I Get My Electricity From The Sun

I Get My Electricity From The Sun

electricity from the sunThere is something miraculous about getting our electricity from the sun. No utility bills. No inner guilt for tapping into the grid for power. Just good, clean, wholesome fun. For us going solar was a no brainer. The choices were to cough up $20,000 to the utility company  for the “privilege” of  being tied into the grid (not tempting in the least), or to invest in a solar system (um…yes please). We are just over $300 in an investment that’s so far suiting us surprisingly well.

Here’s the run down. We sleep and cook in our pop up tent trailer. Yes, the very same one that we spent nearly five months living in when we were in Baja. The pop up tent trailer has two overhead 12 volt lights attached to the ceiling that we use each evening as our light source while we cook, play games and read. The electricity for these lights comes from a 45 watt solar system that we picked up for $159.99 at Harbor Freight Tools.

Solar PanelThis solar system comes complete with a regulator that prevents the battery from over charging (which would be bad). It has a display that shows real time voltage availability of our battery (very handy when determining whether we want to watch a movie online at night or just read a book), 2 12 volt lights with long extension chords that attach to the regulator, and a couple other sockets for other 12 volt appliances. Our regulator simply attaches to the trailer battery (which we already owned). This solar system is MORE than adequate in powering our lights each evening. In fact, we don’t even turn the panel throughout the day to catch the sun’s rays so subsequently it probably only receives an hour or two of direct sunlight.

OfficeOur office, which is in the 114sqft cabin that came on our 5 acre homestead, poses a more significant power drain. Down there, we have another one of the 45 watt systems but because our power load is much larger, we need to turn the panels a few times per day to optimize solar exposure. On a day to day basis we need power for our internet router (we are using Hughes Net for our satellite service), charging our MacBook Pro laptops, charging miscellaneous electronics such as our cameras and in the evenings, an overhead light. Because we are running 110 volt appliances down there, our set up is a little different than in the pop up tent trailer in that we have a 400/800watt Inverter just past the battery. The inverter takes the 12 volt electricity stored in the battery and converts it into 110 volt power (the kind you get when you plug something into a socket in the US).

What has surprised us is how much power charging our lap tops draws. Charging two at a time is out of the question (our inverter sends out a shrill alarm when it is being overtaxed) so we have needed to be mindful about charging and budgeting charging times. One solution would be to buy an inverter with a larger load capacity. We are getting about 6 hours of direct sunlight on the panels (when we manually shift them with the movement of the sun) and that is enough to charge one laptop from empty to full, to run the satellite internet for 4 or so hours (that appliance uses very little power actually), and leaves us enough juice at the end of the day to watch a movie on Netflix with router on and the overhead light on.

The battery and the inverter in the office came with the cabin, so, so far, our power investment has only put us out $319.98 exactly (hooray for no sales tax in Oregon). Not too shabby considering our power needs have been pretty darn met so far.

Granted this is all about to change. Since we live on a mountain with minimal southern exposure, all of this glorious free liquid sunshine will soon fall into the shadow of the higher peaks that surround us. Being that this is our very first year on our homestead, we don’t know just how cut off from the sun we will be. For sure we will need to install a much larger solar array system with several batteries as a storage bank but at least we have a sense of how little electricity we need to meet our needs.

One extraordinary advantage of living in a tiny space is that it allows for these very simple power systems. Even when we build our 220 sqft tiny home on a trailer, our power needs will remain low. By using LED lighting, LP appliances (including fridge), and a super efficient washing machine, our solar power needs will be minute. And all of this, at the end of the day, translates into significant savings in energy and money. And that, my friends, is just about as good as it gets in our book.

 

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35 Responses to I Get My Electricity From The Sun

  1. John L October 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    My girlfriend and I live in a 100sq ft camper van. We have a fairly substantial solar setup on our Class B “RV” (510AH) of battery power, a 2000 watt pure sine-wave inverter/charger, and (3) 100 watt solar panels mounted on the roof. I spent a lot of time researching the full system. That said I couple recommendations:

    [1] Run as much as you can off of DC without the inverter.

    Lights should be pretty easy to run of DC and I’m guessing they already are in your pop-up camper. I’d also invest in LEDs for the lights. This made a *huge* difference in our power consumption.

    [2] For your Macbooks (we too use Macbooks) I recommend DC chargers.

