11 Tips for Solar-Powered Tiny Homes
By: Ross Spark
You’ve made your dream of living smaller a reality. The logical next step is to reduce your carbon footprint. Going solar is the ideal way to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle that will save you money and pare down your dependence on fossil fuels.
It’s the proverbial win-win!
If you’ve been considering it but don’t know how to start, our list of tips will help you see the light. Continue reading to learn how tiny homes and solar power make the perfect match.
#1: Know Your Energy Usage
If you take anything away from these tips, then here’s the best advice we can give you. To quote baseball great, Yogi Berra, “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” That’s not always a good thing, either.
Energy usage is your starting point. You can get an estimate from your electric bills, preferably over more than one year in your tiny house. You’ll need this information to select the correct setup for your situation. Your usage will vary throughout the year. The question is whether solar is a viable option for part of that time.
#2: Learn the Solar Potential for Your Area
Some places are better suited for full-time solar power. Luckily, you can find out where you stand with free resources provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Knowing the monthly pattern of sun hours can help you build a system that ensures reliable power all year long.
#3: Investigate the Incentives for Going Solar
One drawback of solar power is the cost. One way to manage them is with incentives like rebates. Renewable energy isn’t cheap. However, you reduce your upfront investment by checking out the policies before you buy to get the most out of your purchase. The Solar Energy Industries Association maintains a current list of what’s available by state.
#4: Stick With Products That Can Keep You Up-to-Date on Your System’s Status
Convenience is a great thing—especially when it can save you money. We recommend looking for products like battery monitors and solar charge controllers that provide real-time status info. Many components have standard error codes on their displays to help troubleshoot problems or remind you about routine maintenance. And did we say smart devices with apps to manage them?
#5: Pick the Right Batteries
Solar energy delivers the power that your batteries will use to run your devices and appliances. The most popular choices are lead-acid batteries. They’re affordable and easy to maintain.
We suggest choosing a lithium-ion battery. They offer several advantages, one of the foremost being their smaller size. When space is limited, you have to make choices. However, the benefits don't stop there. These batteries are more efficient than lead-acid batteries. They are also maintenance-free. You can recycle them, making them environmentally friendly too.
#6: Buy Components With the Latest Technology
This tip makes sense for two essential reasons. One is the cost. Newer products are often cheaper. The second thing is efficiency. A maximum power point tracking (MPPT) controller, for example, uses extra energy better than the older pulse-width modulation (PWM) products. That translates into more cost savings for you to get the most out of going solar.
#7: On or Off the Grid? That Is the Question
You have two options when it comes to solar power, depending on where you live. You can tap into your existing electric grid when conditions prevent optimal solar power. You can also make some extra cash when your system is getting more than it needs. The other choice is to go off the grid. If you’re on the go, you have a ready power source. It can work, but you’ll also need to think about our next tip.
#8: Have a Backup Plan
Let’s face it. There are days when the weather just won’t cooperate. Unfortunately, they often coincide with the times you need reliable power the most. You can hook up a generator as a backup source. The downside is that it defeats the purpose of going green. Some models are loud. On the positive side, they make off-the-grid living possible, especially if you live in a remote area.
#9: Make Your Solar Panels Accessible for Maintenance
Solar energy isn’t the most efficient power source. Even the best photovoltaic (PV) panels will only get about 20 percent, tops. And that’s in an ideal situation. One way you can recoup some of these losses is by keeping the panels clean. That means having easy access to them to clean off debris or snow. That brings us to our next bit of advice.
#10: On the Roof or On the Ground
The essential thing to understand about solar power is that you’ll probably need more PV panels than you think. The average American household uses around 30 kWh per day or about 2,500 amp-hours on a 12-volt battery bank. The average size for one is about 5 feet by 3 feet, depending on the number of cells.
A better option is to place them on the ground instead of the roof to get the power you need if your roof can’t supply the necessary space. On the positive side, you’ll find them easier to clean.
#11: Reduce Your Electricity Consumption
To get the most out of solar power, increase your energy efficiency with Energy Star appliances and LEDs. That can help you scale back on upfront costs without sacrificing comfort. An LED, for example, uses one-quarter of the electricity of an incandescent bulb.
Final Thoughts About Solar-Powered Tiny Homes
Going solar with a tiny house is a natural segue. Pre-planning will help you get the most out of your system with a quicker ROI. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and make living small a reality on all scores.
About the Author: Ross Spark
Ross Spark is devoted to propelling the use of solar-based and solar oriented systems around the world, something he has done on his site, The Solar Advantage, for over three years. Believing that expanding access to this perfect, rich, clean, and economical energy source will greatly impact the lives of our future generations and ours too.