DIY Projects

Should You DIY A Portable Power Station Or Buy A Commercial One?

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Portable power stations offer a convenient solution for supplying power where there is none. They can be literal lifesavers in emergencies, and they’ll keep your phones charged while camping. Still, commercial versions can be pretty pricey for the average consumer, so should you build one instead?

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While it’s possible to put together a portable power station as a DIY project, it’s better to stick with commercially-available units. That’s especially true if you’re buying it for emergencies or off-grid uses, where reliability and safety are top priorities. If price is your deciding factor, there are lots of affordable options.

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If you’re not convinced yet, don’t worry. This guide will help you understand the components and steps required to build a portable power station, and then you can choose for yourself which option is best for you. Should you purchase a commercial portable power station or build your own?

What Is A Portable Power Station?

Firstly, everyone needs to be on the same page about what a portable power station is. 

In simple terms, it’s a rechargeable battery-powered generator that you can take anywhere you go.

As you might already know, there are many other kinds of portable generators. Most of them use fuel and a built-in motor to generate power-on-demand. However, a portable power station doesn’t do that.

Instead, it stores electricity in onboard batteries to use whenever you need it. You can charge those batteries using a wall socket or connecting the power station to solar panels.

Since they don’t rely on fuel or a motor, portable power stations have a few distinct advantages. For example, they’re perfect to use indoors since they don’t burn any fuel. Plus, you can take them camping to charge your devices without having to lug fuel along with you.

With portable power stations, you won’t have the loud noise from a gas generator which is discouraged from most campgrounds, and you won’t have to endure the smell of burning fumes.

I really wanted to have my own portable power station for my home. You never know when emergency strikes and you need to keep your fridge or freezer operating to preserve your food. I actually had a lot of ideas of why owning a portable power station is a really good idea. I just didn’t know if I should make a DIY portable power station or purchase one online.

What Components Are In A Portable Power Station?

Before you decide between going the DIY or commercial route, you must first understand what components a portable power station needs, to begin with.

That way, you’ll have a better understanding of the efforts and challenges involved with building one.

Whether it’s DIY-built or commercially made, here are 6 main components required to put a portable power station together:

1. Battery Pack

You can probably guess the first part of any portable power station: the battery. More specifically, a portable power station will have a pack that consists of several identical batteries.

You can purchase the batteries for about $300 (a total of 84), at 18650batterystore.com

Battery Pack

By grouping several batteries, the battery pack increases its overall capacity and makes it a practical way to store power.

2. Inverter

Next on the list is an inverter. This component is crucial because batteries store direct current (DC) electricity, but some appliances require alternating current (AC) electricity instead.

Thanks to the inverter, you can supply power to appliances that you’d typically plug into a wall socket.

For example, you can connect some power tools and chargers directly to the AC power output that receives power through the inverter.

3. Battery Management System

Since the portable power station relies heavily on a battery bank, it’ll also need a battery management system (BMS). The BMS ensures that the batteries are charging and discharging electricity safely and efficiently at all times.

4. Inputs

Unlike other generators, portable power stations don’t generate power onboard. Instead, you can connect it to shore power (i.e. a wall socket) or solar panels.

The power station will need one or more charging input ports to receive that external power and charge the onboard batteries.

5. Outputs

Naturally, the portable power station also requires outputs. These come in many different types, depending on the devices or appliances you’d like to power with it.

Some typical outputs include 120V AC household outlets, 12V car outlets, and various USB outlets for smaller devices.

6. Enclosure and Accessories

All of the items you see above will have to be packaged safely and nicely. So, the final part is the enclosure that houses everything. The enclosure can also include accessories like lighting, indicators, and more.

How Do You Make A Portable Power Station?

At this point, you have a clear picture of the components required to build a portable power station, whether DIY in your garage or commercially by a manufacturer.

Now, let’s suppose you want to build one yourself. Here’s an overview of what that process will look like for you:

Step 1: Draw Diagrams

Like any good DIY project, the first step is to plan how your DIY portable power station will look.

That means you’ll start by drawing diagrams of how all of the necessary components will connect to each other. At the same time, you’ll also draw diagrams of how you’d like the final product to look from the outside.

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Clear diagrams will take away the guesswork when it comes time to wire components together and mount them in the enclosure.

