Tiny and minimalist homes have seen a rapid rise in popularity, primarily owing to the high prices for renting homes, taxes on properties, and the sharp uptick in utilities.
However, one thing that usually worries any potential tiny homeowner is how to supply their home with power. It’s easy for us to take it for granted when we’ve been connected to the grid for so long, so it might be a little overwhelming if you need to take care of your electricity all by yourself. Fortunately, getting power may be easier than you think.
So what are the power options for tiny homes? These sources are often renewable sources of energy. The crucial thing to remember is that these sources must be easy to transport (if you’re living in something like an RV) or securely off-grid (if your tiny home is stationary). You don’t need to call an expert to install these – all these items can be installed yourself!
What Power Options Can Tiny Homes Use?
One of the best things about building and owning your tiny home is that you have full control over every aspect. Even prefabricated tiny homes allow flexible customization, which can help you choose what things work best for your home.
This means that for power, you’ve got a lot of options on your hands. The most popular ways of getting power into a tiny home are:
1. Solar Panels
Solar energy is one of the cheapest and most accessible power options for tiny homes, primarily because it’s everywhere. Unless you live in extreme climates, you’ll always be guaranteed to get enough sunlight each day.
So what are the exact options you have for solar? If you’re going to use it as the primary source of your power, the most important thing you need to think about is what kind of system you’ll use for your house. There are two ways of generating solar power:
- A rooftop mounted system, where you put solar panels on your roof to catch the sun
- A ground-mounted system, where you place an array of solar panels on a plot next to your tiny house
While each system can generate roughly the same amount of electricity, there are considerations you need to remember when using them.
Rooftop mounted solar panels are often inexpensive and easy to install, but you need to make sure that your roof has enough structural integrity to hold up the panels without collapsing on itself. While there are thinner panels you can use to generate power, keep in mind that they may end up costing more.
A rooftop mounted system might not be the best for you if you live in an area that experiences regular snowfall. Given the weight of accumulated snow on a roof is already dangerous to a full-sized home, snow can both block your panel’s access to sunlight and increase the risk of the roof falling in.
However, rooftop systems work well if you live in a mobile home, such as one that’s pulled by an RV. An RV can easily maneuver to catch the optimal amount of sunlight each day for roof-mounted systems and is usually easier to maintain than a stationary tiny home.
Ground-mounted solar panels are a popular option for stationary tiny homes, since owners have more control to place their panels in the optimal direction. They’re also easier to maintain since you can simply work on them at ground level, and you have more space to install and move them around.
One thing that may be detrimental to people who want a ground-mounted system is the additional mounting and racking equipment required. Unlike rooftop systems that are almost always angled to the sun, you have to get special mounting equipment to make sure you can angle your panels in a way where they catch the most sunlight. This means a lot of additional upfront costs, which may not always be an option for many tiny homeowners.
An advantage of having a ground-mounted system is that you often have room for extended batteries, which can help add to how much stored power you can use. This is a great option if you live in an area that rarely sees sunlight, so you can maximize the amount of power that can generate. If you’re looking to install fixtures like an AC system or your own Internet server, solar is your best bet.
One thing you need to remember about solar power is that while it’s a great option for most tiny homes, you have to optimize your entire home around it so you get the most use out of your generators. It’ll require a little practice and some research to set up correctly, but it’s a reliable system once you’ve installed it.
Wind turbines are another option that you can use if the conditions around your area are ideal. One important caveat to consider when using wind energy is that it’s the most variable and one of the most expensive ways to produce renewable energy, so always consider it as a secondary power option.
Tiny homes that use wind energy often have wind turbines installed on their roofs or on a plot of land next to them. These turbines need to be at the optimal height to catch the most amount of wind, with a solid enough attachment to the ground so it doesn’t fall over in high winds. Because of the height of the turbines and the mounting equipment required to keep them steady, the wind isn’t a popular option with RV or mobile homes.
There are also more things for you to keep track of if you’re going to use wind power. These can include (but are not limited to):
- Wind speed and wind directions
- Humidity and density of the air in your area
- Extreme weather events like storms or hurricanes
- Local building regulations
- Upfront costs for installation and maintenance
If you’re strongly considering using wind as your primary source of power, you need to consult a professional that can give you recommendations for the best kind of turbine that you can use. Fortunately, some progress is being made on more compact and easier to maintain wind turbines, though again cost is the limiting factor you need to remember.
