Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Tiny House Solar

I know many of you have been wanting this post for a while, but it’s finally here: my solar panel system for my tiny house.  I wanted to get the feel for what it is like to live off the grid so I could share more details with you all about what it’s really like.

Tiny House solar panels

So first, the high level details of my system:

  • 2.25 Kw panels – Nine, 250 watt panels
  • Batteries 740 amp/hr total – Eight, 370 amp/hr 6 volt Trojan L16 flooded lead acid
  • Cost for parts about $10,000 (excluding tax and shipping)
  • Off grid, battery bank, plus 5,550 watt backup generator
  • 24 volt system

Specific Parts:

  • (9) Canadian Solar CS-6p 250 Watt Poly Black Frame  (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider SW 4024 (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider MPPT 60 Charge Controller (Spec Sheet)
  • (8) Trojan L-16 6v 370 AH Flooded Lead Acid Batteries (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider System Control Panel (Spec Sheet)
  • (1) Schneider Interconnect Panel (no spec sheet)
  • (1) Midnight Solar MNPV 80AMP Dinrail Breaker (Spec Sheet)
  • (2) Midnight Solar Surge Protection Device AC/DC (no spec sheet)
  • 50 Amp RV power Inlet (Spec Sheet)

Before anything I needed to determine the best placement for the solar panels to make sure it had good solar exposure and didn’t fall into shadows too much.  To do this I used a tool called a “solar path finder” which is a semi reflective dome that you position at the location, then snap a photo.  The photo is then loaded into a program and spits out a whole bunch of calculations.

Solar Path Finder

Solar Path Finder

So once you upload the image into the software and then trace the treeline outline, you enter in your location, date and time.  It then can calculate how much power you’ll produce based on 30 years of weather patterns for your exact location and tree coverage.

My reading with the pathfinder

My reading with the pathfinder

Then it spit out all the calculations:

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With that in mind I knew what I could expect out of the system I had designed.  It also was a way to verify my assumptions.

Once I verified that the system was going to be well suited to my needs I had to build my panel support racking.  I did this out of pressure treated 4×4’s that were each 10′ long.  These things about about 300 lbs each so I don’t have to worry about wind picking up the panels.  I opted to build them because it was cheaper than some of the turn-key option out there and most of the for purchase ones required me to cement in the ground; I rent my land, so I wanted a mobile solution.  The racking is technically mobile, but not easily so.  If I remember correctly it was about $500 in materials to build this part.

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Next we installed the panels.  This part was pretty quick and the stands worked out perfectly.  The panels are 250 watt Canadian solar panels.  They are wired in groups of three, then paralleled into the system.  To give you a sense of scale, these panels are 3.3 wide and about 4 feet tall.

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Now I know many people want to know why I didn’t mount these on my roof or could they mount them.  You technically can mount on your roof, but honestly the number of panels that you need to practically power your house is too many for the roof.

There is some other major bonuses of being on the ground:

  • Much cooler, roofs are very hot places in the summer and solar panels drop in efficiency when hot
  • I can put my house under deciduous trees, this means in summer I’m in the shade, in winter I get the solar gain
  • Way easier to clean and monitor

Cleaning your panels is pretty important because you loose efficiency as residue (bird poop) builds up.  Also as I learned just a few days ago, when it snows, you need to clear your panels.  Cleaning becomes super simple and a lot safer when you don’t have to climb onto a roof via a ladder.

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Just this week we got a decent snow, 3 inches, which is quite a lot for Charlotte.  The first thing I had to do when I woke up was clear off the panels because with the snow, they made no power.  This was compounded because since it was cold, I needed more heat.  I can’t imagine having to drag the ladder out and try climbing on a icy roof… No Thanks.

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Next I built a cabinet to house all the gear.  I wanted a stand alone space because the batteries are so heavy.  At 118 pound each, plus cabling and other equipment the whole unit is over 1,100 lbs.   The top and bottom sections are divided so that the gasses from the batteries don’t go up into the electrical section and explode.  More on that later.

