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:


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.

  1. Gee…When I get my tiny house built there’s no way I could possibly afford this or understand it for that matter. Anyone know laimens terms?
    Is there a more affordable way to go that will suffice what basic needs you have??
    Anyone can send information to my email at littlejonigreen70@gmail.com

    • I don’t think that this is too involved. If you are going to install an electrical system and not going with a low voltage system, then you should get someone to help you that knows what they are doing. You could catch fire and these houses really only have one point of eagress for the most part. I am sure you could do this for less or cut back on the amount of power used and produced. This system would keep you all set for at least a decade with basically no maintenance and steady power for all your needs.

    • Thanks for linking to your set up. It’s good to see the variety of decisions made for power requirements! $10,000 is way out of my budget also, although of course for some setups it would be necessary to go for this type of plan.

      I am consciously aiming for the low-end of power needs, with lots of manual items, and solar or rechargeable battery items.


    • I’m trying to figure out a more affordable way myself 🙂 I can help you too, if you are interested, Melissa?

  2. I think if that Honda is the one I think it is, you could have run a second one in tandem and gotten possible enough power for what your need is. Those little Hondas get an insane amount of time out of a tank if you don’t run them at peak. I use to use them for pumping water samples out of wells and they are so light. I went to an electrical program and did work in the field for a while years ago, but don’t remember enough I guess after reading this. Great stuff.

    • Yeah just saw that video and that is the one I was thinking of. You might not have the model that makes it so you can run more than once together.

    • The EU2000i lets you link them, I have the EB2000i. I believe when you link them though its only increasing the amps, not volts.

  3. How did you size your system? What are your major loads? What assumptions did you make in sizing your battery capacity?

    • I am also interested in the sizing calcs and specs. Thanks!

  4. Hi, I live in the Charlotte area as well and have long been interested in tiny houses and solar power. I love your setup. If you are interested, e-mail me, I’d like to bring my wife and daughter and visit your setup some time(my Daughter loves tiny houses, my wife thinks they are “closets” I’d love them to actually SEE one)

  5. Fantastic details. Tx for the step by step guide. This post is a great resource and will be bookmarked for future reference. (Hint: Don’t take it down!)

  6. Living off grid is alot more than figuring out wires and watts; one has to rewire one’s mind and lifestyle as well. Crockpots are out, heating pads, anything which generates heat. My largest use is from a refrigerator, which is electric. Otherwise, I can use a steam iron while sewing, computers,etc. I do not have a generator; there is no need for it. So, I live offgrid in Mexico, have a 1500 watt pure sine wave system running on eight golf cart batteries. They are preferable here, because like the article, one can easily add another, and they are easily available. Anticipate what your heaviest draw will be, and plan for that, then figure you will eventually probably need double that. If that is unaffordable in the beginning, then it is important to plan the system to allow for additions of panels and batteries later.

    • I got one of these puppies here: http://www.c4pinc.com/solar/solar-freezer/ (I run it as a fridge, not a freezer). Dropped my daily watt-hours to about 300. Spared me the need for an inverter, not to mention less panels and batteries.

      • How much power does it consume when running and how often does it run (best guess)? I’ve always wondered if it’s worth the extra cost.

        • Well I have it hooked up to 2 deep cycle batteries, so it always runs. Wouldn’t be much good to me if I hooked it straight up to the panel with no batteries, my food would spoil haha. It consumes 300 watt-hours or so a day, I’m not sure about any other consumption numbers.

          It is definitely worth it if you’re off-grid. Grid-tied.. not so much.

  7. Solar won’t work at my location, no good spot that gets sun for very long. I do want to set up backup LED lights with some sort of automatic battery charging system. Power failures happen often enough that having convenient lights ready to go is a good idea. I’ll probably just copy an RV setup.

  8. Nice job. Thanks for sharing the details.

  9. MAINTAINANCE : You will need to check the battery acid levels every 2 weeks and top off with distilled water. Never ever use tap water. With lead-acid wet batteries this is MANDATORY.
    If there is a cell that seems to go dry quicker than the others you may have a bad cell. Take that battery back immediately and get another before the pack ages.
    Finally, get a quality hydrometer, preferably glass so that you can check the amount of acidity in each cell. You have a large investment and a strong dependence on this pack, so do not cheap out.

  10. Thanks, Ryan, for all the details and the great pictures…this is exactly what we need now! We are staying away from all gas and propane–even as backup, and we’re wondering if there is a way to work grid power into a system like this, as needed. We’re located near a traditional house that’s offered electricity.

    • Yes! I had the same question. I know you can’t plug in your 50 amp house directly into a standard 20 amp outlet. Is it possible to maybe charge your batteries using grid power rather than using a generator?

  11. I think a cheaper hybrid system would be better. Use the PV’s to power lighting and small electronic’s and use propane or natural gas for heating and refrigeration. A back up generator set up to use gasoline, propane, or natural gas would make sense too. Using a solar tracking system would also increase effiency and use less pannels to acheive same amout of Kw hrs. I also believe that a small home should be wired with 120 vac and 12vdc in mind, aka separate circuits.

    • Here in NC it’s not just about heating, its also about cooling. It’s actually more important than heating. I could get by with heating 20 day a year, but cooling, it’s usually 90 degrees and 90% humidity.

      A tracker system will eek out another 5-10% and require you do spend a few extra grand for the equipment and massive concrete footing. I could just buy 1 or 2 extra panels and surpass the gains of a tracker for a few hundred dollars.

