Six Questions to Ask Before Buying a Solar Power System
By Leah Neigum
At first, trying to figure out how to design the perfect solar power system can be overwhelming. What size solar panels do you need? What type of solar batteries are best... and how many do you need? How much should a solar power system cost? Luckily, tiny house builder Leah Neigum has already navigated these waters and she's here to pass on some of her hard-earned solar knowledge to you!
Deciding which solar kits and components to purchase can be a thought provoking process. With the amount of information that's available and the rate at with solar technology is progressing, the choice can be overwhelming. My research led me to Tiny Life Supply’s 1060w Magnum Solar Kit, and so far it seems to be working really well. I am able to easily run my air compressor and all of my saws as I continue to build, as well as keep the lights on, run my fridge, and run a small electric heater during the day. The following is a list of 6 things that I recommend anyone consider before purchasing a solar power system.
1. DIY or Hire an Electrician?
Will you be doing the electrical work yourself or do you plan on hiring an electrician to help you install you solar system? While it may be realistic to plan on installing small solar kits with little electrical experience, the larger solar power systems may require the help of a professional electrician to install. For me personally, I was comfortable teaching myself carpentry but not comfortable teaching myself electrical, so I hired an electrician. This turned out great. I was happy with the install once it was complete, and was still able to learn a lot about solar and electrical from someone knowledgeable.
Leah Neigum Working on her tiny house Roof While the Sun Shines!
2. Where Are Your Solar Panels Going to Go?
How large is your roof on your tiny house? How large are the solar panels? What other vents and pipes may pass through your roof that have the potential to interfere with the mounting of the solar panels? In the case of my tiny house, the solar panels that I chose are actually larger than my roof. This means that they put me over my allowable towing width and I have to remove them when transporting my house. As shown in the photo, I got lucky in the sense that I didn’t actually consider where the chimneys for my wood stove or propane heater would punch through the roof. Fortunately, I was still able to just barely mount all four solar panels on the south side of the roof.
3. Where Will You Put Your Solar Batteries and Components?
How much space do you have available to mount an electrical panel, the charge controller, breakers, the inverter and solar batteries? What climate do you live in? Will the batteries, inverter and controller be in an insulated or heated compartment? Will the compartment be vented? Batteries, inverters, and charge controllers all have spec sheets that are definitely worth reading before purchasing a solar kit. Will you have space for these components inside your house or will you be storing them somewhere else? As shown above, I chose to build an insulated cabinet with a solar battery box underneath on the left side of the porch to store all of my solar components. The inverter makes a little bit of a humming sound, so in that regard, I’m glad it’s not inside. However, I think building storage inside of my house certainly would have been easier! I didn’t consider the actual size of the inverter, controller, electrical panel and breakers before I built the cabinet though. This is something I greatly overlooked as well, but it all ended up working out. Shown in the photo is my very packed cabinet and battery box that I built with all of the solar components!
Leah's Insulated Solar System Cabinet
4. How Much Energy Do You Require?
How many kilowatt hours per day will you be using for your energy needs? Things like pumps, fans, and lights don't use much power. Fridges can use considerable power. Appliances that use heat like kettles, stoves and space heaters use a lot of power. Which appliances will you be running on electricity and which will you be running on propane? These are important decisions to make before purchasing a solar kit. There are many tools and calculators available online for estimating your energy usage. I used an online load estimator that gave me the watt hours per day of each appliance, and added them up to determine my energy usage.
5. What Type of Appliances Do You Plan on Running?
Will you be using DC appliances or an inverter with AC appliances? Will you be doing a combination of both with two electrical panels or a split electrical panel for both? While DC appliances are more energy efficient, they are also generally more expensive. I went with a propane stove and a hardware store generic AC bar fridge because my solar system is sized significantly larger than what my energy needs are. Worth considering though, is getting a smaller solar kit with more energy efficient DC appliances. If you are currently in the planning process, check out some of the really cool DC appliances available on Tiny Life Supply!
Leah's Canadian four season cedar cabin on wheels!
6. What Type of Solar Panels and Solar Batteries Should You Buy?
Will you be going with polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels? Lead acid or lithium batteries? The pros and cons to different technologies are interesting and there is a lot of information available on the topics… so just do some googling before making a purchase.😊
Solar technology is fascinating… its clean, its versatile, it’s practical and it’s low maintenance. These days, solar power is accessible and affordable. It’s a worthwhile investment that is now realistic and reasonable even for someone with a modest income or budget. Solar power is inspiring… what a world we live in that our homes can be powered by the sun!
"I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. what a source or power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out, before we tackle that."
- Thomas Edison, 1931
About The Author: Leah Neigum
With determination, creativity, and very limited carpentry experience, Leah Neigum set out to design and build her first home 'the #Leahnardo', in 2017. Terrified of table saws, she spent countless hours drafting 3D plans for this little 8’ x 8’ beauty in an effort to build an affordable off-grid home without having to cut much plywood! Her passion for the environment, solar energy, and the coziness of a good wood stove have fuelled progress on her Canadian four season cedar cabin on wheels! Leah is beyond excited to be creating an eco-friendly home that embodies simplicity, opportunity, happiness, adventure, and travel.