Guest Post by Ben Cooper
The sun is a powerful resource and through solar panels, you can start to produce clean, free power for your tiny house. In this article, we will look at the feasibility of installing a solar system to produce enough energy to power electricity and heating in your tiny home.
First thing’s first – you need to work out what you want to power and how much this will use. This will vary depending on what appliances you want to be able to run from it. If your cooking runs off gas then you might need less electricity. Alternatively, you might only want to use solar for hot water which there are systems specifically designed for.
If you are planning on running electrical appliances off solar power, consider purchasing energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs. Also, consider insulating your home to a high standard and look for opportunities to let more light into your home to reduce the dependency on electric lighting. This will help the power you can generate from solar go further a reduce the size of the installation you need.
By looking at your electricity and energy consumption, you can now decide if you can run a stand-alone solar system completely off the grid. This leads us on to looking at how much space you have available for solar panels and other required equipment; batteries, panels, and inverters.
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Solar systems can be designed to meet any electrical requirement, no matter how large or how small, however, this does depend on the space, and budget, you have available.
Have you considered how much sunlight is generated in the spot you are planning to erect your solar system? Make sure your site has enough solar energy to meet your electricity needs efficiently and economically, you can use a solar calculator to help estimate the solar yield in your area based on the amount of available space you have, which can help determine whether you will be able to mount enough panels directly on your home or if you’d need a free standing array.
It is also important to consider the climate of your chosen location as this can greatly affect the overall performance of your panels, for example some panels are less efficient in higher temperatures.
Solar panels should ideally point south at a 40 degree angle to maximize the collection of the sun’s rays. Its also worth remembering that hours of daylight and temperature will drop during winter so you’ll need to consider this when working out your annual consumption and output.
Whether your home is in a temporary or full time spot we are all aware that location is everything. Make sure that you have room to place panels away from trees and shrubs or any other obstructions that may block sunlight or require regular cleaning.
Bear in mind that the system is outdoors throughout the year and in all weather conditions, so it will need cleaned and maintained to maximize performance, especially keeping it free of leaves and debris.
In essence, it is absolutely possible to install a solar system in a tiny house and it’s a great source of free energy, especially if your home is in warmer climates; just remember space and sunlight availability and always make calculations which give you a little leeway.
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More Like This: Tiny Houses | Interview with man who has been living simply in a tiny off grid solar cabin for 15+ years | THOW
Latest posts by Ben Cooper (see all)
- Can You Run A Tiny House With Solar Power? - June 14, 2012
A 100 watt solar panel will recharge two 12 volt deep cycle batts in 3-5 hours of good sun. That is enough power for a laptop, LED TV, water pump and lights. Add another panel and two more batts for a 12 volt fridge. Propane is best choice for cooking and heating and a small propane OD water heater. i have been off grid using a 580 watt solar electric, 400 watt wind and propane system for over 15 years and I have all the conveniences of a modern home except for a dishwasher.
Thanks, LaMar! What great help this is.
This is exactly the kind of information that I (and many other tiny house fans, I’m sure) can really benefit from. Once my tiny house is built, I’ll be off-grid. I’m still figuring out how to make that a reality.
I’d like to talk to you more about your electric situation. Care to swap email addresses?
Always glad to share info. I can be contacted through my website: http://www.simplesolarhomesteading.com. I don’t post me email because it always gets spammed. I have lots of vids on my solar and wind system for anyone interested: http://www.youtube.com/solarcabin
Thanks, LaMar, this is great to know.
Sean- LaMar has a really helpful eBook, super inexpensive too that will more than likely be a huge help for you.
Check out his site right here:
My brother and I are planning to build a tiny house and are leaning towards electric only. We want to be off-grid, so I am worried about having enough power to cook, use AC/heat, keep the fridge running along with lights/tv etc. I also thought about adding a wind power system to supplement the solar power. Would you recommend a specific wind system?
Thanks, LaMar, for this valuable information. I will definately check out your website. For I would like to be off the grid when I get my tiny house one day.