    A lot of power is lost in the conversion. We picked up ours on ebay for $35. I’m sure amazon has them too. In your case you’re doing this: DC (battery) –> AC (Inverter) –> (macbook adapter) AC–> DC. With the DC charger it’s all DC and much more efficient.

    http://goo.gl/r6KY7P

    Great website!
    -John

    • Gabriella October 31, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      This is great John! Thanks so much for the tip about the DC charger. Makes perfect sense and we will look into it. Cheers

      • Trisha November 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

        Wow! I have been looking for a site like yours for months! Thank you sooo much Tiny House Newsletter for letting me know about these awesome folks, and thank you guys for doing this!
        I am a retired lady (67 yrs) who is building my own “Shower House”, a 4 x 8 ft “room” that will hold my shower, sink and toilet. I am doing this myself except of course where I need help lifting the walls, and stuff like that, but with lots of advice from great neighbors who have become great friends. I have gotten my house as a pre-built shed building, lovingly called “the Barn” because that is how it is shaped. I will be using this 10 x12 space as my great room and kitchen with a loft bedroom. I was worried about using a ladder for stairs due to my age and disabilities. You have solved my problem! I think your box stairs will be perfect in my 120 sq ft space. I will make it so that I have a hanging closet for my clothes (but not floor to ceiling, only need length for pants and shirts).
        Later if I decide I want more room for my kitchen living area I will add another tiny house for the great room, and use the 10 x 12 for my kitchen. I plan on a total of 3-4 tiny houses on my 2.5 acres and am loving the process.
        I, too am on solar and propane. Eventually all solar I think.
        A tip I discovered while using my 45 watt solar panel from Harbor Freight (awesome for a starter system!) is to take the battery out of the computer during the day while you can use the solar power and save the battery for after dark. The computer batteries take up tremendous amounts of power if you leave the battery in the computer. I put the battery in the computer to charge up for the evening first thing in the morning, being sure I don’t leave it in just long enough to fully charge the battery.
        I am looking forward to reading more about your journey and learning from you! Thanks so much for being there for those of use who have no clue what we are doing , but are doing it anyway!
        Trisha

        • Gabriella November 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

          Thanks so much for connecting Trisha! Yes to the stairs and being able to use the cubbies as closets. We are actually thinking about not putting in our washer/dryer combo in the largest cubby (which is what we have in our design) and instead using it as a clothes rack. We also are doing the multiple little structures on our land. Just kind of makes sense for us and what our needs are. Keep us posted on your journey!

          • Trisha January 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

            Just an update. I now have my tiny house, 10×20 with loft. I have put all the insulation in, and at the end of this month I will put in the stair case. Am using a ladder for temporary stairs–hate it! I have to do a little bit at a time, due to limited income. So next month I put in the dry wall for walls(yay!) I have my 525 watts of solar power (with two 12 volt deep cell batteries) will paid off this month too!(another yay!) I run my laptop, my 7 inch tv (later I will have a 13 inch) my cell phone and my mi-fi internet and have more than enough power all day and all nite (I run the tv with added speakers all nite long!) I plan to get more batteries, a bigger inverter and much later more solar panels, but first things first. Walls so I can paint, trim of course. My kitchen floor is in and half my “great” room floor–I have used ceramic (or is it porcelain?) tiles for the flooring. I will put tile up as backboard in my kitchen too. I have a dometic propane fridge, will be getting a propane stove/oven soon (using a 2 burner camp stove for now) and will have a propane hot water heater soon as well.
            Will be extending my loft from approx. 6 ft from the wall to approx. 8 feet.
            It is about 6.5 feet from the floor to floor, am thinking about lowering it for more head room–just thinking.
            Of course my tiny house is on skids, not on a trailer, so the heavier materials work for me.
            I have built the floor and two walls for the shower house so far. It is going slow because of limited income, but so far I can even raise the walls by myself!
            Note: I use a pulley and decorative soft canvas storage box to take things up and down to the loft–including my little chiwawa dog!!!!
            I share all this so that older people who think they can’t have a tiny house and do all the work will know that they CAN. Yes, a bit of pain for some of the stuff, but it is so worth it! Thanks for letting me share!

          • Gabriella January 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

            Way to go Trisha!! I must, must see a photo of you hoisting the chiwawa…that is hilarious! Are you happy with your fridge? We ended up going high efficiency electric but perhaps that was asking too much of our solar system in the winter. We’ve had to kick on the generator frequently to top off our batteries.

