Everything You Need To Know About Powering Your Tiny House with Solar Panels (videos)

Categories: DIY, Education, Energy

In The Big Tiny, by Dee Williams, it says, " Over time I've gotten comfortable with my limited understanding of what is actually happening, but there are the bare bones: no electricity is generated at night, less electricity in the long dark winter, and if I try to run something big (a big refrigerator, a vacuum, a compound miter saw) everything will shut down."

Are you there?  Then you have stumbled on the right article! This is for anyone wanting to know anything on how to pick a solar panel, what size to choose, how to install, and how to maximize its efficiency.

First thing is first...every home is different, so what worked for one house, more than likely will not work for the other.

When trying to figure our what watt system would work, Wholesale Solar was the perfect information hub!

Wholesale Solar out of Mt. Shasta, California focuses on the consumer market so they were easy to bounce questions off of. They have the normal everyday folks use solar systems to reduce their environmental impact and get off the grid.

Their Tiny House Package was four times what I had assumed would work for me since the typical tiny home owner needs enough to run a refrigerator. They offer smaller packages for RV's Or Marine.   And when they checked my connections, I was given two thumbs up!

Dee's solar cabinet, clockwise from top left: breakers, controllers, battery, and inverter

Some Q & A I have with them that I thought some other tiny house folks might find useful:

Q: The solar panels have a bracket system for mounting them on a roof, but can I attach them to a remote stand near the house, but not on top of it?

A: Yes.  My current system has panels mounted on a stand a few feet away fromthe house.  This lets me park the house at one angle, and set the panels up a few feet away at another angle facing south to the sun to get every scrap of sunlight in the dark, rainy Pacific Northwest. 

Q: My electrician friend is going to help me install the system.  Can I get a wiring diagram so she knows what's what?

A: Yes.  Thomas from Wholesale Solar emailed it to me and even laughed at my electrical jokes, like "ohm, my God, that's exactly watt I need."

Q:  If the thing doesn't work and I'm walking around with a headlamp strapped to my head at night, can I call for help when the sun comes up?

Answer: Yes.  My current system doesn't have the same sort of technical support.  With Wholesale Solar, I feel comfortable calling and stumbling through a question ( Should I worry if the doo-hickey on the thingy-bob is flashing a tiny red light?), knowing they'll handhold me as best they can until the problem is solved.  That hardly ever happens with the big solar electric companies.

After all my questions, I ended up buying a 200-watt system and paid half the price.  When I asked Wholesale about the price difference, they explained that solar electric systems have gotten cheaper, they want to find the best system that works for them - which means the best quality and it has to be affordable.

Once you figure out how much energy you will need, you can figure out how much it will cost you.  Wholesale has a energy calculator that will help you walk through the process to do just that. 

One lesson I learned was that just because the house might be tiny doesn't mean the energy load will reflect that! So minimizing our demand is the best way to take advantage of a solar electric system.  One of the best way to do that is to run as many other gadgets on other fuel types.

The tiny house package through Wholesale focus on systems that generate less that 2-kW, but create enough electricity to run an energy-efficient refrigerator and possibly even a washing machine.  They got me totally setup and with the help of my electrician friend and a single gel cell battery, I am installing it into a small hutch located in the tongue of the trailer.

A few things to consider:

Minimize your system. Find what want you need instead of what you want.

Plan space for your panels near your house.

Try to create a redundant system, so you can run your tiny house off an extension cord as well as your DC solar system.

Batteries are temperature sensitive, so you'll need to install them in a place that doesn't freeze or overheat!

A closed gel cell battery is best because it won't off-gas sulfuric acid.

The inverter and controller need to be connected to an adequate breaker system so make sure you work with an electrician.

If you think you'll be in a place that can supply electricity via an extension cord from "the big house", consider installing a grid-tier system that will crank away on the energy demands day to day.

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