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So You Think You Want a Solar-Powered Tiny House? 9 Reasons to Think Again. Small house solar setup

So You Think You Want a Solar-Powered Tiny House? 9 Reasons to Think Again. Small house solar setup

    What Do Solar Panels Cost and Are They Worth It?

    Consider solar panels for your home if you have a high utility bill, live in a prime location and qualify for tax breaks or other savings.

    Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet who covers debt, budgeting and money-saving strategies. She contributes to the Millennial Money column for The Associated Press. Her work has also been featured by USA Today, MarketWatch and more. Lauren has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is based in San Francisco.

    Tommy Tindall Lead Writer | Consumer debt, saving money, gig economy

    Tommy Tindall is a personal finance writer who joined NerdWallet in 2021, covering consumer debt, practical ways to save money and the gig economy. Before NerdWallet, he worked on the marketing and communications team at Fannie Mae. Today, Tommy strives to make the topic of money approachable for all. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Associated Press and on MarketWatch. Tommy is based in Bel Air, Maryland.

    think, want, solar-powered, tiny, house, reasons

    Courtney Neidel is an assigning editor for the core personal finance team at NerdWallet. She joined NerdWallet in 2014 and spent six years writing about shopping, budgeting and money-saving strategies before being promoted to editor. Courtney has been interviewed as a retail authority by Good Morning America, Cheddar and CBSN. Her prior experience includes freelance writing for California newspapers.

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    The rising cost of electricity from traditional sources and government incentives to go green make the idea of installing solar panels more attractive for many homeowners.

    But the true cost of solar panels, and whether they’ll help you save money. depends on a few key factors.

    How much do solar panels cost for homes?

    On average, solar panel installation and the system together can run from 15,000 to 25,000, according to the latest information from the Center for Sustainable Energy. Home services booking site Angi bumps that up, putting the normal range for solar panel installation in the U.S. from around 18,000 to 35,000 based on its database of completed projects.

    Before you make the leap, learn how your electric bill. location and incentives can impact your wallet over time. Here are five steps to take to determine whether you’ll save more than you spend on solar panels.

    Review your electric bill

    Solar panels generate their own power and can therefore greatly offset your monthly electricity bill. if not eliminate it. The higher your bill, the more likely you’ll benefit from switching. But be aware that electricity rates and usage — the main charges on your statement — are volatile.

    If a utility’s electricity fluctuate, so could the amount of savings, says Garrett Nilsen, deputy director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s solar energy technologies office. Similarly, if energy consumption changes, the amount of savings can also vary.

    Electricity rates vary by location. The national average is about 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to year-to-date 2022 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration [0]

    Visit the EIA website to view the most recent per state.

    Evaluate your sunlight exposure

    sun means more energy produced and a greater potential to save with solar. Certain states, like Arizona and California, average more sunlight hours per day.

    Your home’s orientation toward the sun, the amount of shade it gets, and its roof type also affect a solar system’s output. You can estimate the efficiency of panels on your home using this solar panel cost and savings calculator from SolarReviews.

    Estimate and compare the cost of solar panels for homes

    The brunt of the expense with solar panels is in installation and the purchase of the actual panels.

    Minimal long-term costs can make up for the upfront costs. “Most systems don’t require much maintenance and are designed to last for 20 years or more with little change to the amount of electricity produced,” Nilsen says.

    When calculating the total price, consider how much energy you regularly consume — your usage is listed on your monthly utility bill — and what size system will generate the amount needed. Some tools, like the SolarReviews calculator, estimate the system size for you.

    With installation, an average residential 5-kW system costs from 3 to 5 per watt, according to the CSE, which results in the 15,000 to 25,000 range. That cost is before any tax credits or incentives.

    think, want, solar-powered, tiny, house, reasons

    If you know your current energy usage, you can calculate how much you’ll need to pay for solar panels.

    Then comparison shop for solar panels as you would other big-ticket items, such as a car or TV, says Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of the solar marketplace EnergySage. Some companies reduce installation costs through rebates and other programs.

    Aggarwal recommends getting quotes from three to five contractors. EnergySage compiles solar companies’ customer reviews, certifications, Better Business Bureau profiles and other information to help you find reputable providers.

    Take advantage of government incentives

    A federal law passed in 2022 incentivizes consumers to make clean energy enhancements, like installing rooftop solar. A substantial update to an existing energy-related tax break that was set to expire at the end of 2023, the Residential Clean Energy Credit allows taxpayers who have solar (and other approved clean energy equipment) installed to recoup 30% of the cost in the form of a federal tax credit.

    What that means: A solar setup that costs 15,000 would yield a 4,500 credit (30% of 15,000) that you can take advantage of come tax time to reduce any federal taxes owed. The credit isn’t refundable though, meaning any money left over after your full tax bill is covered won’t be paid out to you. But you may be able to apply the remainder of the credit toward taxes owed in subsequent tax years.

