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Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Today I wanted to share some info about air conditioning on a solar panel system.  Charlotte’s heat really came full force this week.  I know for many their climate doesn’t get as humid as it does here, for us here, AC is pretty key.  Without AC I can’t really sleep, even with a fan and my house being passive cooled.  While the humidity is still pretty comfortable, it’s HOT and the humidity is coming.  It has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s outside, which made my house in the mid 90’s inside.

I thought I’d do a post today because I’ve been able to run some real world experiments with my tiny house, the AC and solar.  I haven’t seen any real world into practice reports on this stuff, so I figured it would be helpful for you all.

I have yet to hook up my mini split system because it has taken me a long time to find a HVAC installer that would install my mini split, the reason being they all want to sell you the equipment if they are going to install it.  This was an unknown factor to me when I ordered my unit, but these are the bumps in the road you experience when you live The Tiny Life.


For heating and cooling I opted for the Fujitsu 9RLS2 which is a 9,000 btu unit with a seer rating of 27.  To give you an idea, older systems have a SEER of around 8 to 10, modern systems that are labeled highly efficient have a rating of 15 or so, but most today are around 12-13.  This is very important because me being on solar, my system simply couldn’t handle the less efficient systems.  Read about my tiny house solar panel system by clicking here.  The SEER rating is simply a function of BTUs (British Thermal Units) to Watts.  The higher the number, the better.

The other big reason I choose this unit versus a window unit was that my air handler is wall mounted, out of the way and above eye level.  This does a few things:  keeps my limited square footage clear of stuff, it keeps my windows looking nice because I don’t have a window unit blighting a good design, and keeping it above eye level also makes you forget about it because as humans we don’t often look up.

el_pac_08e9_unit_picWhile I’m trying to get an installer lined up I’m using a Portable Air Conditioner which has worked pretty well.  The downside to it is it takes up a lot of space and it’s not as efficient; it has a SEER rating of 12, which makes my mini split system 225% more efficient than this.

I decided to “stress test” my system by turning the Portable AC unit on high and setting the thermostat to 60 degrees and see how long it was going to take for my batteries of my solar panel system to bottom out (50% discharge).  The charge controller on my system automatically turns off the power to my house if the power in that batteries discharges down to 50%, this allows me to not damage the batteries by discharging too deep.

batter tiny house discharge

As you can see by the chart above, keeping discharge at 50% or above gives me a little shy of 2,000 cycles or 5.4 years.  I plan to add another set of four batteries to the system pretty soon, which will give me a good capacity and keep my discharge rate much higher than 50% (though I don’t often get that low)  In about 5 years we should start seeing some really interesting battery technologies hit market, so I plan to hop on that as soon as my batteries begin to fade.

My stress test turned out pretty good.  With the much less efficient portable air conditioner I ran it solid for 3 days starting with a very warm house.  At the end of the three days I was very close to hitting 50%, but it didn’t ever dip below.  I decided that the test went on long enough to be pretty happy, so I decided to stop.  I typically turn off the AC when I’m gone.

The past few days have been a bit trickier because since my system was so low from the stress test, I needed it to build back up, but we have had a series of cloudy days.   I’ve had plenty of power to run the AC over night, but it’s lower than I’d like.  To give you an idea, on a normal sunny day I make about 8,000 watts, on a cloudy day I get between 2,000 and 4,000 watts when the clouds are very thick with no gaps.

The really great thing is when it’s hottest, during the day, I can make lots of power.  This allows me to run the AC full blast and I can make enough power to run the AC and still be dumping 1000 watts into the batteries.  Compare this to heating, you most often need the heat at night the most, which is when the sun isn’t out, so its a major drain on your batteries.  To compound the issue of heating, heaters are often more energy intensive than cooling.

The other night I tried an experiment.  I got my house very cold and turned off the AC at midnight (when I usually go to bed).  Outside it was pretty cool, about 65 degrees and about 45% humidity, so not bad.  I left all the windows closed to see how much my body heat would heat up the house and because in the summer, opening the windows doesn’t help even if it is cooler outside because the humidity increase the “feels like” temperature.

As it turns out in just three hours my body heat warmed the loft of my tiny house up to the point that I woke up from being so uncomfortable from the heat.   Around 3:30 am I woke up and it was very hot in my loft.  I checked the time and was surprised how little time it took.  I should note that I’m one that when I fall asleep, I stay asleep all night, even if I get warm, so the fact that I was woken up goes to show how uncomfortable I must have been, because it takes a lot.

