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Off Grid Power: Tim Sefton's Stirling Engine

by Tyler

One of our homesteading goals is to generate all the electricity we need right on our own property. During spring, summer and fall, it looks like we'll be able to accomplish that with solar panels and a battery array. For winter, however, when the sun is low in the sky, we'll likely need something to supplement our sun-power to keep the batteries charged.

We have too many tall trees to consider wind power, and no streams for hydroelectric, so my first idea was to build a generator house, like the ones we'd seen in Cambodia. Ours would be a little more sturdy, and a lot more sound insulated than the one shown below, but the concept would be the same.

Home Built Diesel Generator The Battery Charging Hut

Last November, I stumbled upon an even better idea: a low-cost, power generating sterling engine. I was absolutely floored when I read about Tim Sefton's Kickstarter project, as the only sterling engines I'd seen until that point were desktop toys. I immediately decided to fund the endeavor. Fired with wood on our property, we could probably run an engine like his for the rest of our lives (and well beyond).

Fast forward one year: Tim is still working on his prototype, and we're lucky enough to be headed to Vermont on our first (hopefully annual) vacation with Tara's family. While everyone else is getting ready to fly in, we're driving our little Honda Civic on a road trip across the US. We've planned some homesteading-related stops along the way, and our first port of call is Bloomfield, Michigan, to visit Tim Sefton!

We hit it off with Tim and his wife Catherine right away (any couple that smelts in their back yard is a-ok in our book). While Tara and Catherine chat about knitting, being nannies in France, and all manner of other things they have in common, Tim and I head out to his garage—we're going to do a mock assembly of the first prototype.

Tyler & Tim Sefton Assembling Sterling Engine Tim Sefton's Sterling Engine Tim Sefton & Tyler w/ Sterling Engine Tim Sefton's Leather Apron

Seeing the engine in person is really exciting; I'm so glad we decided to pay Tim a visit on our way to Vermont! While we tinker with the piston ring, Tim tells me about some of the challenges he's encountered with the project, and I can tell that he's clearly passionate about what he is doing. Someday, I hope to look back on this meeting and say...

Sefton generators? Yeah, I was in Tim's garage while he was working on the first prototype. I paid $250 for ours, and it's been generating electricity for decades!

Before we leave town, Tim tells us that we simply must visit the Tech Shop in nearby Allen Park. That's where he's been doing most of his prototyping. We heed his advice, and we're so glad we do: the place is insane! The tour is so inspiring that it almost makes me want to abandon our homesteading plans, and move to a city that has one of these things. Check it out!

To Tim, Catherine, and Faith at the Tech Shop, thank you for having us!