    The credit applies to eligible equipment installed after Dec. 31, 2021, and remains in effect at the 30% rate through 2032. It decreases incrementally after that.

    Depending on your state, you may receive extra incentives like cash back, property tax exemption, waived fees and expedited permits. In some states, homeowners with solar panels can sell excess power to their local utility companies. Look up credits available in your state by reviewing the database of state incentives for renewables and efficiency.

    Keep an eye on trade policy

    Changes in government trade policy also impact prices. There have been varying tariffs on imported solar cells and panels over the last decade affecting costs and supply. For example, tariffs resulted in a 16-cent-per-watt increase for the average consumer in 2018, which translated to an overall increase of 960 for a 6-kW system, according to EnergySage.

    President Biden placed a two-year pause on new tariffs on the solar industry in June 2022.

    Is solar panel installation right for your home?

    If you live in an area with high energy rates and a suitable solar rating, and if you can afford the initial investment, it’s worth installing solar panels on your home while the 30% tax break is in place — for the good of the environment and your wallet. But don’t expect to eliminate your power bill overnight.

    If you decide to purchase solar panels, shop around and search for incentives. Consider financing with a solar loan if you’d rather spread out the cost over time. Keep in mind that you don’t have to buy solar panels — you can lease them, too. Leasing offers a lower upfront cost, though since you don’t own the panels, they won’t raise the value of your home, and you may not be eligible for incentives.

    Going solar isn’t the only potential way to save money. Learn more about what you can do to lower your bills.

    So You Think You Want a Solar-Powered Tiny House? 9 Reasons to Think Again.

    Note from Ethan: Everybody makes mistakes. It turns out that this solar tiny house article is probably one of the worst i’ve ever put out there. Rather than hide it away, I’m including rebuttals to each one of my points below courtesy of Ben Root from the awesome Home Power magazine. You’ll see Ben’s responses called out in each section of the article. I definitely do think solar energy and tiny houses go well together, so don’t let this article discourage you!

    Part of the appeal of tiny houses is the fact that they can enable you to live a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable life. Many people who want to go tiny dream of living in a solar-powered tiny house, using a composting toilet, and perhaps even collecting rainwater to reduce the impact they have on the environment.

    Before I started building, I too wanted to build a solar-powered tiny house. But as I did more and more research to figure out how the different pieces of my tiny house would come together, I found out that solar power isn’t as simple as you might think.

    Because I know so many would-be tiny house owners want to build solar-powered tiny houses, I feel it’s important to take a look at the realities of building and living in a solar-powered tiny house. What are you getting into by installing solar panels? How will having a solar-powered tiny house affect your lifestyle? What are the implications of making this decision?

    I’m by no means saying that living in a solar-powered tiny house is a bad idea; I’m all for solar power. I just want to make sure you have the facts, so you can make an informed decision about your build.

    Reasons to Reconsider Building a Solar-Powered Tiny House

    1) You’ll need to convert your energy to use regular appliances

    Like I said, I initially assumed my tiny house would use solar energy. I knew that solar panels provide DC energy, so I assumed I’d be wiring my house for DC. What I hadn’t realized was that, because regular homes (in the USA at least) are wired for AC, all our appliances are designed to run on AC too.

    I realized that if I was wiring my tiny house with DC, I was going to struggle to plug in a few important items like my laptop. I’d need to buy special versions of all my appliances. Often, these DC versions of appliances (refrigerators, heaters, etc.) are much more expensive than their AC counterparts.

    If your motivation for building a solar-powered tiny house has to do with cost savings, re-buying all your appliances isn’t going to sit too well with you. It’s also going to hugely limit you in terms of what you can buy for your tiny house. You won’t just be able to grab that toaster oven you like or that fancy coffee blender you’ve heard your friends rave about, because you won’t be able to plug them in.

    Ben says: Yes, PV (solar electric) panels make DC, and most modern appliances run on AC. And yes, and “inverter” is the equipment that converts DC to AC so you can use your PV energy in your normal house wiring with normal appliances.

    Back in the early days of PV (1980s) the solar pioneers often ran DC light bulbs (think car tail-lights) and car stereos in their off-grid systems. PV was expensive, and these were often poor hippies in the woods, so systems were small and energy use was low. And anything that could be run on something other than electricity was (think propane fridges, and water heaters). The only inverters that existed were from ambulances, were expensive, and were prone to failure. Cabins were small and budgets were low, so DC was the way to go.

    Fast forward to the 21st century…PV is cheaper than ever, and inverters are prevalent. You can buy cheap ones at any truck stop, and good ones (true sign wave) are available from small 250W up to 6kW (and are stackable for even more power).