I had prepared for this and all I did was crank open my sky light (the highest point in my house) and the loft end window and switched on a fan to draw in cool air.  Within 5 minutes the whole place dropped about 5 degrees and I was back asleep.

So that has been some of my real world experiences with the tiny house, AC and solar.  I know I had always been frustrated by not enough stories on this stuff, so hopefully I can help others.

Some key resources for those wanting more technical stuff


Compact Appliances

Living the tiny life does not have to mean forgoing those modern comforts and conveniences. Today’s manufacturers are creating some incredibly small, dual-action appliances that can work in a small space and allow modernity and tiny living to go hand in hand. Here are some of my favorites!

The Summit 1.8 Cu. Ft. Combination Washer/Dryer is tiny! At 24″ it could fit right under a counter top, conveniently tucked away. Wherever I lived in my tiny house, I had friends and neighbors who would let me use their washers and dryers but it’s great to be more self-sufficient in your needs and not have to rely on anyone when it comes to doing your laundry. I don’t mind going to the laundry mat but for those folks who want the modern convenience this product could very well meet your needs!


I really like the Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier for it’s compactness and very low use of electricity. It is practically maintenance free and easy to use. Living in a tiny space that is well-insulated can lead to mold issues, especially around windows, so anything you can do to reduce humidity is helpful to maintaining a healthy environment in your tiny space.

mini dehumidifier

The LG 9000 BTU Energy Star Single Zone Art Cool Mirror Mini-Split is one of many mini-splits out there. It’s boasts the ability to cool, as well as heat, up to 400 sq. feet. I feel that, after living in the South in a tiny house, it is well worth the investment in a mini-split that will save you space, be energy efficient and keep you comfy. This unit also features a dehumidifying mode that will shut off the system before a space gets too cold. Top that off with a built-in air purifier and you’ve got a unit that covers the gamut of air quality and temperature control in a small space.

minisplitairconditionerSo the Avanti 2 Mini Keg Portable Party Pub is not a necessary item by any means but I really want a kegerator at some point! They are just so fun and drinking beer is a totally different experience when you pull it from a tap! This one can fit 2 mini kegs and even has a shelf to cool your pint glasses! Some people want cappuccino machines, others can’t live without a dishwasher, but I have to admit that if I was going to splurge and get something I totally didn’t need it would be one of these!


The Fagor Energy Star 24 Inch Fully Integrated Refrigerator has a unique system that reduces condensation helping to lower the humidity and eliminating the need to defrost! It’s also energy efficient and at 24″ wide has a neatly compact quality with tons of storage! For the size of the unit, it packs an organizational punch. My next tiny house may very well have one!


Your Turn!

  • What appliances can’t you do without?
  • Have any favorite mini-appliances to recommend? Please share!


Heating a Tiny House

Moving to the Northeast in the winter has it’s challenges. Now that we’ve moved to Vermont from the sunny South we’re doing research into heating appliances. We have been talking to folks in the area about what they use and we’re pondering between  four options.

Electric: Probably the easiest, cheapest option right now and fairly efficient in terms of heating a space our size. We could get through the rest of the Vermont winter comfortably with our current electric heater but it’s certainly not attractive. We would like a heating unit that is easy on the eyes as well as efficient. This would only be a temporary situation seeing as we will be hooking up our solar panels this summer and investing in a small wind generator later in the year. We’re also contemplating micro-hydro electric but that’s for another post!

Cost: None upfront,  just payment of the electric bill.

Jotul fireplace wood
Wood:  Carbon neutral, abundant in Vermont and high-heat producing this is our favorite option as of now. We met a tiny house dweller on a farm nearby who uses a wood fired stove. She loves it because she enjoys the processing of the wood and the look of the stove. She’s also able to heat water on top for tea making or dish washing.  When electricity has gone out during the winter she has had no problems keeping warm and heating food. There is a homey feeling to a wood stove that you just can’t quite achieve with gas fueled units. However, a wood stove is messier, with ash falling through and wood chips and bark trailing in from the wood. Jotul is a popular wood and gas stove company here in Vermont and folks tell us they are the best. We’re not sure they make one small enough for our space so we’re going to check out their showroom this week. We’ve also been looking at marine wood stoves as well as Woodstock soapstone stoves made regionally over in New Hampshire.marine stove

Cost: $600-$1000 depending on the make/model we choose.