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The batteries are wired in series parallel.  The batteries are 6 volt each, in series of 4 the create a 24 volt unit, then I have two of these 24 volt units in parallel.  The reason I choose to go 24 volt over a 48 volt (which is more efficient) was because the equipment was a little cheaper, but also it allowed me to select components that I could add more panels and batteries very easily without doing equipment upgrades (just a factor of the abilities of the units I choose).  This way I can add up to 15 panels and a lot more batteries without upgrading the electronics; I can also stack these inverters so if I ever go to a normal sized house, I just add another unit and it just plugs into my current one.

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In this photo going left to right: Din Breaker Panel, Charge Controller, Interconnect w/ control panel, inverter.  In general the power flows in the same manner (but not exactly).

  • Breaker Panel: manages power from solar panels
  • Charge Controller: manages power to batteries etc.
  • Interconnect: a main junction box and breaker, holds control panel interface
  • Inverter: takes power in many forms then outputs to they type of power you need

Once the power goes through the system it outputs to a huge cable that you can see sticking out of the bottom of inverter then goes right.  From there it runs to this:

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This is a 50 amp RV style plug.  The reason I did this was two fold.  City inspectors are less picky when it comes to non-hard wired things.  This setup also lets me roll into any RV campground and hook up seamlessly.

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The plug goes into a 50 amp RV female receptacle.  This is important that you don’t have two male ends to your cord.  This is dubbed by electricians as a “suicide cord” because if you plug in to a power source, you have exposed conductors that are live; accidentally touch them, you complete the circuit and zap!

suicide-cable

You want a female end to your cord so that you reduce the chance of being shocked.  I also turn off my main breaker at the power source when I make this connection, then turn it back on.

SimpleElectricCover

If all these mentions of watts, volts, amps, amp hours etc are making your head spin a little, you may need to go back to the basics.  I have an ebook called Shockingly Simple Electrical For Tiny Houses which guide your through all the basics.  As of now, it doesn’t go too deep into the solar aspects, but the basics of electrical, wiring, power systems and determining your power needs are covered in depth and designed for those who are totally new to the topic.

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So once the power passes through the power inlet it goes to the panel.  Near the bottom you can see the backside of the power inlet, it has a large black cord coming out of it, into the box and ties to the lugs.  From there it goes out to the house.

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Back outside now, looking at the cabinet, on the sides of it, you can see the vents.  When you use lead acid (LA) batteries you have some off gassing as the batteries discharge and recharge.  These gasses are volatile and can ignite, possible leading to an explosion.  So to take care of this I installed two vents like this which provide adequate venting.  As mentioned before my battery section is isolated from the electronics section where a spark could occur.

This off gassing is a concern with Lead Acid Batteries, but other battery technologies don’t have this issue.  I choose LA batteries over AGM (absorbent glass mat) because LA’s have more cycles and cost a bit less.  Lithium Ion at this point is cost prohibitive.  My batteries should get about 4000-5000 cycles (11-14 years) before I need to replace them.  I figure in about 5 years battery technology will have progressed so much I’ll change early.  New batteries will cost me about $4,000 of the LA variety.  IMG_3123

Here is my grounding wire for my system.  This is actually one of two, another is located at the panels them selves.  My house is also grounded to this through the cable hook up and to the trailer itself.  A really important note: ground depends on a lot of things, one of which is if you house electrical panels is bonded or not, if you don’t know what that means, read up on it, its very important.

The other component of this system is the generators.  In the winter months I may need to top off my batteries every now and then, basically when its been really cold and very cloudy for a week or more.  I had a Honda EB2000i already which I really like.  It’s very quite and small.  The one downside to the Honda is that it only does 1600 watts and only 120V and I needed more power and 240V.  So I picked up another generator, a 5500 watt 240 volt Generac for $650.

generac

Here is a video that compares the two generators in terms of size, noise, output and price.

So that’s the surface level details of the system, I’m going to be doing something in the future which will be a how to size, choose parts, hook up and all the other details of doing solar for your tiny house, but that is a longer term project, most likely will take about 6 months to pull together in the way I’d like to do it.