    So, no, it would be silly to purchase expensive, but low quality DC appliances and wire your tiny-house for DC.Even RVs and vacation cabins these days have inverters. So why wouldn’t you, in your full-time “house” (no matter how “tiny”)?

    2) Wiring a house for both DC and AC is complicated

    The obvious solution to problem number one is to wire your house for both AC and DC. This is where my mind went next too. Unfortunately there are a few downsides to doing this.

    AC and DC can’t share the same wires, so I knew going this route would mean installing twice as many wires and outlets. I was already feeling nervous about doing electrical work in my tiny house, so I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of doubling my workload in that department.

    Side note: When I was building my tiny house, Ryan Mitchell’s excellent Shockingly Simple Electrical had not yet come out. I probably would have felt a lot more confident if I’d had access to this book.

    Secondly, to turn the DC electricity from solar batteries into AC electricity, you need something called an inverter. The average inverter is only about 70% efficient. This means wasting 30% of the energy you collect in the solar panels. Again this isn’t very efficient at all.

    Ben says: Wiring your house for DC AND AC is NOT the “obvious” solution to problem #1. Just wire it normally, as would any house (you’d be doing this without a PV system anyway), using the book you bought at Home Depot. It’s as easy as any other element of a project. And just like any other element…if it’s beyond your skill set, get help from a pro.

    Are inverters inefficient? Well, that depends: Is this a a battery-based stand-alone inverter, or a grid-tied inverter?

    Let’s start with grid-tied inverters: these are the ones that don’t use batteries, and are connected to the utility grid. When you are making more solar energy than your tiny house is using, you send the excess back onto the utility grid and it gets credited to your account. When you are using more energy than your PVs are generating (nighttime, cloudy winter days, or big parties with the stereo lights and fridge all working hard) then you make up the needed energy from the grid and your account gets debited. Basically, your meter spins both ways, and the utility grid acts as your battery.

    If you have access to the grid, this is a great way to go. Inverters are cheaper, lighter, smaller, simpler and 98% efficient. Many are even fan-less, for no noise, and transformerless for low EMF (if you worry about that kind of thing).

    If you want to be off-grid and independent…that’s great too. The inverters are a bit less efficient, but the real efficiency hit is the batteries: lead-acid deep cycle batteries (the cheapest and still most-common alternative) are only about 80% efficient. But that’s the price you pay. And you’d be paying that price on an Off-grid DC system running straight from the batteries anyway. It’s not the inverter’s fault. And how efficient is your alternative: a fossil fuel generator? How quite is running a gas generator compared to sunshine?

    Efficiency is a bit of a distraction anyway, the real question is cost per kWh (just like a utility bill).

    3) DC appliances aren’t great

    The other AC/DC issue is that, generally speaking, DC appliances suck. Because most boats and RVs are wired for DC, most DC appliances are designed to be used in boats and RVs. On the one hand, that’s great, because boats and RVs are small. However, boats and RVs are normally only used for a few days or weeks in a year, so their appliances aren’t designed to work day in, day out.

    When I shopped around for DC appliances, I was very unimpressed with their quality. They were mostly of poor quality and made of plastic and other synthetics. Unfortunately, they were also just as (and sometimes more) expensive (than) as regular appliances.

    I’m sure if you were determined to live in a solar-powered tiny house, you’d be able to find appliances you liked. You’d just need to do a lot of research and shopping around to get to that point. Again, you won’t just be able to buy an appliance because your friend has recommended it. You’ll have to seek out high-quality RV appliances instead.

    Ben says:True, DC appliances are cheaply made, but expensive to buy…so get an inverter. This is no argument against solar power…(well maybe back in the 1980s it was an excuse).

    4) Inverters can be noisy

    The fourth reason to reconsider building a solar-powered tiny house is that inverters can be quite noisy because of their cooling fans. They’re also quite big. If you work from home like me, or if you’re particularly sensitive to noise, this might become irritating.

    That said, there are ways around this. Chris and Malissa Tack for example mounted their inverter in the front box of their house, on the hitch. If you want to build a solar-powered tiny house, you’ll need to think carefully about where to put your inverter. This could affect the rest of your design and limit you in other ways.

    Ben says:Noise…I already addressed this. Transformerless inverters can be fan-less. And anything is quieter than an engine generator.

    5) There’s more to solar power than most people think

    When most people think about solar energy, they think of the inverter. But there’s a lot more to it than that. You’ll also need a charge controller, battery cables, and so on.

    You’ll also need to really know what you’re doing to put everything together. Using Chris and Malissa as an example again, they got a lot of help from both businesses and people they knew.

    Whidbey Sun Wind helped them order the different components, helped them figure out how many panels and batteries they’d need, and supported them over the phone. Chris’ father used to be an electrician’s apprentice, and so helped them with the wiring. And their landowner is an electrician, so he walked them through things too.

