Solar panels for tiny homes: advantages and disadvantages

Tiny houses and solar panels appear to be created for each other.

Cost savings and less environmental effect are the top reasons for choosing to live in a tiny house, and these are also the top reasons for homeowners to go solar in general.

In fact, compared to other energy sources, one could argue that solar is especially well-suited to power tiny houses, for reasons we’ll discuss shortly.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that solar panels do have drawbacks. Consider each one carefully and determine how applicable it is to your circumstances; after all, in tiny dwellings, even the smallest inconveniences can have a significant influence.

Without further ado, the advantages and disadvantages of adding solar panels to your tiny house are listed in full below.

Summary: Pros and cons of adding solar power to tiny houses 

Electric bill savingsHigh upfront cost
Great return on investmentBatteries are expensive
Clean renewable energySpace requirements
Increased energy independenceInverter placement can be tricky
Easy to customize 

Advantages of solar for tiny houses

Pro #1: Solar panels will slash your electric bills 

The primary factor driving American homes to install solar panels is its capacity to lower utility expenses. Even though energy costs are substantially lower in tiny homes, you can completely eliminate your electricity costs by installing solar panels.

The typical annual savings from a small solar system between 1 kW and 3 kW in size, which is sufficient to power pretty much any tiny home, is from $250 to $750.

Your actual savings amount will depend on a number of variables, some of which we’ve highlighted below:

Factors that increase solar savings: 

  • High energy usage
  • High electricity rates
  • High levels of sunlight
  • Taking advantage of net metering

Factors that reduce solar savings: 

  • Cheap grid electricity
  • Poor access to sunlight
  • Lack of incentives from your state and utility

Enter your address into our solar calculator to learn how each of these elements will affect your individual house.

Pro #2: Solar panels offer a great return on investment 

The overall payback period on solar panels is typically between 4-9 years in most states.

In most areas, the entire payback period for solar panels ranges from 4 to 9 years.

The best part is that this can be accomplished with a little residence for a relatively low outlay of funds. For instance, a 3kW system will only cost you $5,985 (based on a cost per watt of $2.85 and net of the 30% solar tax credit).

Additionally, there are numerous solar finance options, such as loans, leases, and power purchase agreements, that can help with up-front costs.

Your energy usage is one of a few major elements that will determine the exact price you’ll have to pay. Energy-efficient tiny dwellings might be able to get by with a smaller arrangement, but people who use a lot of electricity could need a somewhat larger system.

Pro #3: Solar power offers clean, renewable energy 

Minimizing their environmental effect is another concern for tiny homeowners, and solar panels are the simplest method to do it.

Due to their complete lack of emissions, solar panels offer clean energy and can significantly lower your overall carbon impact. They also provide renewable energy because the sun shines every day and uses no resources when we use its rays for energy.

It’s also important to note that the only viable alternative for utilizing renewable energy in a compact house is solar panels. Contrary to other renewable energy sources like wind power and hydroelectricity, which have large upfront costs and can only be deployed in certain regions, solar panels are very affordable and useful pretty much anywhere.

While some detractors point to the consumption of resources needed in the manufacture of solar panels—the “footprint of carbon”—research has demonstrated that this is negligible in contrast to the emissions that solar panels help prevent.

Pro #4: Solar panels will increase your energy independence 

People who live in tiny homes are often conscious of their spending habits and eager to be as independent as possible. Going solar is the simplest approach to reduce energy use and leave a reduced carbon impact.

Solar power can be used to reduce your usage of dirty grid power, give you backup power during grid failures, and in some situations, completely remove your connection to the grid, depending on the sort of system you select. Backup power and lessening dependency on the grid are more appealing than ever in the wake of events like the California wildfires and the Texas winter outage in February 2021.

Here is a quick overview of the many degrees of energy independence you can obtain using solar power:

1. Cover most of your daytime usage and export surplus power 

It is feasible to produce enough electricity with a relatively small grid-tied solar panel system to fulfill your whole daytime energy needs and have extra electricity to export to the grid (thanks to net metering, a program where your solar exports are worth the retail price of electricity, and is offered in most states). The most popular and least expensive sort of solar system is one that is grid-tied.

2. Cover most of your day and night usage, plus save some backup power 

Adding a solar battery to your system is the next step toward energy independence. This could take the shape of a solar generator (like those provided by Goal Zero), a lithium battery, or a lead-acid battery. Whatever type you decide on, your solar battery bank can be utilized to partially offset your nighttime energy needs or to store enough backup power for many hours to replace a grid interruption.

