Archive for the Appliances Category

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Today I wanted to share information about running air conditioning on solar power.

When I was first planning to move into my tiny house, considering the possibility of running a solar powered air conditioner and cooling system weighed heavily on my mind. After all, living in a humid state, I’ll tell you, I’m one who can’t tolerate the heat. This is especially true, coming from New Hampshire—I’m a cold weather guy and here in North Carolina, it gets hot! An AC unit is critical, even if you’re running on solar power.

How to Run Air Conditioning On Solar Power

Well, Charlotte’s heat really came full force this week.  I know for many their climate doesn’t get as humid as it does here, so there are other options besides running a house air conditioner. Unfortunately, here, it’s necessary.  Without AC I can’t really sleep, even using a fan to passively cool the house.

Right now, the humidity is still tolerable, but it’s HOT and the humidity is coming soon.  It has been in the high 80’s and low 90’s outside, which made my house in the mid 90’s inside.

So, what are the tiny house air conditioner solutions? How do you cool off your tiny house (even off the grid) and beat the heat?

Deciding to Buy a Solar Powered Air Conditioner

I thought I’d do a post today because I’ve been able to run a few real-world experiments with my tiny house and solar powered AC.  I haven’t seen any experienced reporting on the topic of running air conditioning on solar power, so I figured it would be helpful for you all to hear what I did.

When it comes to cooling a tiny house, there are three areas to look at: isolation, such as shade, seals and insulation; ventilation, such as fans and setting open windows for cross-winds; and artificial cooling. Many tiny homes, by their portable nature, don’t have basements, where you can retreat if you need to cool off. Since heat rises and your entire home is above the ground, you need alternative methods to cool down.

Desert-dwellers may be able to rely on swamp coolers and evaporation-based cooling systems Here in the humid part of the world, these setups never work because our air is already humid. It’s impossible to cool humidity with MORE humidity.

Isolation, using shade and insulation to your advantage, is important if you live in off the grid. You can keep your house fairly cool by simply, closing off your space, especially in the heat of the day. This is why I decided to park my tiny house under the trees for shade and run my solar panels in the wide-open field.  While these methods help and should be employed, of course, chances are you’ll still need to rely on a solar powered air conditioner system to get through the hottest days.

After doing my research on what unit would work best with my solar panel set up and power levels. I ordered my unit before I found an installer. I have yet to hook up my mini split air conditioning system (see the update below where I talk about life on solar with my mini split) because it has taken me a long time to find a HVAC installer who would install my mini split AC. As I discovered after buying my mini split unit, most installers insist they need to sell you the air conditioning equipment if they are going to install it. Obviously, this was an unknown factor to me when I ordered my house air conditioning unit…but these are the bumps in the road you experience when you live The Tiny Life.

Fujitsu air conditioning system.

Fujitsu Air Conditioning System

How Much Power Does an Air Conditioner Use?

For heating and cooling, I opted for the Fujitsu 9RLS2 which is a 9,000 BTU Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump System with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating of 27.  To give you an idea, older, less efficient mini split air conditioning systems have a SEER rating of around 8 to 10. Modern air conditioning systems, labeled highly efficient may have a rating of 15 or so, but most today are around 12-13.

The SEER rating was very important because my tiny house solar panel system simply couldn’t handle the less efficient cooling systems.  The SEER rating is determined by BTUs (British Thermal Units) to Watts.  The higher the number, the better.

The other big reason I choose this particular mini split air conditioning unit versus a standard window air conditioner was aesthetics.  My air handler is wall mounted, out of the way and above eye level.  This has a few advantages. First, it keeps my limited square footage clear of clutter. Secondly, it keeps my windows looking nice because there’s no window unit blighting a good design. Lastly, keeping it above eye level also helps you forget about it because as humans we don’t often look up.

Tiny House Friendly Air Conditioning

While I’m working on getting an HVAC installer lined up to put in my Fujitsu Air Conditioning System, I’m using a portable air conditioner, which has worked pretty well.  The downside to using a portable AC unit is it takes up a lot of space and it’s not as efficient. The portable AC unit I’m using has a SEER rating of 12, which means my new mini split system will be 225% more efficient once it’s installed.