    If you don’t have friends who have experience with solar energy, you’ll probably need to hire an expert to help you. Electricity is dangerous stuff, so you don’t want to go wrong. Don’t go into this thinking it’s easy and that it’s just a case of figuring it out. Have a pro to hand.

    Ben says: Yes, there is more to solar design than you might think. Just like there is more to plumbing than you might think. We all have different skill sets. But solar electric systems are not only cheaper than ever, they’re also more plug-and-play than ever. Some places even sell kits with components pre-sized and selected to work with each other. Yes, electricity is dangerous, but so is the electricity in a normal grid-connected home (the wiring you’d be doing anyway), and so is a Skil saw. Choose your projects based on your abilities, and get help from a pro when you need it. Basically, if you can wire an AC outlet, light switch, and especially the breaker panel in your tiny house, then you can wire a PV system.

    6) You have to figure out how much electricity you use

    Before you can get started with solar power, you have to figure out how much electricity you’re going to need. The best way to do this is by working out how much electricity you currently use.

    There are two main ways to do this. The first option is to go through your current utility bills, subtracting the energy used by anything you won’t be using once you’re in your tiny house, like a furnace. The other option is to add up the power consumption of each of the things you will use in your tiny house (your computer, your fridge, your TV, etc.) and to work out how many hours you use them for.

    Once you’ve got those figures, you can use a solar sizing spreadsheet to work out what size your solar system will need to be.

    This process can be a little complicated and it’s very important that you get it right. If you’re nervous about this, consider working with a professional and reading a lot of guides to solar power before you make any final decisions. If in doubt, overestimate the amount of energy you’ll need.

    Ben says: Yes, it’s good to figure out how much electricity you use, especially in an off grid system (under-charging your batteries will ruin them quickly). On-grid systems are more often sized by your budget and available space for the PV panels. But like the article mentions, these spread sheets are available from many on-line dealers, or Home Power magazine. It’s not that hard. If you are building a tiny house yourself, then you are probably a DIY kind of person…some simple multiplication and addition, to figure out your energy use, is easy.

    7) You might not get enough sunlight

    Depending on where you live and the exact position of your tiny house, you may not be able to get enough sunlight. Even if you can get enough during the summer, you might not be able to get enough during the winter.

    This has two main implications. Firstly, it’ll determine where you park your tiny house. You’ll need to choose land or a parking spot that gets a lot of sunlight. Then you’ll need to locate and choose the best spot on that piece of land. This might mean missing out on nice views, being further away from any amenities, and not being able to hide your tiny house from view.

    The other implication is that you might need a second energy source, for when there’s not enough sunlight. This will complicate your design and build.

    Ben says: Germany is has the most solar generating capacity (installed PV) of any country in the world…but/and their average solar resource is the same as Western Washington (think Seattle). It’s true, like with any house, whether you are getting sunlight on your roof is an important variable for solar. At least with a tiny house, you can choose the sunny spot if you want. Or your PV panels can be located away from the house…easily.

    if you’re choosing the minimalism of living in a tiny house, I’d like to think that your energy requirements will also be scaled-down proportionally as well. What’s the point of living small if you’re burning electrons like a McMansion? That means that your PV array will likely be smaller than a typical trophy home: It might fit on your roof, or it might fit on a fold down awning, or on a pack-up rack out in the yard. Think about it this way…people use PV panels on RVs, and on sail boats…why not on (or next to) a tiny house?

    8) Your solar panels probably won’t be able to go on your roof

    When you dream of going tiny, you often imagine having everything you need to live in one self-contained unit. But putting solar panels on the roof of your tiny house probably isn’t the best idea, particularly if you want to travel.

    It’s best to be able to place solar panels in whichever spot gets the most sunlight. If you’re going to be moving around a lot, that spot is going to be different each time you park up, and you might not be able to manoeuvre your tiny house into it. Having separate solar panels that you can carry into the right spot is much more practical.

    Secondly, solar panels take up a lot of space; they might not be able to fit on your roof. To give you an idea of the size I’m talking about, Ryan Mitchell from The Tiny Life uses panels that are 3.3 feet wide and 4 feet tall. You’d struggle to mount those on your roof.

    If being able to pack up all your belongings and move to another part of the country at a moment’s notice is important to you, solar energy might not be for you.

    9) You’ll have to clean your solar panels regularly

    You can’t relax once you’ve set up your solar power system. You’ll also need to maintain it, mostly by keep your solar panels clean.

    You know how annoying it is when birds do their business on your car? They’re now going to be doing it on your solar panels. Snow, branches, twigs, and other random bits and pieces will all build up on there too, so you’ll need to make cleaning a regular activity. Are you prepared to wake up to no electricity on a snowy morning and have to head outside to clear it first thing?

