Going off the grid is a very freeing experience. Not only are you going to save money on utilities, you will be cutting the shackles of the utility giants who have a monopoly on your area. You may have found your piece of land and are ready to build your tiny house, but you have a few pressing question:
- How are you going to power it?
- How much electricity will you need?
- How do you figure that all out?
You have a few options. There are going to be a number of factors based on your situation. The area you live is a big one and will greatly affect your options. How much sunlight, wind and if there is any running water nearby are major factors. You will also need to keep local regulations in mind when you plan your off-grid home as some areas have gone as far as to make it illegal to live off the grid. Some other areas have made it more difficult with rules against collecting rainwater or not being connected to utilities. Powering your tiny house off-grid is going to take some research to ensure you stay out of trouble with your local authorities. You will also want to make your home as energy efficient as possible. The less energy you need, the less energy generation you will need to provide. You can read Cheap and Easy Ways to Go Green for some ideas on how to save as much energy as possible.
This is going to be your best option. It’s the least expensive and the electricity is easily obtained. There are multitude of solar power kits online. A lot of websites have a questionnaire you can fill out with what types of electronics and appliances you intended to have and it will give you an estimate of how much power you will need to produce. Most smaller kits can be installed on a do-it-yourself basis, but if you are interested in getting into a more complicated setup, you might want to factor in the cost of a qualified electrician.
Wind turbines kits have significantly come down in price over the past few years, but they only generate electricity if the wind is blowing. If your area has good wind then it could be a good supplemental source of power. There are various sizes of residential wind turbines so finding one that meets your needs won’t be difficult. If you are mechanically inclined, building one from scratch is a feasible option as well.
If your land has a moving body of water on it, you can build a hydroelectric generator. Some areas have strict rules on what can be put in the water. You should always check with your local government and the EPA to ensure you aren’t setting yourself for a hefty fine. Do-it-yourself kits are not as readily available online as with other alternative energy methods. This type of setup is commonly built from scratch and the parts are pretty easy to find online or at your local hardware store.
You can hook up a generator that runs on gasoline, diesel or propane and use that to power your tiny home. The cost of fuel can really add up and the generator can be loud. This option is great as a backup though. If there are periods where your other electricity generating sources aren’t producing quite enough or in the unfortunate event that they break down, a backup generator can be a life saver.
How much power will I need and how do I figure that out?
The first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly how much electricity you are going to need. Powering lights, computer, cell phone charger and television tends to be the most common electrical needs. You’ll want to consider any alternatives to electric appliances. Heat can be more efficiently produced with a wood or gas stove. Kitchen appliances can all be run on gas. Even the fridge can be run on gas. In areas with good solar exposure you can use a solar water heater. If you have the means of digging, you can use geothermal heat for your house and your water. There are so many options you will only be limited by your situation. If you are in a very sunny place and have room for enough solar panels and batteries, the skies the limit on solar power. If you aren’t sure if you will be able to get enough from solar to power everything you need, adding a propane tank to your house to run some appliances on is a great compromise. Having a truck come and keep the tank full is a reliable source of fuel.
In order to calculate your kWh, you will need to multiple your power by the amount of time you will use it in hours and divide it by 1000. Power in watts “W” multiplied by time in hours “hr” divided by 1000 equals kWh.
W x hr \ 1000 = kWh
That will get you the kWh of an individual device, but you want to know how much all of your devices will use on a daily, or more likely, a monthly basis.
after you get the kWh of everything that uses electricity that will go in your tiny house, you can add up those numbers to get a daily kWh for the entire home. Then you can multiply that by 30 to get the monthly usage. That will get you an idea of how much electricity you will need to produce by means of solar, wind, hydro or generator.
Here is an example breakdown you should do on your own in an excel spreadsheet. Here is a website that lists the approximate kWh of various appliances which I found very useful. Once you figure out exactly what you want to power and how you want to obtain your electricity, you can develop a plan for your off grid tiny house.
It’s a good idea to over estimate a little bit. I always at an extra ten percent to anything I calculate just to make sure I’m not just barely squeezing by with just enough. You don’t want to have just enough electricity to power your daily activities.
- What if you bring your laptop home from work do put in some extra hours on a weekend?
- What if you have company over and need to cook more food than usual?
- What if you purchase an additional device for you tiny home?
It’s always a good idea to calculate in a little bit of a buffer for unexpected energy needs. Of course, if your energy needs increase enough, you can always add an additional solar panel or incorporate a wind turbine. The nice thing about alternative energy is that you can always slowly build up more over time.
So do the math, give yourself a buffer and start enjoying the freedom of an off-grid tiny home! The next thing you will have to think about when you move into a tiny home is where you’ll store all of your belongings. Read my post Maximize Space in a Smaller Home!