Designing and installing a home-scale wind-electric system takes knowledge, experience, smarts, strength, and courage. Working on these systems should not be taken lightly. At a minimum, get training and experience before you install your own system. If you’re planning to go into the business of designing and installing systems, apprentice with an experienced and reputable wind installer first.
Siting, installing, and maintaining home-scale wind-electric systems require both specific knowledge and specific tools. Whether you’ll be designing and installing one system or dozens, you need the right tools for the job. Basic hand tools, such as wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers used for any mechanical work, should certainly be in your toolbox. And you will need the tower, turbine, and other equipment manuals to facilitate your installation.
Beyond these things, the gear shown here is the most important equipment for the jobs at hand. If you’re only going to install one system, you may be better off borrowing or renting some of these tools, or hiring a professional for certain parts of the project.
Some of the tools listed are specialized; others are common. Some will only be used once; others will be useful for maintenance and analysis throughout the life of your wind system. Once you have the mechanical, construction, and safety skills necessary for installing a wind-electric system, having the right tools for the job will make your wind installation job better, faster, and safer.
Photos of the site will help you remember details when you’re back at your desk, designing your system. Shots from trees or nearby hills can help with siting and tower height decisions.
TREE REFERENCE BOOKS & MEASURING ROD
Knowing mature tree height is crucial to determining tower height at your site. In addition to tree reference books, a calibrated rod can help measure existing tree and building heights.
WIND RESOURCE MAP, TOPOGRAPHICAL MAPS, AERIAL PHOTOS & GPS
These tools will help you get a sense of the site’s topography, potential home and tower sites, and a general idea of the wind resource in the area.
For larger wind projects, datalogging the wind resource at the site is vital to making an accurate projection of energy production. An anemometer allows you to measure average and peak wind speed. It may also measure wind direction, energy density, and wind distribution.
ENERGY USAGE HISTORY
For on-grid installations, recent utility bills will show your average monthly energy use in kilowatt-hours (KWH), which you can use to size your turbine correctly. For off-grid homes and houses in the design stage, you’ll need to do a detailed energy analysis to determine what your energy needs will be.
WIND OUTPUT CALCULATOR
A comprehensive wind output calculator, such as WindCad, can estimate wind energy production for a specific turbine based on your site’s characteristics. A number of manufacturers have these spreadsheets available on their Web sites.
TURBINE ENERGY-OUTPUT CHARTS
Any turbine manufacturer worth doing business with will provide estimated annual energy figures (in KWH) for their turbines in a variety of average wind speeds.
TRANSIT OR WATER LEVEL
Either of these tools will allow you to set tower base and anchor points, and the transit can help you make a tower plumb.
SMALL GREASE GUN & NEEDLE TIP
Most modern wind turbines don’t require a lot of greasing, but it’s important to do it well. This small gun gets grease into the places you need to.
CORDLESS RECIPROCATING SAW
With its ability to cut a variety of materials—metal, wood, and plastics—even in hard-to-reach places, this increasingly common tool often becomes one of the handiest on the job.
Grounding is critical for wind generator towers and renewable electricity systems, and this tool makes the labor-intensive job of getting the 8-foot-long rods in the ground much easier.
HOLE SAWS & STEP BITS
Electrical work almost always involves putting holes in wood, metal, or other materials. These tools cut smooth-edged holes of various sizes with minimal effort.
TAP & DIE SET
Too often, wind system studs and threaded holes are gummed up with crud or galvanization. A tap and die set allows you to clean them with ease.
200-FOOT TAPE MEASURE
Measuring tower guy radius, tower layout footprint, and obstruction heights are a few of the jobs that this tool can assist with.
CORDLESS IMPACT DRILL & DRIVERS
Attaching cable clamps and other tower and turbine hardware is a snap with a cordless drill. Having the impact-driver feature helps loosen stubborn fasteners.
CORDLESS ANGLE GRINDER
Cutting guy wires to length is one common use for this tool on a wind installation site, and other cutting and grinding jobs become easier with it on hand.
Tower and turbine fasteners often have torque specifications, and this tool lets you accurately tighten nuts and bolts to meet specs.
SPUD WRENCHES & ALIGNMENT PUNCHES
With guyed lattice and freestanding towers, getting the bolt holes to line up is often a challenge. So having these tools—known to tradespeople as spud wrenches and spuds—is essential while aligning parts.
Electrical work requires a mix of specialty electrical tools. Shown here are some of the tools used most frequently for the electrical side of wind-electric installations.
CLIMBING HARNESS & CLOTHING
Trained climbers working on guyed lattice or freestanding towers need to be equipped with steel-shank boots, gripping gloves, a full-body harness, lanyards, and closeable tool bags.
Raising towers, installing wind turbines, and doing tower and turbine work require rigging skills and rigging gear, such as blocks, carabiners, shackles, cable grips, and grip hoists.
CRANE WITH LIFTING SLINGS
Using a crane to lift a fixed-guyed or freestanding tower, or a turbine onto a tower, is often the safest and most cost-effective option, allowing almost all assembly work to be done on the ground before the lift. Careful project planning is needed to minimize the time spent with this high-dollar rental.
FALL-ARRESTING DEVICE & CABLE
Any climbable tower should have a fall-arresting system, such as a Lad-Saf cam-locking device and its dedicated cable. Gravity is unforgiving! Don’t take chances with your life.
Ian Woofenden, one of Home Power’s senior editors, lives with wind energy, teaches workshops on wind energy, consults about wind energy, and gets involved with wind installations on a regular basis. He is looking to better his current tallest tower installation record of 167 feet.
Thanks to veteran wind-electric system installers Mick Sagrillo, Roy Butler, Randy Brooks, and Hugh Piggott for contributing their lists of essential tools. And special thanks to Jim Thayer at Ashland General Hardware, Ashland, Oregon; and Pacific Survey and Medford Tool, both of Medford, Oregon, for allowing us to photograph their tools.