Kerosene: Several people have told us that kerosene is worth the set-up and cost of fuel. It burns really hot and it is 90% efficient according to a local gas supplier. In terms of BTU output kerosene beats out propane but it’s not as clean burning and is more polluting to the environment although they make filters now that reduce emissions.  Kerosene is the cheaper option when compared to propane but it’s not as easy to find. I’m also most concerned about carbon monoxide so a vented heater would be essential in such a small space. The Toyotomi Laser heaters are an option but I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. Overall, kerosene seems like a good option for back-up to electric heating but after more online research we are considering this option less and less.

Cost: $100-$600 including fuel.

dickinson propane heater
Propane: Clean burning, efficient, relatively inexpensive and easy to find we’ve seriously considered the propane option. Our stove currently helps heat our house and it’s run off propane so hooking up a heating element wouldn’t be too difficult. The Dickinson heater, popular with Tumbleweed designs, is attractive and efficient and definitely a contender to the wood stove option in our deliberations.

Cost: About $1000 including fuel.

Ultimately our main criteria for heating units include efficiency, safety, cost and environmental impact. We are deliberate in every choice we make with the house and want to make the best choice for our space, the environment and our wallets.  It’s not an easy choice but a very necessary one now that we live in a state with actual winter. It’s definitely going to be easier to heat the tiny house than it was to cool it in the hot, humid Southern summers!

 Your Turn!

  • What do you recommend for heating a tiny space? 


Essential Tiny House Appliances

This Christmas my favorite Belgian tiny house builder gifted me the most excellent kitchen appliance. He knew it was essential to any tiny house kitchen. He realized I needed it after going an entire year without homemade hummus. It was…a three piece immersion blender! I can’t fully express in a post how ecstatic I was to receive this appliance. It not only acts like a blender on a stick, which is incredibly convenient, it also has a whisk and small food processor attachment. The following night I made 14 bean garlic hummus and plenty of vanilla whipped cream. There is nothing I love better than homemade whipped cream in my coffee and hummus on my morning bagel. Needless to say I’ve been in the kitchen more! This appliance is so handy because it is compact, fitting neatly in our spice rack, and provides the action of three separate appliances in one. The attachments are unobtrusive and easy to store. Besides being  a lot less bulky, it’s also much easier to clean an immersion blender than a regular blender. It’s truly an excellent tool in a tiny house. So all this excitement got me thinking, what else is useful to a kitchen the size of a sailboat galley? Here are a few answers from La Cocina de La Casita.


1. Pressure Cookers

Today’s pressure cookers are modern, readily usable and safe cooking appliances. We bought a small pressure cooker from the Spanish company Fagor and it’s incredible. We can cook something as simple as brown rice or as complicated as seafood stew in twenty minutes.  Newer models also come with better safety features and cookbooks to help get you started. I had never used a pressure cooker before we lived in La Casita and now I never want to go without one. The one disadvantage is bulk. Our cooker is the largest of our kitchen necessities but it makes up for it in practicality, especially when it saves us money on propane every month.


2. Collapsible Accessories

Our silicon strainer is my favorite kitchen accessory. It reduces to the width of a badminton racket, allowing for storage practically anywhere in our kitchen. We also had collapsible measuring cups but unfortunately those were lost in a move. They would have been super handy in La Casita. Basically, any item in your tiny kitchen that you deem a necessity try to kind it in its collapsible edition!


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Choosing A Hot Water Heater For A Tiny House

Recently I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure out the best option for hot water heaters for my Tiny House, but I have been back and forth on which way to go.  So I realized, why don’t I see what my readers might know!

So far I have decided to focus on tankless hot water heaters.  Essentially these hot water heaters don’t hold water like traditional hot water heaters, they rapidly heat the water as it flows through their heat exchangers so you only heat the water you use.  The area I am having trouble with is to go with an electric unit or go with a propane unit.  I don’t like how much power the electric ones use (13 kw/h) if I one day go solar, but the gas units are a lot bigger (not so great in a tiny house) and need to be vented.  I also don’t know how quickly I would burn through a propane tank (I take 10-15 minute showers daily).


Your Turn!

Do you have a tankless hot water heater, how do you like it?

How do you plan to heat your water in your tiny house?

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