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Old 01-22-2018, 07:31 PM   #1
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Electricity to treehouse


Hello, I'm trying to get lights going inside my tree house. Apparently, local code allows for 12V, but not 120V.

The tl;dr is: Any idea how I can install one of these: MeanWell hlg-320h (can't post link yet - web search should get you there) outside in the weather? The problem is I have no handy junction box for the splices.

Details...

The tree house is a long way from any junction box (about 80 ft.), and the voltage drop on 12V is going to be a doozy - that doesn't even add in the 25' climb up to the tree house, or the 30+ ft of lighting I want to install (there's a 30' bridge between a couple platforms that I want to light up).

So, I think the best option is to run 120V to the base of the treehouse, and switch to 12V for the rest.

So far so good - I'm ok with digging the trench and laying the wire (24" deep for direct burial, using 8/2 UF for a 30A line - overkill, but I had some extra wire from a previous project). I even found a nice "garden post" with a weatherproof outlet on it.

My problem is that I don't know how to wire up the 12V power supply legally.

I found a few 12V AC transformers designed for outdoor mounting, but I was really hoping to use 12V DC. (DC lets me use the really cheap LED tape lighting, and it also lets me install a 12V car-outlet in the tree house for convenient cell phone charging)

The only 12V DC stuff I've found rated for outdoors installations with sufficient wattage are some power supplies from MeanWell. They look pretty solid (apparently you can dunk them in water and they'll keep on running, no problem), but they come with these short 12" wires that I'm supposed to splice into my stuff (120V on one side, 12VDC on the other). With only a foot of wire, I essentially need to install two junction boxes right next to the power supply. I think. But all I've got out there is a few trees, so no place to mount the box.

An ugly option would be to stick a 4x4 post in the ground and mount everything to that.

Prettier (but not sure if it can be done to code) would be to use an in-ground junction box and just throw all splices and the power supply in there.

Any ideas?

Thanks!
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Old 01-22-2018, 08:00 PM   #2
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


I hope that your wife didn't tell you to sleep in the tree house. Negotiate for the couch like a real man.

Sorry, just kidding. I didn't know that a code for outdoor low voltage existed. Suppose you started with 24 volts at the house? Would that cover the voltage drop?
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Old 01-22-2018, 08:16 PM   #3
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


Ha! We're actually trying to get it up to AirBnB standards, so the wife is in on the shenanigans.

Thanks for the idea on 24V - it's a possibility, but I need to figure out a weather-proof way to turn that into 12V DC. Or, alternatively, find 24V lights.
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Old 01-22-2018, 08:49 PM   #4
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


What is your location. I don't see why this wouldn't be treated like any other out building allowing 120 volts.
If you can bring 120 volts to the tree, why not up into the house?
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Old 01-22-2018, 08:53 PM   #5
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


San Mateo County, California. They don't permit tree houses at all. So, on the up side, you can build one with zero permit fees. On the down side, you can't run 120V (or plumbing or gas) to a structure that isn't permittable.

Apparently they're working on regs for "livable" tree houses, but right now if I want to stick with the code, I'm stuck with landscape lighting (under 30V)
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Old 01-22-2018, 08:55 PM   #6
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


I would put the 120 outlet at the permanent stairs or ladder from there I would go battery charger and some 12 volt deep discharge batteries and start looking at wiring diagrams for Yachts or motor homes or something like that. If more power is needed a 1/4 horse motor will drive a 12 volt generator or alternator.
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Old 01-22-2018, 09:01 PM   #7
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


Oh, so totally disconnected, with a conveniently placed outlet to charge batteries as needed. That's interesting - I'm going to give that some thought.

I think that would also allow me to set up a solar panel to help keep the batteries topped off, which is nice (something for future upgrade; I don't know enough about solar to make that happen right now, and it sounds expensive)
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Old 01-22-2018, 09:12 PM   #8
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


Do you think AirBNB would list an unpermitted (read: illegal) dwelling? I suppose you do save permit fees when you build something that is unpermitable. Talked to your insurance agent yet (something else AirBNB might be interested in)? I don't know - maybe they don't care.
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Old 01-22-2018, 09:19 PM   #9
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


This is all on the up-n-up. I went down and chatted with the county planning dept. and they were pretty clear: "you can build tree houses, we just don't have any regulations covering them"

So, it's a legal structure in the sense that it isn't breaking any laws, and you're allowed to spend time in it. I am not sure if you can live in it though - there may be further code issues there. But you do bring up a good point, I should find out if it's legal to "camp" (i.e. occupy short term) a tree house.

I already called the insurance company. This is actually a funny story - we use Amica, and we went through a couple weeks of back and forth, sending them detailed plans and pictures, and structural engineering tests. The whole nine yards. At the end, they said: "Sorry, we can't insure that. Oh, and when your policy is due in 11 months, we're not going to renew." Oops!

