Upgrading a Basic Shed into a Solar-Powered Workshop

Energy & Sustainability Home Science
Upgrading a Basic Shed into a Solar-Powered Workshop

A few months ago, Russell Graves moved from the Seattle metropolitan area to a more rural location in southwestern Idaho. Though he sees this as an improvement, he still needed somewhere to work. Because of family distractions and the fact he works with some potentially dangerous technology (battery testing, soldering, and other technical pursuits), an office inside the home wasn’t really the right solution.

To get the space he needed, he decided to buy a shed and upgrade it with air conditioning, insulation, plywood walls, and electricity. Where Graves lives has an extremely hard ground surface, so properly running cable to the shed location would be difficult and expensive. Between this and the fact that he wanted to experiment with an off-grid system he decided to power the whole thing with solar energy.

Graves’ well-documented build (along with many detail posts linked there) starts out with him buying a Tuff Shed that was offered at a deep discount. He then spent a few days creating a level foundation for the shed. It then showed up on the back of a trailer and was put in place.

Modification to his liking could now be done.

To start the renovation off, he filled the gaps around the windows and doors in with Great Stuff foam, cutting the excess off with a knife. Insulation was then added in the form of rock wool. He used this instead of fiberglass because, among other factors, it’s more soundproof than fiberglass and easier to install (I used something similar in this noise paneling build). Though it is more expensive than fiberglass, this wasn’t a huge consideration in his small space.

Once the insulation was in, he installed foam board insulation for an extra layer of protection from the elements. Over this, one would normally install drywall, but Graves instead opted to use plywood. His reasoning  was that it gives a solid surface for mounting stuff, especially since the wall studs were recessed behind a layer of foam board. Also, he likes the look of plywood interiors.

Additionally, Graves really hates drywall and mudding work, and claims to not be good at it. Since his structure is so small, he doesn’t have to worry about permits or inspections; in the event of a fire or other emergency that these inspections are meant to help mitigate, he is never more than a few feet away from a door. He does, however, have a fire extinguisher in his shed, which is probably reassuring for others that see him working with high energy battery packs and other experimental equipment.

After everything was insulated, he of course needed to have an air conditioner. After around a half hour of cutting with a hole saw and reciprocating saw, he had a rectangular hole suitable for it. He then lined this hole with wood and properly mounted the unit. According to his writeup, he very much enjoyed seeing a cross-section of the wall assembly he’d just put together.

Once that was done, it was time to provide power to the little office. As his shed roof slopes to the north, he created two external wooden panel mounts out of 4×4 lumber on the first mount then lighter 2×4s on the second. Power from these panels then goes into a charge controller which then feeds the appropriate power into his battery bank.

This bank consists of eight Deep-Cycle batteries, providing 48 volts and (theoretically) 12kWh of power. From these batteries, an inverter turns everything into usable 120 volt power. He can monitor the system using The Blackbox Project running on a Raspberry Pi 3.

As of now, the system generates more than enough power to keep everything cool and running, but Graves is somewhat unsure about what will happen in the winter when the sun isn’t out as much and the inside of the shed needs to be heated.

Graves finished his shed off with a lab bench on one side and an ample desk on the other. Additionally, he put up quite a bit of shelving on the plywood walls. Lighting is still a work in progress, and, like most projects of this type, it will probably never really be done.

Graves is very happy with the build, and puts the cost of his shed build at $17,000 along with 150 hours of his labor over three weeks. With the experience he’s gained, he thinks he could probably now pull it off in under two with another person helping.

[via Reddit]

Photos courtesy of Russell Graves

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Jeremy is an engineer with 10 years experience at his full-time profession, and has a BSME from Clemson University. Outside of work he’s an avid maker and experimenter, building anything that comes into his mind!

View more articles by Jeremy S Cook
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).