3. Complete independence from the grid 

Going entirely off-grid is conceivable if you create a sizable system that can produce enough energy to meet all of your demands, hence never again requiring the use of a utility. Just remember that off-grid installations cost a lot more money.

Pro #5: Solar systems can be customized to your needs 

Since solar panel systems are entirely modular, you can create them in whatever size you require.

This is a significant benefit as it solves what is likely the main problem for tiny homeowners: obtaining items (whether furniture or equipment) that fit the small living area. When their favored brands don’t provide what they need, many tiny homes are familiar with the disappointment that results.

With solar panels, this is not a problem. Because of their inherent modularity, you may construct a solar panel system using any well-known domestic solar panel brand by simply using less panels than would typically be used for a home installation. In the same vein, you can start with a modest solar panel setup and expand it later.

Disadvantages of solar for tiny houses

Con #1: Upfront cost 

If you want to buy a solar panel system outright with cash, you’ll need to invest several thousand dollars.

Before any discounts and rebates, a smaller 1 kW system will cost roughly $3,250, while a bigger 3 kW system will cost about $9,750.

The good news is that you may take advantage of the 30% federal solar tax credit if you pay taxes, which would reduce the cost of a 1 kW system to $2,275 and the cost of a 3 kW system to $6,825. Additional discounts and incentives may apply based on your location.

Find out how to locate and apply for solar panel subsidies.

The quantities listed above may be more than you are able to afford or desire. If so, you might want to look into solar loans with low or even no down payments, but you might need a good credit score to get approved. Installing solar panels on your own will be less expensive but has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Con #2: Solar batteries are expensive 

In a previous blog post, we talked about how solar batteries may provide more energy independence and backup power when used in conjunction with solar power systems.

While battery storage technology has advanced recently—lithium batteries, for example, have replaced cumbersome lead acid AGM batteries—they are still an expensive addition.

Modern lithium batteries, like the 9.8 kWh LG Chem RESU10H battery, are expensive but powerful and space-saving. Between $7,000 and $9,000 is what the RESU10H will set you back for the equipment and installation. However, the RESU10H costs between $4,900 and $6,300 after the 30% solar tax credit. Utilizing state-specific rebate schemes, like California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program, will further minimize this cost (SGIP).

Our analysis reveals that solar batteries don’t give the same payback as solar panels, even after incentives and rebates, and are really only worth considering if you’re willing to pay more for solar backup power.

Con #3: Space requirements 

Tiny homes are just what their name implies: tiny. This means that mounting all of your solar panels on your roof can be challenging at times.

Assuming you use 4,380 kWh of energy year, your bill would be $622 at the national average price of 14.2 cents per kWh, or $1,024 in a state with high electricity prices like California. If eight 375-watt solar panels, each measuring 17.55 square feet, were used, it would need around 140 square feet of space to generate that much electricity using solar power.

The first alternative is to install the solar panels on the ground next to the small house, however such configurations are challenging to relocate. There are three methods that owners of tiny homes overcome space limits when it comes to solar.

Making your home as energy-efficient as you can is the second alternative; the less solar panels you need to install, the less electricity you will need to use. High-efficiency solar panels are the third choice since they may produce more electricity while taking up less space.

The simplest method to determine how much space you will need for solar panels is to speak with a solar installer or use our user-friendly online calculator, which takes into account your location and energy usage.

Con #4: Inverter placement can be tricky 

An essential component of any solar installation, solar inverters transform the DC power generated by your solar panels into usable AC power for your home.

You might use one of three different types of inverters for your small solar home, including:

  • String inverter
  • String inverter plus DC power optimizers
  • Microinverters

The string inverter options are often the most economical of these three inverter configurations.

However, installing a string inverter in a confined place can be challenging; bear the following in mind:

  • Temperature control: Inverters work best in cooler environments, so keep them out of direct sunlight and in a cool location.
  • Noise: They have the ability to produce a very low hum, which could be unpleasant if it is right next to your place of employment.

A typical workaround is to put them in an outdoor box, preferably facing north or east, to reduce sun exposure.

By choosing microinverters, which are tiny inverters attached to each panel, you can also completely avoid this problem. Microinverter systems are less common among tiny homeowners since they are more expensive.

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