Step 2: Shop Around For Parts

Next, you’ll have to shop for every component you need to build your portable power station. Thankfully, you can do that both in-store and online these days.

Step 3: Prepare The Enclosure

The first challenge you’ll come across is to prepare the enclosure for your DIY portable power station. For example, if you’re making yours out of wood, you’ll have to cut and stick the wood together.

Then, you’ll have to drill holes and cut out sections for the inputs, outputs, and accessories.

Making the enclosure out of metal is ideal, but not everyone has the equipment to make it happen.

Step 4: Mount The Battery And Other Components

Once you finish preparing the enclosure, you can begin mounting the battery, battery management system, and other components inside.

Step 5: Wire The Components According To Diagram

While you mount the components in your DIY portable power station, you’ll also wire them together according to the diagram you prepared in Step 1. This part of the process will likely involve some soldering.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Last but not least, you’ll add any finishing touches you want to your portable power station. For example, that could mean painting a specific color or adding wheels to the enclosure for added mobility.

Pros And Cons Of Building Your Own Portable Power Station

After looking at the components and build process, it’s clear that you can put a portable power station together with the right components and a little know-how.

Pros
Potentially Cheaper
Customizable
Expandable and Upgradeable
Cons
Learning Curve
No Warranty Coverage
Not Tried And Tested

But does that mean that building your own is a good idea?

Something you must never forget is that building your own portable power station comes with its fair share of pros and cons.

Here are a few for you to consider:

Pro – Potentially Cheaper

A commercial portable power station can cost upwards of $300, while some DIY-ers claim they put their DIY units together for less than $150.

That’s a huge price difference!

Plus, you can choose to drive your costs lower by purchasing lower-cost components to build into your portable power station.

Pro – Customizable

By building your own portable power station, you can perfectly customize it to suit your needs. For example, your power station can have the precise battery capacity you need. Better yet, you can choose to add only the outputs that are compatible with devices you own.

Pro – Expandable and Upgradeable

Over the years, your power needs can change. However, that’s not a problem since you can upgrade and expand your DIY portable power station as often as you need to.

Unlike with a commercial portable power station, you’re not stuck with what you’ve got.

Con – Learning Curve

Unfortunately, building a portable power station from scratch requires a certain level of electrical and electronic know-how. 

Let’s assume you try to build one without knowing how to do it correctly. In that case, you could learn lessons the hard way by buying new components and dealing with injuries!

Con – No Warranty Coverage

A portable power station that you build yourself comes with no warranty protection. So, if something breaks, you’ll have to figure out how to fix it all by yourself.

When you pay the higher price for a commercial unit, part of that cost includes after-sales support.

In simple terms, commercial units come with a phone number you can call for help if they ever become faulty.

Con – Not Tried And Tested

Lastly, you’ll have to put a lot of faith into your DIY portable power station and hope that it works when you need it the most. That can be a tall order, especially if you’re building the power station as an emergency power backup to use in emergencies.

With commercial portable power stations, you’ll know that the top manufacturers test their products rigorously before it reaches store shelves.

If your DIY portable power station is wired incorrectly, it could permanently damage your devices. I do not think I’d trust plugging in a brand-new iPhone into a DIY portable power station. You?

Plus, you have a chance to read other customers’ reviews before you spend your hard-earned money.

Nothing beats reviews by people who have personally used the portable power station you plan on buying.

Bottom Line: Should You Build Your Own Power Station Or Buy A Ready-Made One?

So, considering everything that you saw above, should you build a DIY portable power station or purchase a commercially-made one?

Well, it depends.

Let’s assume that you want to build a portable power station as a fun DIY project at home. If that’s the case, you should go ahead and do that.

However, if safety and reliability are essential to you, you should only use a commercial option. When everything is said and done, the price for a commercial portable power station isn’t that much – for $500 or less – you can have a reliable unit ready to go.  

You’ll have plenty of peace of mind with a high-quality, tried, and tested commercial portable power station as your emergency backup or an off-grid power solution.

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Author

Bert is a real practical, hands-on type of guy. His articles focus on how we can save money, live better and enjoy the life that we have been given. He loves using technology and its many devices, testing them, and showing their benefit to those looking to make a purchase. Bert loves writing, editing, and reviewing products on Better Home Living.

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