    The other thing to bear in mind here is the position of your solar panels. If they’re on the ground, cleaning them shouldn’t be too difficult. But if they’re on your roof, you’ll have to climb up onto it. Now imagine doing that when it’s covered in snow and ice…

    Ben says: Hardly anyone ever washes their PV panels. Well, maybe if you live right next to a high-traffic gravel road. But the losses from some dust and bird poop is minimal. Snow is an issue. Most people with grid connected PV systems just let it melt off naturally (snowy weather doesn’t have much sun anyway) and when the sun does come out, the panels heat up fast and melt the snow quickly. Off-grid folks usually need every electron they can capture, especially in the winter, so they might choose to clear snow from their panels. A long-handled push-broom usually does the trick, and a tiny house will be easier to clear than a 2-story tract-house. PV on a ground mount in the yard, even easier.

    Still Want a Solar-Powered Tiny House?

    My goal in writing this article was not to persuade you that solar energy is bad or anything. I just want to make sure you understand the pros and cons of solar energy, so you know what you’re signing up for if you do decide to go with it. Hopefully I’ve given you a few things to consider.

    If you’re still as determined as ever, good for you. The tiny house movement is all about making conscious decisions and being purposeful in the way you live, so it’s great that you know what you want.

    If you do want to go ahead with solar power, I’d recommend doing a lot of research to find out about other tiny house owners’ set-ups. Here are a few great places to start:

    My Decision

    I ultimately decided to wire my house completely AC. So far, I’ve been very happy with this decision. The beauty of my system is that I’ve designed with solar in mind: propane appliances, LED and CFL bulbs (that use very little electricity) everywhere. When it’s time to switch over to solar, I shouldn’t need a giant solar array or battery bank.

    Whatever you decide to do, make sure you’re informed and work with a professional if you’re unsure. Good luck!

    Do you plan to use solar power in your tiny house? Do you feel like you have a good understanding of what that entails?

    The Best Off-Grid Solar Systems of 2023

    Check out our picks for the best off-grid solar systems that you can buy today and compare features, pricing and more.

    Despite the rise of grid-tied solar systems. off-grid solar panels continue to be in demand. The best off-grid solar systems offer an easy way to power remote cabins, camper vans and nearly everything that lies or ventures outside grid coverage.

    We at the Guides Home Team have conducted hours of market research and reviewed dozens of products to create a reliable list of the best off-grid solar systems. We based each pick on our in-depth solar methodology, which focuses on key factors like system components, price and warranties to help you find the best fit for your off-grid solar project.

    Offers 7 solar panel brands Partners with Enphase for battery options Helps customers enroll in savings programs

    Off-Grid vs. On-Grid Solar Systems

    You can utilize solar power through off-grid or grid-tied (or on-grid) systems. Although both systems technically work the same way, the difference lies in whether you connect your panels to the local electricity grid. While off-grid systems still use solar panels to produce energy, they rely on batteries to store excess production rather than sending it back to the grid, as with a conventional (or grid-tied) home solar system. You can use that stored energy to power your devices in remote locations. Grid-tied systems are more common today since the majority of the population lives in the coverage area of an electric grid. However, off-grid solar is often the only option if you plan to power a cabin in the woods, a recreational vehicle (RV) or even boats.

    Pros and Cons of Going Off-Grid

    • Creates access to usable energy regardless of grid coverage
    • Easier to set up than standard solar systems (no permits or regulatory requirements)
    • Ready-to-install kits eliminate the need for an electrical contractor (in most cases)
    • Portable solar panel options
    • Offers flexible applications (can be used on a tiny house, campervan, boat, etc.)
    • Smaller in size and cheaper than conventional systems

    Cons of Off-Grid Solar

    • Solar batteries are almost always necessary
    • You cannot benefit from net metering and other financial incentives
    • Large systems can be difficult to set up (most DIY kits are small in size)

    What To Look For in an Off-Grid Solar System

    There are a few factors to consider when shopping for an off-grid power system.

    • Your energy needs: Your system needs to generate enough energy to offset your consumption. You can estimate your energy usage by totaling the expected loads of each appliance and electrical device you plan to run, or you can use an online solar calculator.
    • Cost and kit: Try to find a balance between the cost of a kit and its features. Look for higher efficiency, Smart features and reasonable pricing.
    • Installation: The best kits are simple to install. You can look for kits that are “plug-and-play” by design. Each kit should also come with a detailed solar installation manual.
    • Batteries and storage capacity: Look for modern, high-efficiency batteries. preferably lithium batteries. Also, the higher a battery’s storage capacity, the longer you can run your devices and appliances.
    • Additional equipment needed: A proper system needs more than just solar panels and batteries. Look for kits that come with all the necessary equipment bundled together, including cables, cable ties, connectors, etc.
    • Warranty on the kit: As a general rule, the longer the warranty on any solar product, the better. The industry standard is a 10-year product warranty for panels and a 25-year performance guarantee.

