solar power

How to Save Money on Solar Power for Your Tiny House, Camper, or RV

How to Save Money on Solar Power for Your Tiny House, Camper, or RV

PS - TinyCamp, the learning community for people ready to live a tiny life, is now open for registration until February 10th. TinyCamp is 3 months of community, live calls, support, expert guidance, resources and more. So if you need help designing your PV system, or your tiny home, trailer, or RV, and you have lots of questions about this kind of thing - TinyCamp is the place to get answers and personalized help for your unique situation!

If you’re thinking about using a photovoltaic solar power system for your tiny home, trailer, camper, or van, this post is for you.

I have given many presentations and talks about simple solar power (I've spoken at more than 25 tiny house workshops and events in the last 2 years),  and I get the SAME question every single time. Everyone wants to know...

Tumbleweed Tiny House Worskhop Re-cap and Progress!

Hello! I've been away from the blog for a few days in favor of getting in some full days of work out in the COMET. I will spare you some of the details (I removed the black water tank. I then had to remove and clean the wood/subfloor that the black water tank sat on. Not pleasant!) so you don't lose your breakfast, but I will say that I found something HILARIOUS hidden in the walls of the camper under the toilet. My COMET definitely has a history! I'll post a picture of it later, because it's too funny (and somewhat lewd) to describe at the moment!

Anyway, what I really want to talk about is the Tumbleweed Tiny House workshop that I spoke at and attended in Boston over the weekend. I was getting over a fever/cold this weekend (I hate summer colds!) but had a GREAT time at the workshop. The main part of the workshop was taught by Derek Diedricksen, tiny house and recycled materials guru. I gave a presentation about how the design and technology of the camper industry can be interpreted into tiny houses, and how you can re-use vintage camper appliances and parts in a tiny house to save money.

Off-The-Grid COMET models

Hello! I've been working up some 3D models (using SketchUp) of the COMET as she may end up, or the "end result" models. These are likely to change as the design process continues and ideas solidify, but here was what I first envisioned The COMET to look like. Perhaps the rainwater harvesting system will change, and the solar modules might be in different places or as a separate array that pops up and can move around in order to collect optimum sun, but here's my totally self-contained version of The COMET of the future.

What do you think? Is there anything else that a comprehensive info sheet about the project should include? I need some feedback!

Solar Module Placement

Hello again! I just got some really great questions about the off-grid systems that the COMET will have, and I thought it would be a good time to share some of these infographics and design concepts I've been working on.

Where do you put three 185-watt solar modules on a 16 foot trailer with limited surface area?

Here are some of my ideas:

All-DC Solar Power System in The COMET

Here's a follow up to the last post, where I talked about how to calculate your (kilo)watt usage and shared my own table showing what electricity-using appliances I will have. Here's why that "AC or DC" column is important.

I want to design a PV system for The COMET that is DC-only, and has no AC inverter (which turns the DC power from the panels into the AC power that comes out of your wall sockets). The reason is because of the nature of inverters for PV systems: inverters are the single most expensive component of a PV system. They also are the point at which 20% of efficiency from what the panels are actually producing gets lost. That means it takes 20% of the energy you are producing with your panels to power the inverter. That's a lot of lost energy, especially in a small system! So I am devising a unique system that requires no inverter.

Mobile Solar Electricity with PV

Hey everyone! Happy Monday! So as you may know all last week I was in Vermont attending an intensive photovoltaic design/installation class (at the Yestermorrow Design/Buidl School - check it out here). By the end of the week, I realized it would be very difficult to sum up everything I learned, so I think I'll just get into it little by little. There are so many factors and variables when designing a PV solar electric system for your (tiny) house or mobile house. Weight and stability came up a lot, as well as mobility concerns with roof mounted systems.

For today, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the stuff we covered in the course with an activity you can do yourself. It's really enlightening and will definitely surprise you if you've never really thought about how much energy you use.

Photovoltaic Installation at Yestermorrow School

The last 5 days I have been in a very intense class learning the ropes of PV installation. We've done sizing of a system (I haven't done this much math since high school!), flash-mounted roof mounts, and we've wired up our solar panels. Based on my calculations, I think I have way more than enough PV power with the three panels I recently got from Cotuit Solar. Tomorrow is the last day, when we finally plug the panels into the combiner box (then charge controller, then AC breaker, then batteries, then inverter - whew!) and see how it all fits together. This class has been super enlightening and I can't wait to share what I've learned. The Yestermorrow Design/Build School offers a learning experience like no other. It is really amazing here. Every person I meet is either building a tiny house (or has built one) or is working on an Airstream retrofit/renovation or already lives in an Airstream. My kind of people!

Anyway, this is all I have to show you for now, more later!

Yestermorrow Design/Build School - first workshop this week!

I realized that I hadn't written a post about the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont, and that I should introduce you all to the place since I have my first class there this coming Sunday. Yestermorrow School is a design/build school that focuses on hands-on teaching and sustainable building practices. They offer workshops that range from 2 days to 4 weeks (and they have a sustainable building semester program with UMass Amherst). Topics range from Green building materials, woodworking, and tiny house building workshops, to architectural design and drawing courses and stained glass making workshops. I found out about them last year and when I read their "Philosophy" statement I was SO HAPPY to find a place that shared my values exactly. All last semester I had been talking about closing the gap between designers and builders, and wasn't really getting any support in doing that. So I left my college for some time to attend Yestermorrow for the next year, through their Sustainable Design/Build Certificate program. Basically with the certificate program (and they offer certificates in other subjects too)  you choose a handful of week-long, 3-week long, and weekend workshops from a long list of amazing classes. I chose the certificate over the semester program because of the flexibility and that way I could work on The COMET at the same time. I've heard the workshops are really intense and totally awesome, and that a 3 week workshop feels like an entire semester. I'm about to find out!

Do It Yourself Solar

So as you readers probably figure, I'm a DIY kind of person. I would just much rather build something myself, know how it works (and therefore be able to fix it!), and learn a new skill than buy something and forget the value of it in a few days. Yesterday I had an amazing conversation with someone over at AltE (an alternative energy powerhouse located nearby in Hudson, MA - they started out in Worcester!), the company that is helping me out with the solar power aspect of The COMET project. I'm not too well versed in Solar electricity, photovoltaics, or thermal heat (not yet anyways, but my Solar Design and Installation workshop at Yestermorrow Design + Build School is coming up real soon!), and AltE is helping me figure out what I need for my system. The lady I spoke with knew exactly what I wanted to do with The COMET, totally understood where I was coming from, and was enthusiastic and super helpful. We talked about everything from solar water heaters to exactly how many watts I will need in photovoltaic energy in my new set-up. She gave me some really good resources to look into, and I want to share those with you all. I had been looking for a reliable, honest website about DIY solar pr0jects for some time, and she pointed me in the right direction! Check out Build It Solar for what seems to be a million and one DIY solar energy projects. This website is infinitely helpful and full of information. This website has links to tons of solar projects you can do yourself and on a budget. I saw something about a solar shower made from a car inner-tube...pretty neat!