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solar for tiny house

In an effort to minimize energy usage (and possession of material items), homeowners across the country are moving into tiny houses. Even though these houses are much smaller than the average home, they still need energy for lighting, heating, cooling, and other appliances. If you live in or plan to build a tiny house, you can cut your energy bills even further by generating clean, free electricity with solar panels.

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The benefits you'll reap from installing solar panels on a tiny house are similar to those from installing them on any other larger building: you'll save money on electricity bills, help protect the environment, and take control of your electricity generation. Solar panel systems will also help increase the value of your tiny house should you decide to sell it in the future - prospective house buyers will value free, renewable energy and typically pay more upfront for it.

Additionally, many tiny houses are mobile, moving from various plots of land over time. If you have or are planning to build a tiny house on wheels, solar power is the way to go: you won't have to rely on finding power sources wherever you end up placing your home for a bit of time. Instead, you can have a guaranteed source of electricity, no matter where you end up.

The type of solar panel system you will need for your tiny home depends on the answers to a few key questions:

How much electricity do you want to generate?

In general, tiny houses use much less electricity than the average home. However, every tiny house is different, and how much electricity you use to power your tiny home will depend on its size, how many people live in it, the appliances you use, and more. You'll want to generate as much of your overall electricity needs as possible to maximize your savings. This may mean only installing five solar panels or installing 15 of them.

If you don't know how much electricity your tiny house will use, the Department of Energy's Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use Calculator is an excellent place to start. You can enter individual appliances and how often you use them to estimate the amount of electricity they use per year.

Should you install a rooftop or ground-mounted system?

Before installing solar panels on the roof of any tiny house, you want to ensure the roof gets enough sunlight and is structurally sound enough to hold up the solar panels and racking equipment. The roof may not be strong enough to handle the extra weight depending on how your tiny house was built and what it was built with. If this is the case, thin-film panels are worth exploring as many are very light compared to traditional solar panel alternatives. Some thin-film panels, like Lumeta's panels, are even adhesive so that you don't have to worry about the additional weight of racking materials.

Rather than installing rooftop systems, many tiny house owners install solar panels on the sunny plot of land close to their house. These systems require additional racking and mounting equipment, but you'll have more freedom to place your panels optimally and often have more space to install. Regardless of whether the panels sit on your roof or the ground, you'll want to ensure your panels are tilted to capture the maximum amount of electricity.

Is your tiny house connected to the grid?

If your tiny house is connected to utility power lines, the system and electrical setup will work similarly to standard residential rooftop systems. Producing solar electricity during the day will support your electricity needs before sending excess energy to the grid. Many utility companies have a net metering incentive, providing credits for this excess generation. On a later date, you can use those credits, drawing electricity from the grid at night so that your tiny house doesn't go dark.

Alternatively, if your tiny house is off-grid, you'll need to pair your solar panels and inverter with a battery and charge controller - that way, you can charge your battery during the day and use that electricity after the sun goes down. If you're using a battery, you'll probably want to put it indoors: batteries are sensitive to temperature extremes. They can degrade quicker if they operate in hot or freezing weather.

If your tiny house is in the backyard or close to another building, you can run it on solar power by installing solar panels on the larger structure. Once that building runs on solar power, you can connect your tiny house to its electrical system with extension cords, supplying your tiny house with clean solar electricity. As a bonus, you will save on electricity costs for your tiny house and the larger building.

Even tiny houses with low electricity needs can benefit from solar power. If your tiny home uses only a little bit of electricity and you only need a few solar panels to meet your needs, it's often the most cost-effective to do a DIY solar panel installation. Many companies sell complete solar kits (such as those from Grape Solar or Reongy), and many sellers offer batteries as part of a solar kit if you want to install an off-grid system. As with any electrical work, it's a good idea to work on the project with an experienced electrician if possible.

Alternatively, if your tiny home uses enough electricity to require more than 3 kilowatts (kW) of solar power, you should consider working with a solar installer that can assist with the work. By signing up on the EnergySage Marketplace, you can receive turnkey solar quotes that will include the costs of equipment, labor, permitting, and more. You can provide notes in your account to indicate the type of solar panel system you want to install for your tiny house.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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