    Compare Off-Grid Solar Systems

    SystemWhy We Picked ItCostPower OutputCost Per Watt (W)Key Components

    Top 5 Off-Grid Solar Systems of 2023

    Renogy 400 W 12 V Complete Solar Kit

    • Our rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    • Cost: 1,700
    • Power output: 400 W
    • Warranty: 5-year material and workmanship warranty and 25-year performance guarantee

    Renogy is popular among off-grid enthusiasts for offering solar kits that combine reliability and affordability. The 400 W kit includes everything needed for an off-grid solar array of this size, including four high-efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels and two 100 amp-hour batteries for ample energy storage (you can pick between AGM or lithium-ion batteries).

    The kit also includes modern controllers with digital displays, a basic but reliable 1,000 W inverter, and all the necessary cables, fasteners and connectors. Renogy claims this unit can generate up to 2 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each day — sufficient for a small cabin or a camper.

    Cons Basic package does not include batteries or an inverter Some online reviews complain about missing kit components and instruction manuals

    • 4x 100 W monocrystalline solar panels (compact design)
    • 2x 100 amp-hour batteries (AGM or lithium-ion phosphate)
    • MPPT charge controller
    • Inverter
    • Bluetooth modules (for performance monitoring)
    • Battery monitor with shunt
    • System fuses, branch connectors and cables
    • Mounting equipment

    Why we picked it: Renogy’s complete off-grid solar kit offers affordable pricing at less than 5 per watt. Plus, it offers some of the best solar panels on the market — with solar cells that can reach up to 22% efficiency. We also like how comprehensive this kit is, with every small component included.

    altE Off-Grid 300 W Base Kit

    altE’s base kit comes in a handy 300 W size, which includes two monocrystalline solar panels and offers unique customization options. You can choose between an AGM battery or a lithium battery. If you want to install a more permanent system, you can also choose between roof-mounting or pole-mounting racking equipment.

    The kit is quite affordable in its basic form, costing just over 1,100. altE also rightly calls it a “cabin kit” since it is a perfect fit for small-sized off-grid cabins.

    Pros Customizable options, including the battery bank Offers system mounting racks Affordable pricing

    • 2x 150 W monocrystalline solar panels
    • PWM charge controller
    • Inverter
    • Combiner box
    • Connector cables, surge protection device, mount breakers and other components
    • Optional battery bank (AGM or lithium-ion)
    • Optional mounting equipment

    Why we picked it: The altE 300 W Base Kit offers essential solar equipment (batteries not included) and mounting options to power your cabin. Its monocrystalline solar panels and AGM and lithium battery add-on options offer modern technology for reasonable pricing. But the best highlight of this kit is its customizability, especially with roof and pole mount racking options.

    Goal Zero Yeti 1000X Boulder 200

    Goal Zero is considered one of the best portable solar product companies. Its robust, high-quality solar panels and generators have taken the off-grid world by storm. The Yeti 1000X and Boulder 200 briefcase combo offers a rugged, portable off-grid kit for those who need power on all sorts of outdoor adventures.

    A foldable, briefcase design makes your solar panels easy to carry and store. And the solar generator comes with an integrated battery, inverter and ready-to-use ports.

    • Power station
    • 2x 100 W briefcase solar panels
    • Solar panel carry case
    • 120 W power supply
    • Combiner and extension cables

    Why we picked it: Goal Zero’s kit offers exceptional simplicity of use along with incredible portability. It eliminates excess connectors, cables and all the effort needed to wire a system. You simply plug the panel cable into the generator, and it charges the battery. Similarly, you can just plug your appliance directly into one of the generator’s ports, like using a wall unit.

    WindyNation Complete 100 W

    • Our rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
    • Cost:644
    • Power output: 100 W
    • Warranty: 5 years for solar panels, 1 year for all other components and a 25-year performance guarantee

    If you don’t need to run a dozen appliances on your solar kit, WindyNation’s 100 W package offers a basic output without breaking the bank. The kit comes with a 100 W monocrystalline solar panel, an AGM battery, a pure sine wave inverter and other miscellaneous components.

    The kit has no Smart components or outstanding features, but it manages to compile all the minimum necessities into one affordable package.

    • 1x 100 W monocrystalline solar panel
    • 1x 100 amp-hour AGM 12 V battery
    • Charge controller with an LCD display and user adjustable settings
    • Inverter
    • Solar and battery cables
    • Solar mounting hardware

    Why we picked it: Not all buyers are looking for a full-fledged system that can run fridges, TVs and other appliances. The WindyNation 100 W kit can power a few lights and a fan for a small cabin or boat. It is also easy to connect and relatively inexpensive.

