After eight months of being parked on our current plot of land, our tiny house is finally powered by the sun.
It took a while for various reasons. Shortly after we moved here, we consulted with a local solar company owner about installation. Given numerous peculiarities — the house itself, the uneven land we’re parked on, and other challenges (for example, there isn’t a patch of land near the house that gets sun all day) — we decided it wasn’t the best idea to pay for a professional installation. And because we aren’t parked in a permanent location and are on land that isn’t ours, we had very specific needs: we didn’t want to create a permanent infrastructure (from cementing panels into the ground to digging trenches for the wiring), and ideally want to take any improvements with us whenever we decide to move.
We brainstormed different options, from installing the panels on our house’s roof to designing a small flatbed trailer on which the panels would be secured (and would have doubled as storage for these materials when we moved). In the end, the variety of options didn’t work, and the $6K+ price estimates ultimately didn’t make sense, especially for an installation that we’d eventually break down.
In this case, the “on wheels” aspect of our house — and the concept of flexibility, which is generally what tiny house owners love — made this stage of our project quite challenging.
The concept of flexibility, which is generally what tiny house owners love — made this stage of our project quite challenging.
There are benefits of a professional installation, of course: peace of mind and knowing that the setup is sound and safe, and time. (It would’ve taken just a weekend or two to finish the work.) Instead, we decided that my father would take on the work, from the design to the wiring to the actual construction (which we assisted with over these recent weekends). My dad is, after all, an electrical designer, and loves building, tinkering, and solving problems. We weren’t sure about putting all of this work on his shoulders, but he wanted to do it, and we were fine with the longer timeline it’d take to install it, since we’ve been able to plug in to our host’s house in the meantime. Our monthly electricity expense has been minimal; we add $15 to our rent. Since we’re as “settled” as we could be in a temporary location, and our hosts are open to us trying things on their land, it made sense to do it. Nick had researched solar power extensively before the house was built, and we had already bought all the materials we needed. Over the past year, despite feeling like we’d made a mistake trying to go solar and overcomplicating things (since it’s so easy to plug in to the grid), we’re glad we followed through now that it’s done.
I’m reminded of what this tiny house really is: it’s less a tangible, static place to “live a dream,” and more a fluid yet controlled space to take risks.
This experience has made me realize that this whole thing — this tiny house experiment — isn’t really about living in a tiny space, nor is it about simplicity and minimalism. At least, that’s not what it’s about for us anymore. As you see with the numbers I’ve thrown out above, running on solar wasn’t really about saving money or seeing any immediate financial benefits. Most of this experience has been focused on alternative ways of living, and taking ideas from start to finish. The moment we physically unplugged from the main house and began to run on our batteries was truly great, and it’s been awesome to see this project — and my dad’s handiwork and design — come to fruition. To me, this is one of the highest points of this experiment so far, and I’m reminded of what this tiny house really is: it’s less a tangible, static place to “live a dream,” and more a fluid yet controlled space to take risks.
I must say right now that I have a very broad understanding of how our solar setup works. Our three 250-watt solar panels produce energy from the sun, then send it to our MidNite charge controller, which charges up our four 6-volt Sun Xtender batteries. When we turn something on in the house, our Magnum inverter converts DC energy from the batteries into the AC energy we need for our house. Each day, I’m learning what this actually looks like — from watching the number of amps change on the monitor displayed inside our house when I switch on our Vitamix, or unplug my laptop; to going out to our solar shed — where our inverter and charge controller are housed — to see if our batteries are charged at 100% after a day of sunshine.
I’m hoping that Nick will chime in at some point to explain our setup in more detail. For now, here are some photos from the past two weekends: