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I put in a treehouse and would love to get power to it, but my property is very rocky. Burying the wire is just not practical as digging a trench would require equipment that can get through rock on a very uneven surface.

Is there a practical way to keep the wire above ground?

EDIT based on comments.

I'm in Westchester County, NY. The treehouse is 20-25 yards from the house, downhill.
only need one socket and maybe 2 lights in the treehouse. Enough to charge some ipads when my kids what to hang in there. Ideally, it lasts maybe 10 years? The treehouse is solidly built.

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12 Answers 12

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For the distance and the little amount of power wanted, I would go with a battery and inverter.

A couple of LED lights and a charger, you don't really have enough to get expensive.

A 75 to 100 foot extension cord might work also but will probably want to store it sometimes.

A small generator could also work, but the noise/smell might too much.

Trenching or poles for permanent cable/wires would probably get too expensive for what you need/want. You only want/need temporary power out there.

Local regulations will need to be checked to what is allowed also.

Carrying a battery back every few days for charging will also build muscle in your kids.

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    "Point me to a product" is generally considered out of scope on Stack Exchange. Websearching "waterproof 120V battery" finds some candidates. A few of them offer solar charging as an option, which might let you avoid the recharging overhead. But depending on what it is you want to power, a 12V system and 12V lights/devices might be a much better choice; if it's big enough you can plug a weather-safe 12V-120V inverter into it if you need to drive something unexpected.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 16:19
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    skip the inverter and use a cigarette lighter socket > USB charger; much more efficient, safer, and cheaper. You should also use 12v LED strip as alluded to above.
    – dandavis
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 17:48
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    If you go with USB lights (and USB everything), you can avoid the inverter and just go with a portable power bank designed for electronics. Super common and inexpensive, and useful for other situations like power outages, camping, etc
    – anjama
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 1:14
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    The main concern with a generator is not noise or smell - it's carbon monoxide! Your choices are a) DO NOT use this option or b) extremely careful placement of the generator and ventilation of the tree house. Please choose option a. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:46
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    What I'll call "Brand-Y" is ridiculously overpriced and offers nothing but conspicuous consumption. Other products are available at considerably lower prices with as good or better performance. The same criticism goes for "Brand-D" which is in a completely different product category (the movement of air in one direction or another). Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 22:05
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I think this is a missed "learning opportunity" for the kids if you have the adults try to bludgeon 120V power into the tree house. Remember, 120V is dangerous. Yes, yes, GFCI's try to reduce the danger, but if your child makes contact with hot and neutral, GFCIs won't care. If you don't have that fear of AC mains electrical, acquire it and pass it on.

Given that all your loads are easily powered with 12 volts DC, and that's kid-safe, I think it would be much more worthwhile to implement it that way. It does a bunch of things for you, both in practical needs but also in "STEM knowledge", i.e. making your kids more comfortable with tech. Like the Maker Faire people say, "Atoms are the new bits" i.e. "being able to actually build stuff in a technology context is becoming more important than knowing how to code." I think it would be foolish to miss such an opportunity.

The hardware is no problem. 12V LED lighting is easy to buy, and you can do a lot of creative stuff with stuff like the light strips. ($8 for a 16 foot roll, can't beat it). 12 volt USB chargers are sold more places than eggs. Literally every gas station, convenience store, grocery, cell phone shop, dollar store, etc. has a rack of USB chargers, with some made for the cigarette lighter port on cars - that's your 12V USB adapter right there.

For a battery, any 'jump starter' will suffice, or they can use a raw battery by adding fuse or breaker protection. (fun fact: the Square D "QO" line of home circuit breaker panels are certified for DC power up to 48 volts.)

Now what about replenishing the battery? Now the fun begins. Now we can use solar, and that invites lots more learning (possibly for you), including the idea of energy management/conservation and the value of self-sufficiency.

Which is something that will be very real for them, given that battery prices (cost per kWH) are in free-fall as EV adoption drives technology and scale, ... and raw solar panels have been dirt cheap for awhile. (the cost is in the entitlements, installation, financing, utility agreements etc.) Utilities are strongly incentivizing people to "time-shift" their utility loads away from peak hours, so "home batteries" are gonna be a thing. Already homesteaders in rural areas are "cutting the Big Cord" and installing very effective solar/battery systems (we're talking perfectly nice houses, not hovels)... and mind you, the tech is in its infancy. By the time your kids are buying a house, it'll be easier. So "I did that in my tree house!" is a great experience for them to have.