    Eco-Worthy 4800 W 48 V Kit

    Not everyone needs a small off-grid kit —some people may need enough power to sustain a large cabin full of modern appliances. Eco-Worthy’s 4,800 W kit offers plenty of power to keep a modern cabin running continuously. This system is so well-specced that it can provide backup power to run your whole house for a few hours.

    While typical grid-tied solar systems with batteries often cost tens of thousands of dollars, this kit bundles everything into one neat package for less than 10,000.

    Cons May require some expertise to install May be too large for some off-grid applications (like camping or small cabin use)

    • 24x 195 W monocrystalline solar panel
    • All-in-one inverter and MPPT solar charge controller
    • 4x 50 amp-hour 48 V lithium batteries
    • Cables, connectors and other wiring components
    • Mounting brackets

    Why we picked it: Eco-Worthy’s off-grid home solar kit bridges the gap between smaller kits and full-fledged solar systems without costing a fortune.

    Main Components of an Off-Grid System

    While specific components will vary by company, most off-grid solar system kits include the following:

    • Solar panels:The most important component of an off-grid solar system is the solar panels. Also known as photovoltaic (PV) modules, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, which then flows through your system’s wiring and provides power. There are different types of solar panels. including monocrystalline and polycrystalline, for home and off-grid applications.
    • Inverter: Most household appliances operate on alternating current (AC), while solar panels generate direct current (DC). An inverter converts the DC power from your panels and battery into AC power, which allows you to use solar energy for your appliances.
    think, want, solar-powered, tiny, house, reasons
    • Battery: Batteries store excess energy that your panels generate during the day to supply electricity at night, on cloudy days or during power outages. While all batteries store energy, different types of batteries (such as lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries) are suited for different solar needs.
    • Solar charge controller: Power flowing from your solar panels to the battery can fluctuate, reducing your battery’s charging efficiency and even lowering its usable life. A charge controller optimizes the incoming current and voltage, boosting efficiency and safeguarding battery cells. It can also prevent your batteries from overcharging.
    • Miscellaneous components: Any solar power system requires several small components to operate correctly, including cables, nuts, bolts, connectors, fuses, etc. These components are sometimes known as the Balance of System (BoS).

    The Bottom Line

    Off-grid solar systems offer an excellent power source when you don’t have access to the grid, making them popular among campers and people looking to power tiny homes or cabins. They are also a great way to power appliances in an outhouse or food truck, helping to lessen your reliance on a traditional utility company.

    There are dozens of off-grid kits available on the market, each offering a different set of component specifications and features. No single kit is the overall best — you will need to consider specific parameters depending on your needs.

    For instance, the Goal Zero bundle is a superb option if you plan to connect, disconnect and move your system. Similarly, the Windynation 100 W is perfect for someone looking for a very basic kit costing a few hundred bucks. Alternatively, the Eco-Worthy 4800 W kit is a good choice for larger applications that require maximum power or home battery backup.

    Ultimately, the most important thing is to understand your own requirements, then narrow down a few options and choose based on system features, warranties and cost. If you are looking for a more permanent solar option, check out our guide to the top solar companies for residential use.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Off-Grid Solar Panel Systems

    How big of a solar system do I need for off-grid usage?

    A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with solar power systems. The system size you need will depend on your energy consumption. You can use an online calculator to figure this out or do some basic calculations. Based on your calculation, you can select the appropriate system size and features. Here’s an example of energy calculations:

    Appliance Power Rating Hours of Use Total Energy Usage
    TV 120 W 4 hours 480 kWh
    Laptop 80 W 5 hours 400 kWh
    Lights 60 W 6 hours 360 kWh

    Based on the above figures, your total energy usage would be around 1.94 kWh, which converts to 129 W. So for this example, the Goal Zero Yeti 1000X Boulder 200 or altE Off-Grid 300 W Base Kit systems would supply enough energy to meet consumption needs.

    What is the most efficient off-grid power source?

    Energy sources have different efficiencies, ranging from 10% to 90%. Solar power converts light to electricity at an efficiency of around 20%. Since a solar panel’s input (sunlight) is readily available in most places and easy to convert, off-grid solar is better than most other options, like wind energy.

    Is an on-grid or off-grid solar system best for powering a home?

    On-grid and off-grid systems serve different purposes, so we cannot label one as the best. Off-grid systems are useful in situations that do not require a power grid, such as camping. But since on-grid solar panels connect to the local power grid, they are generally better suited for homeowners looking to lower electricity bills.

    Is an off-grid solar kit worth it?

    If you are looking to power a camper, cabin or tiny home, an off-grid solar system is worth it unless you have another readily available and cheap source of electricity. Off-grid systems are relatively simple in terms of installation and use, offer a long service life and can help reduce your carbon footprint and lower electricity costs.

    Where can I buy an off-grid solar panel kit?

