In an effort to reduce costs and carbon footprint, many homeowners are choosing to go tiny. But once you’re in your tiny house, how do you get power? After all, even in a small space, you still need to charge your computer and turn lights on in the evening.
That’s why some tiny house owners opt for solar panels. By harnessing energy from the sun, you can get the electricity you need — without worrying about utility bills or power hookups. Plus, by going solar, you cut ties with electric companies and enjoy greater location flexibility.
But there’s pros and cons which need to be addressed. Let’s jump in...
Are Solar Panels a Good Fit for Tiny Houses?
In short: yes! The tiny house lifestyle is all about reducing your costs, lowering your carbon footprint, and using fewer resources, which makes solar panels a natural fit. If you’re solar-powered, you don’t need to worry about finding electrical hookups or running noisy generators.
Another big advantage of solar panels is freedom. When you have a solar system, you can take your tiny house off-grid without losing power. As long as you have enough sunlight to charge the panels, you’re good to go.
Before you decide to go solar, however, it’s important to make sure that it’s the right fit for your situation. Solar panels are a big investment; with a bit of research up front, you can spend your money wisely.
Determine Your Energy Requirements
We’ll be honest: solar panels are not right for every tiny home. That’s because some houses need more power than others. Each solar panel has a limit to the amount of power it can provide. However, SunPower panels produce the most power per panel so they’re a safe bet for any home. To figure out whether or not it’s realistic to go off-grid completely, it’s important to figure out how much energy you need.
To start, think about the appliances you need in your tiny home, including:
Then, look at your energy bills from the last 6-12 months. That should give you an estimate of the amount of power you’ll need to draw from solar panels. If your home includes things you won’t use in a tiny house, such as an air conditioner or electric furnace, you can reduce that estimate. Keep in mind that if you plan to work from home in your tiny house, but you didn’t in your current house, your energy needs may be higher. At this stage, it’s better to overestimate than to underestimate.
The next step is to speak to a solar professional.
They can check out your energy usage and let you know how many solar panels you would need to create enough electricity. They’ll take into account your local climate and available sunlight; after all, if you live in a climate with more overcast days, you may need more panels to bring in enough energy. You may also want batteries you can use to capture the energy on sunny days.
In many cases, this estimate is enough to help you figure out whether to move forward with solar energy. If the number of panels fits your budget, you can take the next step. Do you want to reduce your electricity needs? Consider switching to a propane stove and smaller refrigerator to cut back on the energy you use.
Options for Installing Solar Panels on Tiny Homes
If solar panels are a realistic solution for you, the next step is deciding on an installation type. For tiny homes, you usually have two options: roof-mounted and ground-mounted. Since the roof of your tiny home is going to be smaller than a standard house, it’s a good idea to consider both options.
Roof-Mounted Solar Panels
In most cases, roof-mounted solar panels are a good option for low energy needs. Since you’ll need only a few solar panels, they are more likely to fit on the roof. As a point of reference, most tiny homes can only accommodate three or four panels. This might also be an option if you want to use solar to reduce your energy bills (while staying on the grid), or if you don’t have space around your tiny home for a ground-mounted setup.
Ground-Mounted Solar Panels
Do you have high energy requirements and open space near your tiny house? If so, a ground-mounted system might be the better choice. These systems can hold any number of solar panels. That means that you can cover all of your power needs and add more panels as needed.
What’s more, since a ground-mounted solar panel system is mobile, you can adjust it throughout the day. That way, your panels are always pointed at the sun to maximize energy input. Plus, since the panels are low to the ground, they’re easy to clean. When you want to move to a new place, simply pack up your solar system and go.
Keep in mind that if you want a ground-mounted system and you plan to relocate frequently, you’ll need a safe transportation option. Solar panels and the mounting frame can be bulky, so it’s helpful to have a truck with a large bed.
Solar Energy Options for Tiny Houses
Once you have your solar panels, how do you collect and use the electricity? Usually, the panels are connected to a battery bank. From there, the power flows through an inverter, which changes it from DC to AC — since most devices and appliances use AC power, this is essential. With this setup, you can go off-grid for any length of time, as long as there’s enough sunshine for the panels to collect.
Not ready to go for a full solar energy system? You can still enjoy the benefits.
With a few panels, you can offset your power usage and reduce your monthly bills. With this method, you’re still tied to the grid, but your environmental footprint and costs are smaller. This is a great option if you’re happy with your current location, or if you only plan to move to places with power connections.
Deciding on Solar Panels for Your Tiny House
Solar panels and tiny homes are a natural pairing. With solar energy, you can enjoy flexibility and reduce your ecological footprint significantly.
Doing your research up front. By calculating your energy needs and making sure solar panels are a practical solution, you can come up with a renewable power source that fits your budget and your lifestyle.