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I first wrote this post and I’ve been living full time totally off the grid and it’s wonderful.  I was able to find an installer to pull the vacuum in my system and this thing cools like a dream.

During the summer the AC pulls between 450 watts and 700 watts, on “powerful” mode it draws about 1,000 watts.  As a side note for heat, it pulls about 700 watts to 1,000 watts, 1,100 on “powerful”.

If I had to do things all over again I’d go with a Mitsubishi brand mini split over the Fujitsu, because they seem to be a bit more well-designed. The Mitsubishi has also the critical feature of auto dry, which dries the coil of moisture before shutting down.  I’ve had to clean my coils several times in the 5 years and a drying feature would almost eliminate this.

Stress Testing My Portable AC Unit and Solar Panel Power System

I decided to “stress test” my solar panel system by turning the portable AC unit on high and setting the thermostat to 60 degrees. I wanted to see how long it would take for my solar panel system batteries to bottom out (50% discharge).  The charge controller on my solar panel system automatically turns off the power to my house if the batteries power discharges down to 50%. This automatic shut off on the solar panel system prevents damage to the batteries by discharging too deep.

Solar panel batteries and a chart of number of cycles and depth of discharge to determine battery life.

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

UPDATE:  It’s been several years now since I posted this. Last year I bit the bullet and added 6 more solar panels and 4 more batteries.  This was mainly to avoid needing a generator in the winter months because they’re a royal pain.  Cooling my house in the summer is still pretty simple since my house is so small.  I usually turn my air conditioner on when I get home and shut it off when I leave.  This allows the batteries to fully recharge and doesn’t really impact cooling.

My solar panel battery stress test was an interesting experiment. I ran the less efficient, portable air conditioner for three days solid, starting with a very warm house.  At the end of the three days, I was very close to hitting 50% on my battery reserve, but it didn’t ever dip below that threshold.  I decided, after three days, the test had gone on long enough to get an accurate reading and I stopped the test.  I typically turn off the AC whenever I’m gone.

Following the test, the past few days were a bit trickier because since my solar panel battery system was so low, I needed it to build back up. Unfortunately, we had a series of cloudy days, making it tough to get more energy.  While I’ve had plenty of power to run the AC overnight, the battery reserve is lower than I’d like.  To give you an idea: on a normal sunny day my solar panel power system makes about 8,000 Watts, but on a cloudy day (when the clouds are very thick with no gaps) I get between 2,000 and 4,000 Watts.

The Advantage of Solar Powered Air Conditioning

When it’s hottest and the sun is shining the brightest, I can make lots of power!  This allows me to run the AC full blast to keep my house nice and cool. Even with the air conditioner on high my solar panel system still makes enough power to add 2,000 Watts into the batteries. Compare this to heating, where you often need the heat the most at night when the sun isn’t out. This results in a major drain on your batteries.  Compounding the issue of running heating off solar panel energy, heaters are more energy intensive than cooling and air conditioning units.

The other night I decided to conduct another experiment.  I got my house very cold by running the AC unit. Then, I turned off the cool air at midnight (when I usually go to bed).  Outside it was about 65 degrees and about 45% humidity–so not bad.  I left all the windows closed to see how much my body heat would warm up the house. In the summer, opening the windows doesn’t often doesn’t help anyway, even if it is cooler outside because the humidity increases the “feels like” temperature.

As it turns out in just three hours my body heat warmed up the loft of my tiny house to the point 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 when I fall asleep, I usually stay asleep all night, even if I get warm. The fact I woke up from the heat, shows how uncomfortable it was in my loft because it takes a lot!

Fortunately, I had prepared for this and all I did was crank open my skylight (the highest point in my house) and the loft end window. I 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 my real-world experiences with the tiny house, AC units and solar panel power systems.  I know I had always been frustrated by not enough stories and real-life examples of AC and cooling issues, so hopefully my story will help others.

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!

Compact Washer Dryer Combo

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.

Mini Air ConditionerSo 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!

Mini  kegerator

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!

Slim Fridge for your Tiny Home

Your Turn!

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

Via

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 heaterPropane: 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.

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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.

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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!

Rheem Hot Water Heater

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?