Yes, the DC power system will require design and maintenance, it's not just bog-standard house wiring. But again, that will engage them to it, and make them feel like they're free to design it, and not simply having to sit on the sidelines while the grown-ups do something dangerous.

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    This is definitely the way to go. If you need more than just a few lights (but still low power) it's still the way to go, because 12Vdc is such a useful standard. Beyond automotive stuff, there sre products made for the motorhome/caravan/RV market designed for the rather variable 12V from a battery. You can even get small TVs (though putting a TV in a treehouse feels like missing the point of a treehouse). You'd get an extra +1 for the joint project / learning opportunity if I could.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 6:10
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    @ChrisH My first reaction was that having cell phones in the treehouse feels like missing the point :-). Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 9:15
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    Another teaching point, if solar is used: make the panel reachable by at least a duster with handle... the kids learn to keep the panel clean of dirt/dust and why. No power? Cloudy? or Clean the Solar!
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:46
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    12v is not very kid safe. Ever arc'd a car battery?
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 16:30
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    @Joshua The type of arcing you are talking about has more about current availability than voltage so 12V has little to do with it. You can arc like that at any voltage so long as the available current is sufficiently high.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 18:39
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I'd suggest a small solar panel system. There are relatively inexpensive kits for sheds that will do 150-200 watts at 12v. This should run some LED lights, and some kits include USB outputs for mobile devices.

The ones I was looking at are less than $200, so that would likely be less money than running 120v (safely) out to the tree house. It would also be safer than 120v if the wires somehow became damaged, too. And the kids could "experiment" with it with less risk to their health and safety.

These kits would require little to no maintenance and little to no training/education/special knowledge to install, and it would likely take minutes to install.

Some/most of the kits I saw include a battery, so it would charge the battery and any usage would drain the battery or use whatever power the panel is providing.

The search I ran displayed results from all the usual home improvement, retail, and online stores, so I'll just give the you search term:

solar panel for small shed

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    Would love to do solar, but the treehouse heavily shaded. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 1:24
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    Regarding the shade, as hinted as in other comments, you can run low voltage wiring more easily - so put the panel in the sun somewhere close.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 6:03
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    As @ChrisH has said, low-voltage wiring should be less of a problem than mains. And particularly with the way things are going (both meteorologically and politically), familiarising the kids with the idea of a small solar panel, a small wind turbine and so on would be no bad idea: "if you can't keep it working then you don't have power". Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 11:20
  • @DBWeinstein Electric code does not care much about low voltage wires. Where you would need trenching/conduit or power poles for high(household) voltage, with low voltage you could use some string/tape(I would prefer better) to hold the wires from the panel to the treehouse. As long as the voltage is below ~50v you are good to think.
    – crip659
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 21:14
  • @DBWeinstein: for the average power use (<100W in the peak probably <20W in average) you describe even a shaded moderately sized panel + a small battery should be ok (if it's really just lightning + charging one or two ipads)
    – Sascha
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 8:44
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I couldn't speak for your local regulations, but the traditional way to do this is with a catenary wire (source):

enter image description here

A steel wire is hung from one building to another under tension. An armoured electrical cable is then hung from the catenary, purposely designed to not be in tension. The steel wire takes the mechanical load so the electrical cable doesn't have to bear its own weight. The electrical wire does have to be resistant to UV, water and swinging in the wind, so it needs to be outdoor grade - you don't want to use regular household cable for this. Regulations will no doubt indicate what is acceptable in your area.

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    Granted that in the USA a lot of "fixed infrastrucure" (i.e. electricity supply poles etc.) is decidedly on the shaky side, but running a catenary to a tree is decidedly unwise. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 18:52
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    Once the wind starts that tree swaying, something's going to give. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 20:14
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    If stability is a concern, you may need to use an additional pole as the other end, if anchoring to the tree is not stable enough. Leave plenty of slack in the electrical cable to account for movement of the tree. Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 16:19
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    Yeah, while they use these in the US, if the structure isn't sturdy they'll do this to a pole and leave the power lines free between the pole and the structure connection
    – Machavity
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 16:19
  • @user1908704 That makes sense Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 21:21
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I just can't resist. This is for a treehouse for the kids, after all! Given the tree house is 25 yards from the house and is down hill.. If you ask the kids to vote I'm confident they'll support both aerial power transmission in the summertime and surface transmission in the wintertime.