Exposing The Hideaway Hut In Cornwall

The Hideaway Hut is a wonderful, natural way to explore a gorgeous area of Cornwall in the UK. Treworgey Farm – a huge expanse of wonderful scenery just a few miles from the coast at Looe – is populated by a variety of animals and now home to Holly and Andy, who have taken over the family business from Holly’s sister Jo. Spread over 150 acres, it’s a picturesque place, with a riding school on site, a few quaint cottages, and a very popular shepherd’s hut for two!

Hideaway HutThe understated hut sits in its own corner of the farm, complete with a private shower and a composting commode about 65 feet away. From this spot one can either embark on the coastal path or ramble down in the woodlands. For the less stationary though there is access to a games room on site, a pool, and a tennis court, which renters share with the cottages.

Hideway Hut 4

The interior of the hut is dressed in cottage chic colors consisting of an antique whitewash over vertical tongue & groove paneling while the double bed is a country blue hue. The appointments are light and airy and are reminiscent of an early 20th century farmhouse. The one generous window over the sideboard table opens outward to let in a fresh, afternoon air. There is also a sliding window above the bed to cool off those open sky evenings. In the corner, there’s a wood-burner in the hut to keep occupants warm and a gas stovetop for cooking along with all the basics.

Hideaway Hut 5

For the more adventurous though the local pub and grill is only about a 40-minute hike where the sparkling cider is legendary. During the day, the beach is only a few minutes by car and the many attractions of Cornwall await.

Hideaway Hut 6Not to be outdone by more modern facilities in the area there is a 1-amp inverter in the hut, which can charge phones or laptops. There is also an “info room”, shared with the holiday cottages, where renters can access the Internet.

Shepherds Hut 2

Sketchup Coming The 2015 Tiny House Conference

I am really excited to share some big news, the makers of Sketchup are going to be sending a team of folks to the Tiny House Conference to help run training sessions at the conference!  The 2015 Conference will be in Portland, OR April 18-19th 2015 (details here). For those of you who don’t know, Sketchup is a free 3D design program that is perfect for designing your tiny house.  Many people already know about it, but for those of you who don’t, it’s a tool you need to learn.  It will be your go to tool in designing your tiny house.

sketup logo

So at the conference we are having two sessions on Sketchup.  The first will be run in conjunction with one of our speakers, James, he is a master with Sketchup having helped draw up Macy Miller’s very popular tiny house and plans.

The next session is going to be a bonus session that I haven’t had a chance to announce, it just got put on the calendar.  This will be with the experts from Sketchup, showing you how to do things, answering questions and getting hands on with the software to design a tiny house.

For those who are new, check out Michael’s video from Tiny House Design

 

Come Join Us in Portland, OR April 18-19th 2015

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Big Mountains. Tiny House. Living In The Alaskan Bush

Thanks to Pinterest we now all have a way to keep track of inspiration photos, links of interest, passing image thoughts, and more. Prior to March 2010 though we had to use an RSS feed aggregate or browser bookmarks or (gasp!) just be comfortable with the knowledge that after an initial viewing of something we may never see it again. Such is the case for me when I came across Devon & Melissa’s tiny house in Alaska.

Devon 1At just 168 sq.ft. this one room tiny house (seemingly NOT on a trailer) initially captured my attention as it was posted in 2011 which makes it a predecessor of the modern tiny house movement. Located somewhere east of Mount Foraker in the Denali National Park and Preserve area in the Alaskan Range. As Melissa welcomes us in she immediately notes that not only is the house small but also quite cozy. If the rough cut siding on the outside didn’t communicate ‘rustic cabin’ sufficiently the sparse details yet functional inclusions inside lent to her assessment. Cozy, it is.

Devon 2The kitchen has little more than a small fridge and a propane cooktop with a recent addition of some drawer units. The cooktop runs off a 1 lb. propane bottle and there is no sink evident so one is left assuming there is no running water or plumbing available in the tiny house. No matter though as at just 0:00:19 you see a blue water container which indicates a sort of grey water, off-the-grid, system.