    You can purchase an off-grid solar power kit online by visiting the retailer’s website. You can also look on websites like Amazon or other online marketplaces. While most DIY solar kits are ideal for beginners, more advanced systems may require professional installation.

    Methodology: Our System for Ranking the Best Off-Grid Solar Systems

    Aniket Bhor is a solar engineer who has spent nearly a decade studying and working in the solar power sector in the European, Asian and North American markets. He is a climate enthusiast and avid cyclist, and he also loves to lose himself in books and cooking.

    Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.

    The Tiny Housing Co. Tiny houses for the UK

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    Why Choose Solar Panels for your Tiny Home?

    Building your own tiny home or purchasing from a reputable company is a long and tedious process from acquiring land, planning permission and the build itself. After the hard slog, we can understand why a person would want to plug in and get on with life. However, the are significant advantages by investing in some time to learn about solar energy, how it will save you cash and reduce your carbon footprint in the long run.

    How well do Solar Panels work in the UK?

    Despite the great British weather we endure, Brits can still take advantage of solar panels to reduce their energy bills due to the panels requiring daylight, not sunshine hours. Even in the darkest of winters or rainiest of days, there is enough light to comfortably run a family home. For more info on solar panels, check out our blog post.

    How much energy does a U.K household use?

    Household electricity use in the UK dropped to under 4000KW for the first time in decades in 2014 and has continued to fall, with the average consumption in 2017 being as low as 3760KW per household. To get a good idea of your potential electricity usage, if you don’t have a Smart meter or already know your kwh usage, check out this website to calculate a rough cost per appliance.

    How much energy will a Standard Tiny Home save?

    Savings are dependent on the size of your tiny home, but the average is at least 50% of a typical U.K household, all the way up to 90%. The savings come from the vast reduction in size, the wall thickness and better insulation, and less space to light and heat up. These savings can increase if you use energy-efficient electrical goods.

    Another bonus is that you’ll be saving the planet by reducing your carbon emissions!

    How many Solar Panels would I need on My Tiny?

    In general, the average tiny requires around 6 panels, depending on your energy usage. This would be for an average of two people eating three meals a day from a gas cooker and a gas water system with electricity covering other appliances in the house including lights, sockets, fridge and the washing machine. Some older models are as low as 250w per panel, which means you would require even more panels which we would recommend staying away from. At the end of the day, if you invest in the best, they’ll live longer and provide you with more energy.

    What is the Size of a Standard Solar Panel?

    Depending on the size (watts) of your panel, and how new it is, sizes will naturally vary. The panels we use, are 1956mm length by 1310mm width by 40mm thick. They’re fairly standard across the industry, but you may find some panels smaller in length, around 1700mm and 1200mm width. Make sure you check the panels efficiency. as newer panels are now 20% efficient or more. Panels which are less than 18% are older models, and will make a considerable difference in the amount of solar energy you convert to electricity.

    What is the Cost of a Set of Solar Panels?

    In the past few years, the upfront costs of solar panels have fallen by up to 30%. This is all thanks to new technology, more competition and a rise in environmental interest.

    Again, will vary from company to company, including the amount of energy each panel can provide. As a general estimate, a six-panel 2100KW is around £6000 which includes the inverter and a battery-powered system.

    How long until you see a Return on your Money?

    The system mentioned above would last typically 25 years. The average energy bill from a medium to large-sized home in the UK is between £1153 to £1604 according to various sources (Ofgem / Octopus Energy). Using the lower estimate, you would have recouped all of your money back within five years and two months leaving the next 20 years bill free! Now, that depends on your usage, which you’d need to work out, as well as the size of your system. With a smaller house, you’ll naturally see a significant reduction in energy use. resulting in a good investment for your bank balance, as well as the environment.

    Introducing the The Tiny Housing Co. Eco Option

    All of our tiny homes come with an eco option for £6000. This includes 6 solar panels, nverter and 2 hefty, Lithium Ion batteries, you’ll be able to run all sorts of appliances whilst being offgrid.

    Simple. Our aim is to make your life simpler and less-reliant on utilities. for less. We go direct to manufacturers to provide you with our systems, allowing you to have solar energy, warm homes and eco-friendly heating systems ready for you when you move into your Tiny House.

    With every Eco option, you’ll save lots of co2 in the process, save money and have that piece of mind during the winter. gone will be the days when you feel cold in a house!

    Our package is only for those who purchase one of our tiny homes, meaning it is an add-on rather than a single purchase. Because we are passionate about the environment, we offer our eco package at a reduced cost to encourage people to choose an off-grid lifestyle. As we have direct contracts with factories in the U.K and beyond, we don’t have to go through multiple layers of middle-men, which add on their fees. This means we lower our costs, which we pass on to you.

    Disclaimer. All and energy wattage was correct at the time of writing

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