3. Fossil Power Generators
If you don’t have access to the options we’ve listed above, you can try using fossil power generators as an independent energy source for your home. These are relatively inexpensive, require minimal upkeep, and are more accessible without integrating an entire sub-system into your tiny home.
However, the catch is that these power generators are often connected to the grid or require you to have a mixed energy system to make up for the inevitable deficits in power generation. For this reason, power generators are a popular choice for RV homes and other mobile tiny homes, though smaller stationary homes can also benefit from them.
Three common generator types are powered by fossil fuels:
- Gas generators are the most variable power options you can use since you can get a lot of mileage out of a single tank. However, they tend to be limited by gallon size, with most gas tanks maxing out at 4 gallons. They’re also highly dependent on fuel pricing, so have an allowance in your budget for shifts in the price of oil.
- Diesel generators are heavier but run longer than gas generators, though their noise may be a potential concern if you live in a quiet area. They have bigger tanks so they run longer, but this also means that they’re more expensive. Be careful when hauling around diesel generators, since the lightest of them can still weigh around 250 pounds.
- Propane generators often run on a dual fuel system that allows them to switch to either gas or diesel if they run out, so they’re a great option for homes that use mixed power options. They’re much cheaper and cleaner than gas and quieter than diesel generators, but they don’t last as long. They also don’t work as well in colder temperatures, which is why they need to be attached to another fuel system.
If you’re aiming for using eco-friendly power options, then using fossil power generators might not be for you. What might be their primary benefit for you is that they can function as excellent secondary power generators in case of blackouts, which can sometimes happen with tiny homes.
Ways to Conserve Power In a Tiny Home
Now that you know the different power options available to a tiny home, what are the things that you can do to make sure that your energy generation isn’t wasted? Here are some tips and guidelines that you can follow to improve your energy use:
- Improve air circulation
Air circulation can do a lot to reduce your use of power in hot or cold weather. If your tiny home has an HVAC system, clear it out and maintain it regularly so it doesn’t consume more power than necessary. This is especially crucial for mobile and RV homes since their air circulation systems can get clogged up from all their time on the road.
- Check the wiring of your heating options
If you use a lot of hot water and/or a thermostat inside your tiny home, calculate how much total energy they drain from your batteries when you use them. This can help you plan accordingly for the energy charges that you’ll accumulate, so you can change your energy generation when you need it.
- Implement eco-friendly lighting
Lighting is another massive drain on your energy reserves, especially during the colder seasons of the year. Always make sure that you use eco-friendly lighting options like LEDs or solar lights on the outside of your tiny home, since they can help offset the load that your energy generator’s output to keep the rest of your appliances running.
- Use ENERGY STAR appliances
If you’re looking for a way to further reduce your energy use, getting ENERGY STAR appliances is one of the best ways to do it. Not only do they operate at the same efficiency as other appliances, but they do so without increasing the energy load on your own electrical system. They’re already a superb choice for many conventional households and are even better options for tiny homes looking to save some cash!
- Check the watts of your phantom load
One thing that most people don’t know about appliances is that they still consume energy when they’re plugged in, even if they aren’t switched on. This “phantom load” can accumulate the more appliances that you have, which can end up draining a lot of your energy reserves. You can prevent this from happening by simply unplugging any appliances that aren’t in use, or plug them into inactive surge suppressors.
How to Choose the Best Power Option
With these choices, how do you choose the best power option for your tiny home? The fact of the matter is that every person and the tiny home that they build will have different energy requirements, so there’s no exact gauge that you can follow to determine your power requirements.
What you can do is calculate the potential amount of energy you’ll be using and select your power option from there. You can do this by taking careful notes on how long and what activities you do around the house that drain power or use something like the Department of Energy’s Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use Calculator.
Live Out Your Tiny House Dreams Today
While there are plenty of power options for tiny homes, homeowners should also be equally careful about the different things that can contribute to their use of power. With a little patience and foresight, you can easily power a tiny home for all of your needs. All it takes is research, an understanding of how your energy demands work, and the proper design and construction to get your power done!
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.