Aerial transmission: zip line with a battery in the kids' backpack.

woman riding a zip line

Surface transmission: flexible flyer wood toboggan, again with a battery in the kids' backpack. And hot cocoa.

flexible flyer wood toboggan

image credit: zipline Getty Images; toboggan rplumber.com

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    Is this the power equivalent of nothing beating the bandwidth of a station wagon full of hard disks? Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 6:44
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    @JourneymanGeekOnStrike yes, I think it is! If they need more power at the treehouse they'll just need to add additional trolleys, toboggans, and friends.
    – Greg Hill
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 15:28
  • I miss those days of going down the hill onto the street with no helmets. Those were fun times. According google earth, these days would have to worry which kitchen window I would fly into.
    – crip659
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 21:22
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Buy the kids flashlights, take away their iPads, and build secret EMF shielding into the walls to keep cellular reception out.

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    Unless you lock them out the house I'm sure, for some children, EMF shielding will just mean they don't go in your tree house. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 10:00
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    Ya. So why not just put a "Treehouse" sign on the basement door? :(
    – jay613
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 13:54
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I would take the offgrid route:

I would get a LifePO4 or lead acid battery (potentially with a solar panel or small wind turbine like the ones you get for boats) and a couple of 12v to USB adapters and you should be set.

By installing a USB-C PD (power delivery) outlet and skipping the inverter, the drain is lower, and you can essentially skip the turbine or solar panel if you make sure to charge it once in a while. The PD feature also allows most modern laptops to charge from it, again avoiding the inverter.

This solution is safe from most issues, except maybe from curious kid fingers. I would mount the battery under the deck of the treehouse in a lockable box to avoid curios access.

USB outlet Wind Turbine

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    I'd be very cautious buying the suggested electrical parts from AliExpress. The cheapest of parts and no requirement that they meet UL standards to be sold in the US. If you go that route, make sure you know what you're getting - especially if you're looking to charge lithium batteries from it. They've been known to get a bit on the burny side of things.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:49
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    @FreeMan The links are just for reference - most of the vendors I get when searching are local (in Denmark) and that would create a language barrier also. I can remove the links if it makes you happier
    – JoSSte
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 13:30
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    No, that's fine. It's just a general cautionary warning. Unfortunately, a lot of non-listed stuff is sold on Amazon, too...
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 14:20
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I know most people are suggesting the use of batteries and solar charging but if you were contemplating running an overhead wire, you might consider running a few Ethernet cables connected to a PoE switch and PoE to USB adapters. PoE (Power over Ethernet) is low voltage and has the added benefit of allowing you to add a Wifi AP for mobile devices to connect to. Convoluted tubing could be used to help protect the Ethernet cables. Ethernet has a 100 meter limit so you should be on distance.

I am not a contractor so I don't know if this violates any codes but thought this could be a nice alternative to running 120v.


POE can supply about 15.4 watts of power on a normal port, but there are newer standards that can supply 30, 60, or 100 W (which works out at 12, 27, 53, or 73W delivered at the device)

Voltage on the UTP cable is somewhere between 42V and 57V, but there is a "negotiation" protocol so the wires are not live unless there is termination equipment detected on the end.

Jargon: there needs to be a POE Injector or a "midspan injector" in the house which is connected to 120/220V mains AC. This box has two RJ45 sockets, one for data in, and the other for data+power out. You can use it without a data link. These range in price from $40 to $hundreds. Or it is possible to get an ethernet switch with this injection functionality but the costs start increasing.

enter image description here
from https://www.gowifi.co.nz/power/active-poe-injectors.html

The other part is a POE Splitter which does the opposite. This example gives a 5V DC supply on a barrel plug, but versions exist that have mini/micro/usbC. This functionality is normally built-in to higher end devices like APs or desk phones or cameras. These separate items are about $30.

