batteries, a power inverter, and other materials that you might not have on hand.
3. The Energy Source for Your Generator
Where will the input energy to your generator come from? At the start of this article, it was mentioned that a generator needs this input energy to generate electricity.
To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the prevailing weather condition in your area? Is it windy, sunny, or rainy? Is the minimum wind speed enough to operate a wind turbine generator?
- Are you located near a flowing river or other flowing bodies of water?
- Do you have the time and willingness to perform the required physical activity to provide the generator with the required energy? If you’re considering a bicycle electric generator, you may need to pedal a bike for a given length of time daily.
4. Availability of Parts or Materials Needed To Build the Generator
Are the materials or parts you will need to build the DIY generator available or affordable? You will be amazed to discover that there is so much old junk around that could be used to build an electric generator.
For example, you can make an old lawnmower engine useful again. If you look around your house and office, you will find that it is filled with electric motors. There are motors in your blender, refrigerator, stand mixer, vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, electric razor, and other appliances. You’ll also find motors in your car’s windshield wiper, fans, power windows, and other moving parts.
On Building Your Generator
There are many tutorials online to guide you build your DIY electric generator. The tutorials show the description and even photos of the materials and tools you need, the wiring diagram as well as the step-by-step procedure.
Are you comfortable using the various tools and doing the various steps needed to assemble the electric generator? If you are not comfortable using the tools correctly, you should have the patience to practice.
Don’t be afraid or shy to ask the experts. Maybe you should search for and watch more instructional videos. Some people find it easier to actually watch someone build something than learn by just reading some instructions.
Lastly, the most important factor in a successful project is your great desire to build a generator yourself. Even if you don’t plan to make a DIY generator now, knowing “how” is a valuable skill that can save you someday.
Some people need to have a standby electric generator not only to stay comfortable but also to keep some life-saving devices running when there’s no power available from their local electrical grid.
DIY generators can help you stay connected with people who matter and ask for help during emergency situations.
They can keep you warm during winter and cool during summer. In an advanced world, utilities are run efficiently but there are times when unexpected failures happen.
There is no ideal generator for everyone. In fact, you may need to have more than one type on standby. If it’s possible, you may want to build a wind turbine and a solar generator.