  2. David Wade November 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    When you say “110 Watts” you really mean “110 Volts” there is a big difference in what you are saying. Also, the convention is to call it “120 Volts.” Just because.

    Watts = Volts * Amps

    So calling it Watts is incorrect and detracts from the efficacy of what you have written.

    • Gabriella November 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback David! Will make those changes to the post.

  3. Ron Cass February 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Hi,

    I just started to browse the articles on your site. When you need to charge phones or laptops etc. you can do it at the same time you cook a meal or boil water with the Biolite camp stove. We have had one now for two years. The grill add-on is well worth the price. You can use scrap twigs, even roll junkmail into “sticks” for free fuel. Using twigs or small wood scraps makes a really good meal with the grill option. We enjoy shish kabobs, and charge tour smart phone at the same time. The stove has a converter to change heat to electric, which runs a combustion fan as well as a USB outlet.

    Check out their website for recipes. You can find it at REI and some other places. do a Google search. Watch a few utube videos too.
    RON

    • Gabriella February 5, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

      Ron, that is honestly one of the coolest things I have seen in a very long time! We will get one and do a review on our site. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  4. Luc February 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey Gabriella!

    Just curious as to what combo washer/dryer you were referring to? and What make and model of fridge/stove did you end up going with?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    • Gabriella February 14, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      Hi there Luc! We did a lot of research on the combo units and got a little scared away bc some of the reviews aren’t very good. Unfortunately I don’t have a good direction to send you that way. In terms of the fridge we got this one: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Frigidaire-18-cu-ft-Top-Freezer-Refrigerator-in-Stainless-Steel-FFHT1817PS/203895276?N=5yc1vZc3nsZ75h. We love it though I have to admit that it feels too big and I wish there was a way to isolate about half of it when it’s just us two so we don’t have to use power to cool the whole thing.

      • Andre October 17, 2014 at 7:52 am #

        Hi Gabrielle. I have been reading your articles and posts for the last 4hrs and am absolutely hooked. Love all of the information you and others provide. My questions are; #1 In your home design where would the best placement for a chest or upright propane freezer as I am a hunter and fisherman who plans on placing my off grid home on a folding barge for the ultimate waterfront property in the summer then move back to the land for the winter. #2 Have you found a grey water treatment system that could accommodate an on the water situation? I have looked at the envirolet system but it would require 4 feet+ below the trailer.

        • Gabriella October 17, 2014 at 8:24 am #

          So glad you’ve caught the ‘bug’! Love your vision! If you can go with an upright freezer perhaps you could get a smallish one that would fit inside the main ‘cubby’ under the stairs. That space is 30″x33″x28″ deep. We have still not found our grey water solution yet. I also really like the look of the Envirolet system. Please keep us posted on it all! πŸ™‚

    • Robert August 30, 2014 at 8:52 am #

      Check out this one, http://www.compactappliance.com/EdgeStar-2-Cu-Ft-Ventless-Washer-Dryer-Combo-White/CWD1510W.html

      It has crazy good reviews, is very small and the induction dryer works much better than than many others.
      This is likely the one I will be going with for my tiny home.

      It is vital to understand how drying works in a non-vented induction dryer process. The wash portion will not be much different from other front load washers, it is the dryer that can be an adjustment for some people. Lifestyle in laundering may have to change!

      See here, http://home.howstuffworks.com/appliances/all-in-one-products/washer-dryer-combos.htm

  5. Dave Raftery February 13, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    On a cost per watt basis, Harbor Freight panels are much more expensive ($4 / watt) than purchasing panels locally at Costco or Home Depot ($2/ watt). See the following video for details:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhIXptI28HA&list=UUaPIUqAGuYXXMvI4iYxCT1g&index=55

    This video gives details on how to set up a solar system using locally bought components:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pedyMd5mGg4&list=UUaPIUqAGuYXXMvI4iYxCT1g&index=54

    • Gabriella February 13, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

      Thanks for this info Dave!

  6. Vinod May 2, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    Gabriella, Thanks for this article. If possible make a video and post it here. Just the whole video. Its really great to watch things in actions than reading :). About Solar well we get 8-9 month of super summer/sun(must be known Indian Summer). I m also planing to use solar power for most of the home appliances except AC unit. Thanks again for sharing.

  7. AndrΓ© May 8, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    So basicly you’re running hOMe on solar power with a back up generator?