enter image description here
from https://www.gowifi.co.nz/power/gaf-5v10w.html

Another advantage is that the UTP cable can be wound up when the kids aren't using the treehouse. Cat5 cable is cheap and you could just leave it out. The only parts that have to be kept dry are the splitter and the injector, the wire between them can get wet and it will still last years before it deteriorates. You can even run it on a catenary wire or direct-bury or just leave it on the surface (though it might be a trip hazard)

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  • That could work. You could complete your answer by adding the voltage and current specs for it. Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 20:02
  • POE is how I run a Raspberry pi + 5 TB USB drive, out in my woodshed for doing "off site" backups of devices in the house. Great suggestion, and welcome to the site.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 22:02
  • @RohitGupta I'll have a go at adding relevant info, but POE negotiates making it hard to give voltages and currents.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 22:03
  • I got a wee bit carried away there - feel free to edit further if you disagree with any of this.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 22:18
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Might be a 'unusual' approach - but I'd go with a set of USB PD powerbanks to start with, some LED strip lighting and some trigger cables or camera lights .

USB power delivery essentially is a 'smarter'/common USB charging standard - that adapts to 'different' requirements. I think the latest version goes up to 300w, and there's a fair number of products on the market that support it.

Its a bit of a variation on Harper's answer but there's a few distinct advantages here.

Firstly, you can swap out components if they go flat or you find you've outgrown it.

Secondly, You're working with 'standard' cables and fairly safe voltages and cables, should things need switching around. Redundancy is simple, and you can experiment with solar charging and other things cheaply

There's also lots of alternatives - I use this cause its the biggest I can bring on a flight, and some tool batteries can be adapted, as well as higher capacity 'luggable' units. Basically you can 'size' the system to what you need.

Enough to charge some ipads when my kids what to hang in there.

They'll charge off USB, and PD will adapt to the voltage needed

I'd go with 12v lighting - simply cause they're cheap and cheerful, and you have the option of standalone 12v solar charging systems (which in my experience will charge off a wall), a USB PD power supply/bank with 'trigger' cables which will convert the USB C output of the powerbank to 12v barrel jacks, or a larger power station (basically a portable UPS type thing). Another alternative would be to use low cost camera lights (there's ones around a tenner on aliexpress on sale) and USB charge them too - and they have 'built in' battery backups. Basically everything I've suggested will run off USB PD and You can scale it either with a bigger battery, or more than one battery.

If you bring in mains? Throw in a charger and everything will work. You can also upgrade to a larger battery bank if need be.

And a pretty critical thing is - you can start off with a smaller cheaper setup, and upgrade if needed without too much fuss and adjust to your needs.

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my property is very rocky...The treehouse is 20-25 yards from the house, downhill.

So is it safe to assume no mowing nor playing gets done on this hill?

If so, run electrical conduit; heck even a heavy duty extension cord that gets tucked between the rocks would likely survive 5-10 years. Make sure it's plugged into a GFCI.

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So when I did this for my kids I simply wired an extension cord they used when they needed it. I realize that may not be practical. Depending on location you can run a line from your house to the treehouse using lag eyes and insulators. If you go that route, I'd check with local codes first.

There are clearance specifications... 12' above ground, 10' above decks, 3' from structures/windows etc., they vary and you can find online... but check with electrician/codes before you do anything.

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  • I used an extension chord during construction and it's a major pain in the ass. It's unsightly...etc. I was hoping to put in a GFCI by a floodlight I have outside, then run UF-B where I could underground, and then just run conduit over the rockiest parts along the ground. Is that just too dangerous? Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 15:41
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    Personally... now way I'm doing that. If I wanted always available power I'd be checking with codes and electricians and do it "right"
    – STS1SS
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 15:45
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Yes. You'll see them beside roads in most areas. Very few places have entirely underground distribution. Utility poles are a pretty standard item.

Given the requirement edited in for 2 lights and charging iPads, 2-6 recharageable USB power-bank type batteries (half being charged while the other half live at the treehouse) and some USB lights would be considerably less expensive and safer for a tree-house than running 120VAC power.

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    Not up to your usual standards. I know overhead wiring can be a thing in a property, past the meter. But how high do the wires have to be? What kind of wires/cable are allowed? How do you protect the wires when near the treehouse? Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 15:17

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