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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

My First Winter In A Tiny House

After getting back from Croatia I’ve been learning a good bit about living in my tiny house in the winter. This December in Charlotte has been breaking records left and right for how cold it has been. Most mornings when I wake up it’s been in the 20’s which is very cold for this time of year.

The real issue for me has been right now I’m running off a generator and propane heater for my heat. Soon my solar panels will be installed and I can shift to my mini split. The generator has been working well, but because of how energy intensive the heater is and how cold it is, a full tank will only last about 3-4 hours. The propane heater works great too, a 1 lb propane tank will last about three hours.

My strategy has been mainly to heat the house up for about an hour while I get ready for bed and then shut things off. With the propane heater, its a “catalytic” heater that while is technically a flame, it is more efficient and doesn’t use up as much oxygen as a open flame would. I don’t want to leave it running when I sleep because of it being a flame and also the danger of low oxygen. The heater has a low oxygen detector that will shut it off if it comes to that, but I don’t want to chance it regardless. Once I fall asleep, I’m fine until I wake up anyway.

One thing that I’ve learned is that the floor is always cold. Being on a trailer there is obviously an air gap below the trailer. I know a lot of people have used skirts for their house, but I’m not a fan of the look and its not windy in my location, so I’m not sure how effective it would be. It may come to be installing a skirt of a sort, but I think I’d like to start with trying an area rug. I think this might be an easy way because I noticed that when I stepped on a piece of cardboard that I happened to have on the floor, it seemed to do a pretty good job of feeling warm on my bare feet.

So far it’s been a pretty cold winter in my tiny house. That’s about to change.

Very soon a solar panel system is going in that will change my heating situation drastically. I will have a huge battery bank that will let me run my mini split and keep my space heated and on a timer, without the danger of an open flame or running the generator. The timer will be really helpful because I can drop the temperature when I’m asleep nestled under my covers, but then ramp back up right before I wake up and have to get out of bed. I’ll also be able to set it to maintain a minimum temperature, which will be nice because I can keep it a reasonable temperature, but not draw a ton of power.

The other thing I’ve noticed is since its been so cold outside, I’ve been inside my house more and wanting to go outside. Nothing really bad, but I’ve been so used to be going for long walks and just enjoying the weather since its so much warmer in Croatia, right now it’s a little too cold to just spend time outside. I have been spending some time at the gym, at cafes and I also went out and bought an outdoor fire place to have a fire pit at my tiny house. All of these have been great for handling this need to get up and do something. I think this will subside when I get power set up because I can then get Internet hooked up and set up my desk. That will help a lot.

Tiny House Infographic

So it has been a long haul on this project, but it all started with a simple question: “How do tiny house people compare to the average American?” It happened quite innocently over burgers and fries at a local dinner. The question sparked an idea to have a tiny house survey. 120,000 data points later we crunched the numbers, and led a campaign to raise the money to make this graphic. The graphic took several hundred hours to create and we hope you enjoy.

Click image to see it larger


Office On The Water

While they primarily are focusing on offices, these structures have been designed to suit various applications, one of which is small floating houses.  Here is their typical office setup with a conversion couch to bed.

Typical specs include:

  • a compact design giving enough space for one or two people to work in comfort
  • a “private” working area
  • a “breakout” area
  • an external sun deck
  • a kitchenette
  • a pull-out berth (for overnight stays)
  • plenty of storage space
  • bathroom





Tiny House: A Place Of Your Own

Many of you are familiar with the book An Omnivore’s Dilemma, written by Michael Pollan.  What you might not know is that he built a little cabin in the woods to write much of that book in.  His Tiny House is mainly for writing check it out!

Wanting to have a place of his own where he could think and write, Pollan decided to erect a small structure in the woods behind his house. Fancying himself a modern-day Thoreau, he wanted to build his “dream hut” with his own hands, even though he had no carpentry skills or experience. We learn very little about how to build a small structure; the majority of this book is devoted to Pollan’s pretentious musings about a variety of architectural theories and about his interaction with the architect and carpenter who helped him (wasn’t this supposed to be a simple structure?). Although it cost Pollan $125 per square foot and took him two and one-half years to build, ultimately it is the reader who works the hardest.