We've already found another company that's on board, so not a big deal. (a bit cheaper for coverage too)
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Old 01-22-2018, 09:58 PM   #10
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


This definitely sounds like an application for a battery and charger, or solar. I'd do solar, but a charger is cheaper. A battery like this: http://www.trojanbattery.com/pdf/dat..._12_255_DS.pdf will power quite a bit of lighting and small appliances. You can get 120V power using an inverter without having any 120V wiring in the structure.
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Old 01-23-2018, 12:41 AM   #11
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


If local codes only allow 12v
then 12v it must be ?
You can make up for the loss
by feeding more voltage into the line.
lets assume you lose 2v due to line loss
well then you feed in 14v instead of 12v.
Variable voltage power supplies are readily available.
fit all your 12v lights, turn them all on,
then adjust your power supply
till you get 12v at the tree house.
leave it set there.
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Old 01-23-2018, 07:11 AM   #12
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


Maybe it's my background, but I'd go with setting it up like a boat or RV. Batteries and charger, connected to "shore power." Most marine or RV chargers will also put out 12VDC to power the system even without the batteries.

With just LED lighting you should be able to go for days on a relatively small battery bank, even without the charger. The easiest solution is a pair of 6V golf cart batteries, maybe 115AH, hooked up in series for 12VDC. These are small, cheap, easy to handle, and reliable. You can add more pairs if you need more AH or want to go solar some day. Trojan is a good name, but Costco and BJs also sell some pretty reliable no-name GC batteries.

For light fixtures, check RV and marine units. Note that adding the word "marine" to any product automatically adds another digit onto the price. But it may help to have something that's a little more weather-resistant.

Be sure you spend some time with the LED units you choose. It's very hard to judge the brightness from the specs. Also, the different color "temperature" can make a huge difference. Be aware that LED light, even "warm" light, can be harsh. By that I mean, even if it seems very bright, it can be hard to read a book or newspaper by LED light. Maybe it's because we're only getting one wavelength.

Sounds like a pretty primitive AirB&B. No bathroom? No shower? No hair dryer? No heat or A/C? No refrigerator? The good news is all those things consume the most power. You can get 12VDC TV's and DVD players. Don't forget to add USB outlets so people can at least use their phones and tablets. These are common from Auto/RV/Marine suppliers.
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Old 01-23-2018, 09:49 AM   #13
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


@dmxtothemax : I did think of this, and looked into it a bit. I used a random web site to calculate the voltage drop, and assuming I use the same #8 wire, it's actually not too bad - I'd need about 15V at the source. The real problem with this solution is that I'm limited to 40A per wire, and @12V that's under 500W. I was hoping for a bit more future-proofing. Also, having a 120V outlet at the ground will be pretty useful, so I think I'm going to do that regardless.
@CaptTom : Thanks for all the suggestions. I just ordered some sample LED lights and a small 12V power pack (low power, just for testing). I'm hoping this will give us an idea of what will work and what won't. Thanks to you and the others suggesting batteries, that's the direction I'm leaning now.

Regarding the Abnb: We have a bathroom! See this composting toilet. We also plan to have a small ~4 gallon cistern mounted above a small sink in the bathroom for hand washing, drinking water, and whatever else might be needed. (We'd fill the cistern manually before people stay) For heat, we're thinking of a small ventless propane heater hooked up to camp-sized propane canisters (with a few canisters on hand to be used as needed). The treehouse is small and well insulated, so it wouldn't take much. And A/C isn't a big deal here (Santa Cruz Mountains - our main house doesn't even have A/C).

But shower and hair dryer: we don't have good answers for those yet. We could share our house shower, but that's starting to get weird. For hair dryer, they could just use the outlet at the base of the tree :-)

This is all designed to be more "glamping" than a standard Abnb. We are up in beautiful CA Redwoods (the treehouse is suspended between 5 140' tall trees, with a bridge connecting it to another platform suspended between 4 more). We are local to a bunch of hiking and mountain biking trails. There are wineries right down the road. We think it could be popular for the right kind of people.
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Old 01-23-2018, 10:29 AM   #14
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


I thought of a composting toilet after I posted. Makes sense.

Lots of "camping" shower options out there. Maybe one of those black bag "sun showers" if there's any sunlight available.

Not sure if it's still there, but a marina in Maine used to have an outdoor shower stall. The door was short enough to see over. Best ocean view around! Of course there was no tree house there looking down into the shower stall.
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Old 01-23-2018, 11:12 AM   #15
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Re: Electricity to treehouse


Composting toilets require 120 volts. At least the ones I have seen do. Check this out before you purchase.
Maybe they make a 12 volt version.
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