Great! Thanks, LaMar and Alex.
One step closer… 🙂
I’m looking to build a tiny house capable of running off grid but looking to do it in stages. Essentially what I’m looking to create is a roadmap to solar that starts with a generator, then grows to a generator charging batteries and ends up with solar power charging batteries with a generator backup. I’m sure I’ve missed out several steps but surely if one starts with a clear end goal it shouldn’t be too difficult to create a solution that everyone can follow that will allow them to start with the basics and add to the setup as time and money permits?
My system is 580 watts solar and 400 watts wind and a small 4500 watt generator backup. You can start small and add panels as you go along and wind if you live where you get lots of wind. A good starter size is 200-300 watts solar and three 12 volt batts or a 24 volt system which will run a water pump, lights, tvs and gadgets. That will recharge in 4-5 hours of good sunshine. Use a small genny for a microwave or washer and dryer.
You can see my vids for ideas:
My plans (as they stand at the moment) is to use propane for refrigeration and water heating and PV for running the few LED lights, a toaster oven, wall sockets for laptop charging etc and maybe a ceiling fan. Other than that I will be heating with wood. Im also trying to incorporate rainwater collection and solar pre-heating of water for bathing. In the summer cooking will be done mostly outdoors (as it is right now) and lighting will be kept to a minimum because of the light evenings and my passion for candles. So starting off with a generator will give me all the power I need on demand, albeit with some inconvenience. But at least it will get me up and running right away rather than having to wait another year. I will then have the summer to save up for the batteries and whatever other electronics I would need to make the generator charge them. Then in the new year I should be in a position to start getting solar panels and the remainder of the electronics to complete the system.
I started with a propane fridge but fridges use about a gallon a day of fuel and can get expensive. You can use a smaller AC apartment fridge or a dc fridge like a sundanzer which only requires a 100 watt panel. I use propane for a small furnace offset with wood heat and for an OD water heater. LED lights use hardly any power and you can install them easily or they have mobile LED lanterns that have there own solar charger and battery. Just some ideas to get you going!
Thanks for the tip LaMar, checked out your youtube page, great work.
One quickly finds out just how expensive generators are. And PV/RE has dropped a lot recently.
For off grid PV panel are now hitting $1/wt if shopped well like sunelec.com among others so for the money for a generator that won’t last a yr without rebuilding, you can get 3-500wts of PV that last 20-25 yrs.
A toaster oven isn’t a good match as draws too much unless a good size system and limit use to minutes.
I’ve found 12vdc cooking pots, electric blankets, etc along with 12vdc LED lights, 4″ computer fans, laptops, stereos, TV’s, etc that are eff and useful.
I’m moving onto a 32′ trimaran sailboat and just a 1kw array, 10’x10′, not only does the above but also an A/C as PV tracks A/C load perfectly, about 100sq’ cabin.
The secret is very eff units and use them only as needed. Most can be found in 12vdc in RV, car/truck, camping and boat stores.
I’ll also have a 3kw windgenerator, a 5kw tidal/river generator and a gasoline one which normally is a range extender for my electric vehicles. The others are prototypes of future production units and better set up for supplying the grid.
Most of the power from wind and tide will just be wasted on water pumps driving air into the water for lack of anything else to do with it. The fish will really like it though.
LaMar, you sound like a very knowledgable man in this field…wondering if you can tell me if solar power and generators/converters would work for a person who has electrohypersensitivity (EHS), as that would be my main concern with this type of set up.
As long as you keep the inverter and batts away from the house it shouldn’t be a problem but you may want to have someone else do the maintenance.
Thanks for that insight, and for all the information you’ve supplied here. Have a beautiful day!
We are in the process of building a 340 sq ft cabin that will be used weekends only. It has an unobstructed, southern exposure. We will need to power a dorm sized refrigerator and a pump for sure. A small, 200 sq ft AC unit would be nice, but not required (AC unit draws 5 amps). We have a 1500W inverter. Since the panel will have 5 days to recharge the batteries between use, can we get away with a 100W panel?