  12. Great to have all these views. I have to chime in again for those who are frightened by a $10,000 system. My 1500 watt pure sine wave system cost $3,000. Spend your money on the inverter which can handle more than you need at the moment, and plan so you can add panels or batteries in the future. Those people who have propane fridges love them for their silence. The initial outlay is high, but it means you can get by with spending less on the solar system. While the idea of selling power back may sound attractive, there is no way now I would want to be hooked into the grid, especially with smart meters. In the silence of being off grid, a generator would be awful to listen to. Maybe good for heavy duty construction, but who would want to listen to one every day? I would suggest going around the house you live in now, and figuring out how much wattage each item uses. Keep in mind that what is written is not always an item’s actual use. Then start paying attention to what is important to keep and what you really don’t need. It is not about putting all the whistles and bells into a small space. It is about being conscious of exactly what we are using, where it’s energy came from, and getting excited watching the sun cross the sky every day. I absolutely love those moments of first rays every morning.

  13. Great example of a smaller, off grid solar panel set up. The costs associated with battery-backed up solar power will definitely decrease even further in coming years. Grid-tied solar users shouldn’t be the only ones that have access to truly affordable solar.

  14. Great info. Your battery AmpHrs should be 740. Series adds voltage, parralle adds amp hours. Your 24v system cuts inverter amp draw in half compared to a 12v system. A kill-a-watt meter, hardware store, costco, sams, etc, on an appliance for a week will give an indication of power usage. Refrigerator in summer power usage goes way up due to heat disipation in hot ambient air temp. I checked a fridge in the fall and the usage went up times 4 to five due to 100 to 110 degree weather in the summer.

    Please check the water level in batteries at least once a month, especially in summer. I killed two l16 Trojans due to low water and excess discharge! As you know, an expensive mistake.

  15. Ryan,
    Thanks for posting such a nice summary.

  16. Believe it or not, I actually saw someone build one of those suicide cord. I was installing a 120v camera in Nigeria, and had to hire an electrician. He brought an odd looking Chinese voltage transformers that had female sockets on both sides — I guessed so that buyer can use it either as a step up, or step down. When he brought out a double plugged chord, I knew something was wrong. He plugged it in, that is when I knew what was wrong. I said “hey, careful, the plug you are holding is live.” To which he said “don’t worry, I am a professional, I know what I am doing,” and promptly scratched his arms with the tip of the plug. I was close enough to the wall to quickly yank the power cable out in time, he still got quite a nasty shock. We did end up using the transformer, but I had him tie down and super glue the suicide cord onto the transformer first, and then seal it in an insulated metal box, before plugging it in.

  17. Nice post Ryan. This is right on! I have done this kind of electrical installation before… and YES, it is complicated. Electrician help is recommended for any who have not done 120/240v AC work before.

    I think, in a few years of technology advancement, there will be more off-the-shelf compact solar power systems coming along. For now, you can’t likely match the raw capacity (and maintainability) of the one that you built here, Ryan. Way cool!


  18. I had no idea about the benefits of putting solar panels on the ground. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Great article to have stumbled upon. I am in the process of building a tiny home now. My intent is to have a home that can function completely on solar power alone as yours does. My only concern however is that is implementing such a substantial solar system, I’d severely compromise the mobility of my home being that it’s intended to be mobile. Are you aware of a system that’s portable as it is powerful?

    • You could make more portable stands than mine, but in the end, you need to a certain amount of capacity to do certain things.

  20. BTW, I currently own two Goal Zero solar generators (Yeti 1250) that I am hoping can be integrated into my home’s electrical system.

  21. I have been following “tiny houses” for some time. YOUR accomplishments of taking one a step further has piqued my interest even more. Thank you for sharing. My head did spin, but I always come back down to earth. Very doable and as witnessed in the comments, one journey does not fit all, but yours gave specifics and showed results. Bookmarked!

  22. How do you manage to get away with an odd number of panels? How are the PV themselves configured?

  23. Is there anyway to use the batteries as secondary power? How quick to they go bad hooked up as a primary source? I definitely like the idea of doing this myself, as the solar companies are ridiculously priced

  24. Can you or someone tell me how you are using either of the generators to charge the battery bank? which specific charger make/ model are you using to charge the batteries? or are you just somehow connecting it straight to the inverter Schneider SW 4024?

  25. How can i do this in foreign country? Any suggestions at all ….

  26. 10k may seem like a lot of money.

    But if you were hooked to the grid, you might expect to pay $100.00 in electric, so the system pays for itself in 100 months.

    30% federal tax rebate, paid off in 70 months, shop around, save an extra #1000.00, paid off in 60 months, that is five years.

    So, the depreciated cost of your power for 5 years is the same as it would be if you did not buy the system, then for the next 20 years, it is the price of maintenance cost. It is very affordable. After you calculate the increasing cost of power, over the next 25 years, you can literally buy ANOTHER HOUSE WITH ITS OWN POWER SETUP.

    Totally worth it.

  27. I am having a tiny home built bare bones as possible. They scratched their heads when I told them I didn’t need a heating system or electric cooking equipment. I have a new gas RV oven and stove I plan to install and plan to use a propane heater. They gonna really wonder what I’m doing when I tell them I want a 50A rv setup on it. I plan to take your layout and modify it quite bit as I plan to use low power as possible.

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