    So how big of a solar power system do you have? (Panel sizes and power output) And how much did the whole system cost you guys if you don’t mind?

    And you guys built a solar shed as well? Woul it be possible to see some pics of that setup?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    • sam and lisa May 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      hi gabriella it’s sam and lisa ,we would like to know to .we got the plans from you and need to know about the solar hook up.it would really help us get it right .
      thank you
      so much
      sam and lisa

      • Gabriella May 10, 2014 at 11:30 am #

        Hi Sam and Lisa! In terms of solar you need to contact a solar company. Everyone’s system is going to be different as everyone will have different power needs and will live in different areas geographically with varying levels of sun. We highly recommend BackWoodsSolar.com as a great company committed to customer success.

    • Gabriella May 10, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      Andre, yes we are on solar with a back up generator. Our system is just a 600Watt system. I think it cost about $8k but that was bc we bought huge components to be able to upgrade to. At some point we’ll create an article about our solar system and will be sure to include photos of our solar shed. πŸ™‚

      • Robert August 30, 2014 at 8:55 am #

        Please do soon… despite the tons of information I am finding, I am still a bit confused!
        I think I need to see the real life deal in the same design we are doing, the hOMe. πŸ˜›

        • Gabriella September 1, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

          Thanks for the encouragement Robert! We are still a little confused ourselves. Tripling our system in the next few weeks and will know a lot more once we get it installed.

  8. DN July 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    A larger inverter will not help with charging 2 laptops!

    When your inverter starts beeping it is an indicator that its not getting enough amps from its source. Your laptop chargers are 85 watts I’d guess, two totaling 170 watt(max) would not overtax your 400/800watt(continuous load/peak load) if it was operating at optimal input. I would venture the guess that you need a different arrangement with your batteries and possibly pannels if you want to use the full 400 watts.

    • Gabriella July 12, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks DN!

  9. David Sanchez July 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    I was wondering about charging batteries with a generator powered by a treadmill or
    stationary bike

    • Gabriella July 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

      I know very little on the topic. Perhaps someone else will comment? Seems like there are some legit solar folks on this thread. All I know is that one needs to peddle pretty past to run a small appliance.

  10. Dara August 4, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Is there a website that estimates how much power and GB of Internet my household would go through if we did off grid tiny living? We’re starting to do a lot of research on this lifestyle for our future home but my husband does web/photoshop. With his computer needing 3 monitors and a constant stream of internet throughout the day, I’m concerned about the cost. I don’t want to end up with expensive satellite bills and solar system that would make the tiny home close to apartment rent.

    By the way the biggest turn off for us was having to use micro appliances since we love to cook but y’all’s house is our absolute favorite! Thanks for showing full size appliances can be done!

    • Gabriella August 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      Great you guys are getting excited Dara! Your best bet is to buy a simple watt meter reader and to plug that into each appliance you would be bringing into your tiny house. That will give you the best estimate of many watts you will need to generate your power. Keep us posted!

  11. Brittany September 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Hello! I am curious what the power source was for the actual build. I’m planning to build on-site and off-grid. I assume solar will not be sufficient, so will I need a gasoline generator to run power tools?

    • Gabriella September 27, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      Brittany, get a good sized generator for your tools. Make sure it is large enough to support the initial draw for the larger tools (like table saw can take 4,000w on start up). Then you’ll have a generator to charge your batteries when the sun isn’t out πŸ™‚

  12. Charles Geistel January 1, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

    New to your website love this my wife and I are getting information to do this we want to go totally green any information would be great !

  13. Adam DiRosa March 30, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Gabriella –

    I am sooo going to copy the design of your tiny – it’s freakin great!
    Could you possibly post or send me a video or paragraph on how your setup works for solar power as well as how you get on the interent/wi-fi usage?

    Adam

    • Gabriella April 2, 2016 at 8:36 am #

      Hi Adam. Our solar set up for hOMe also provides electricity for both of our kids’ cabins as well as our solar shed where our washer and dryer are. We have a 1,600w system, 4 large batteries, inverter, etc. Our set up would not make sense for pretty much any other tiny house dweller. Solar systems are incredibly personal in that everyone seems to have different needs. I recommend the folks at BackWoodsSolar.com as they can create a system sized just for your needs. For internet, since hOMe is stationary, we belong to a co-op that provides internet for our neighborhood. We are rural so it’s a different technology than what most have.

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