What is the watts/amps of the pump and fridge?
AC units generaly require 700-1500 watts by themselves. What is the brand and model of the AC unit?
I doubt you can run those separately off a small system and you would need a larger system and batt storage.
You might be better off with a small solar system for the fridge and use passive cooling or a genny for the other stuff only as needed.
Depending where you are a 100wt panel gives 500wthrs/day or about 2 hrs running your small A/C like I use here in Fla. Since it does run steady, likely only 50% of the time. A good idea is get a Killawatt power meter which will add it all up for you so you know as every site is different.
Pumps rarely run so rarely take much in watthrs, Unless a deepwell or pressurized used a lot, it won’t take much power.
It takes a lot to start for a couple seconds so your inverter is on the edge unless it’s a really good one. I use a cheap $129 200owt/3000wt surge from pepboy’s that even runs my table and Skillsaws.
On the fridge get a top loading one or a chest freezer run as a fridge will use much less power. I use Norcold chest on that works on 12vdc and 120vac. Best by far is running on 12vdc. You’ll just have to time whichever you get for your location to find out how much time they use power. Mine run at 200wthrs/day in Fla.
In my new home I’m doing a 1kw on my 34′ trimaran sailboat, equal to a tinyhome of 150sq’. I expect this to cover all my needs including A/C 6-8hrs/day. If the sun don’t shine, I don’t need AC.
So 100wt should do you and you should have 2-3kwhr of battery with little A/C use. Go to 200-300wts and 6kw of battery should handle light, medium use in your case if you only cool a room or 2. YMMV
For batteries cell phone tower take outs are fairly good and only $25-30 each and still have 5-6 yrs left in them.. Ask around battery shops to find out where to find them locally.
I have a ? would this 24V 700W hybrid System: 400W Wind Turbine Generator & 300W mono solar panel work for 200sf tiny home. They have it for sell for 700 on ebay you get 2 160w panels to equal 300w . Iwould only used for 3 light counter top stove, counter top oven fridge computer then phone charging. Do Turbine wind generators work good for this haven’t seen where anyone is using looking for cheap but at same time making sure I have enough. thanks
Unlikely that low cost of an windgen is worth anything. Look at boat, other units that have a track record, don’t believe anything the builder says as most are nor very good. Which is sad as a good one usually costs less to build!
Your cooking needs to be in insulated units to cut power needs. Look into RV, boat cooking pots, pans, etc .
I’d look at sunelec or dmsolar for prices and try to find someone locally as matching a system to your needs takes a lot of info.
Maybe find a Sierra club, etc meeting to find someone without a profit motive.
I have a ? would this 24V 700W hybrid System: 400W Wind Turbine Generator & 300W mono solar panel work for 200sf tiny home. They have it for sell for 700 you get 2 panels to equal 300w . I would only used for 3 light counter top stove, counter top oven fridge computer then phone charging. Do Turbine wind generators work good for this haven’t seen where anyone is using looking for cheap but at same time making sure I have enough. thanks
is there a portable system out there for:
3 led lights?
i called around to solar installers here in seattle but no one will do an off-grid project.
I work at a west coast company that builds fully complete off-grid solar power generators. http://sol-solutions.com/solar-generator-and-light-tower-uses/tiny-home-solar-power.html
For persons looking to travel in a tiny house powered by solar, you’ll need an off-grid setup with solar panels, batteries, charge controller, and inverter.
The Tiny Solar House I live in has 6 280W panels, total of 1,680 watts worth of solar, and a 750Ah battery bank at 12V. This is enough to power the entire house (full size fridge, water pump, lights, fans, etc.) supported by propane for cooking and heating water. I encourage readers of this article to visit tinysolarhouse.com to learn more about solar and get a realistic understanding of the components needed to functionally take a tiny house off the grid.
(Link Expired: tinysolarhouse.com)
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