The shower system is quite crude in that it is little more than a circular frame that holds a net or shower curtain for privacy and to keep the water in with the downward runoff being collected in an aluminum water trough that – when not in use – hangs on the wall. The duo also seems to wash their faces, their hands, and take care of other hygiene needs right at the kitchen. This was always interesting to me because as we built our THOW we were often asked where we would brush our teeth even though we incorporated an oversized, double basin sink into our build. The last time I checked brushing teeth ends with “brush and spit.” Who cares what sort of vessel you spit into or if you even use a vessel at all! (NOTE: At 0:01:11 Melissa shows us the 5-gallon water bucket) Further down the wall is the rest of the “kitchen” which features an electric tea kettle, a toaster oven, a small microwave, and more storage.

Devon 3The pots hang from the ceiling as well as some other tools and knick knacks. The entire space reminds me of a birth in a boat or even just a great sheepherders wagon or something similar. The coziness, I think, comes from everything being within reach from one place.

As the tour continues around the downstairs we see a countertop with stools which is presumably a spot to work and eat. Melissa points out it is a storage unit as well. We get our first glimpse at the stairs to the sleeping loft which is clearly used as a great dog bed. The footage even allows us to see that the walls are sheetrock and painted and that the windows are trimmed in pre-scrolled, DIY-type window trim.

The stairs are nothing fancy and, in fact, the rise is quite steep. However while being simple the stairs serve great double duty as storage areas for gear, shoes, and books. The steps are like a deep ladder that lead up to a nice sleeping loft that runs almost the same dimensions as the “downstairs” yet offers tremendous storage (through a closet rod, some storage boxes, etc) for both Melissa and Devon. The best part is yet to come though.

Devon 4The mountains out the loft window! WOW! Now I remember why I mentally bookmarked this video in the first place.

Devon 5No spot goes unused in this tiny house. To view more and to hear just a couple minutes more about the tiny house you really owe it to yourself to visit Devon & Melissa’s tiny house in Alaska on YouTube.

Your Turn!

  • Would that view be enough to convince you to move to Alaska?
  • Are your stairs pulling double duty or do they have designations?

 

Via

 

Being Sick In A Tiny House

Being SickSo I’ve been living in my tiny house full time now for a little while and I still have a lot to get done before its totally finished, but recently I experienced one of thing that I had some concerns over when it comes to tiny houses: Getting sick.  Obviously being sick is never fun, but I had a few extra concerns when it came to my tiny house.

The biggest one was getting up and down from the loft when I was sick.  When I’m sick, I try to drink a lot of fluids and having to climb up and down to pee several times didn’t thrill me.  I’m not a person that gets sick often, but this time whatever I caught, really threw me for a loop.  To complicate going up and down my ladder, I had a pretty high fever, was very achy, and at times my coordination was kinda thrown off because of those things.  There was one time I almost toppled off the ladder because I got pretty dizzy mid way down.  But I’ve survived!

Warning: composting toilet talk up next

The next thing I’ve been worried about was using a composting toilet during my sickness.  I’ve learned that if you eat pretty healthy and make sure you have some good fiber in the mix, it makes the composting toilet much easier.  When you’re sick, you often don’t eat as well and/or your body isn’t working like it normally does.  All in all, it was fine, I worked it up to be much worse in my mind.  I did realize during this time that while I didn’t have a stomach bug this time, in the future, I’m going to want to have an additional bucket in case “all systems are a go”.

And Now...I'll Do What's Best For Me(1)

The final thing of note that I’d like to make on this topic is how the tiny house was a benefit in being sick.  Being that I now live in a tiny house and the tiny house enabled me to go out on my own to be self employed, I was able to take the time to just be sick.  Usually I’m a pretty busy guy, but I can schedule everything to my liking and that includes when I need time off.  So when I get sick, I don’t have to ask a boss for time off, I can just shoot off a few quick emails if need be saying I’m sick, then crawl into bed and sleep.  When I get sick, I just let my body do its thing and follow my body’s lead. Which means drinking a lot of fluid and sleeping a lot to give my body the energy it needs to fight the infection.

I brought a few bottles of water up with me to the loft and my laptop with a bunch of movies on it.  Most of the time I just was asleep, but when I was awake, I’d just open my laptop to watch a movie or listen to a “book on tape” on my phone.  In my old life, this would have been hard to do; I didn’t get any sick days, just my normal vacation.  Now I can disconnect and just heal.  It’s a great thing.