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Solar panels for tiny house: More from less

Owners of small houses often hesitate to go solar, saying that “there just isn’t enough space” or “it’s just too expensive”. They should reconsider: solar panels are cheaper and more efficient than ever. In this article, we’ll focus on dispelling the myth that a tiny house and solar panels are incompatible.

Defining tiny house

20 ft²

average size
of a 400 W panel

The challenge that small houses present is the lack of space. An International Residential Code defines a tiny house as a "dwelling unit with a maximum of 37 m² (400 ft²) of floor area, excluding lofts”. The average size of a tiny house in the U.S. is 225 ft² — eight times smaller than a typical home, according to a survey by Porch.com

If we want to put solar panels on top of our house, the amount of free roof space is what matters the most. It may vary depending on the type of your roof that you have. Not all sides of your roof are equally preferable. In the US your solar array ideally should face south. East and west sides are fine as well but the panels are going to produce about 15% less energy there. Panels that face north generate 30% less than those that face south.

Let’s say that our tiny 225 ft² house has 240 ft² of usable roof space. The average size of 400 W solar panels is close to 20 ft². By dividing 240 by 20, we get twelve 400 W panels and a 4.8 kW solar system. Its AC output is going to be closer to 4 kW. In a place like California, you can get over 22 kWh of energy per day. For a tiny house, this is more than enough.

Mobile homes and trailers can also count for tiny houses to some extent. Mobile or manufactured houses are much larger though: their average area is over 1,000 ft2, according to Statista, and space isn’t such a problem. Trailers are amazing for solar and you can switch yours easily with one of our guides. Trailer dwellers also love portable solar panels and kits that you can take with you anywhere.

Evaluating savings and incentives

6-8 years

avg solar payback period

Even a small solar system pays off in spades. The average payback of a PV installation is 6-8 years. This number goes down to 4-5 years in sunny places like California. Don’t forget to apply for programs to lower your investments without harming the profits. 

However small your house may be, you’re still eligible for all the same rebates, tax credits and other solar incentives — on equal grounds with the biggest mansions. For instance, the Federal Solar Tax Credit applies to any residential property, regardless of size, and provides a 30% tax credit based on the total solar system installation cost, including labor.

Many states offer their own incentives and rebates for solar installations. Some even have specific programs aimed at helping tiny house owners switch to solar power. Until recently, the state of California offered the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, which provides financial incentives for low-income homeowners to install PV systems. The right mix of federal and state incentives can return you more than 50% of what you spent on a solar panel system.

Planning installation for tiny house

A solar installation has to be sized properly. You can figure out your daily energy needs by looking at your monthly bills, figuring the mean value and dividing it by 30. An AC production of your system equals its DC rating multiplied by the number of peak sun hours in your area minus 20-30% — energy losses caused by inefficiencies of the equipment and imperfect irradiance. 

Size your system with our guide in 5 minutes!

If you don't have bills to refer to, calculate your system size manually. Write down all of your appliances, multiply their power ratings by the number of hours in use and sum it up.

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Aside from panels, you’ll need an inverter. To save space, you can find one rated for outdoor use or choose microinverters instead. They are more efficient, resist shading better but end up being more expensive than a standard grid-tie inverter. If you have no plans on connecting your house or trailer to the grid, an off-grid system requires batteries and a charge controller. You could install all of your solar equipment outside but you’ll need a protective case.

Choosing solar brand

Solar panels for tiny house need to be efficient to take advantage of the little available space. Being budget-friendly is always a plus. Good aesthetics are also important. You also might want to get panels with integrated microinverters which eliminates the need for a separate string inverter. There are a few brands that match the description.

LG Solar is a popular brand that offers efficient and reliable solar panels. Their NeON R modules have a 22% efficiency rate and come with a 25-year warranty. The brand offers quality AC modules with easy installation. 

Canadian Solar panels are a more affordable option. They are famous for doing well in bad weather. HiHero model reaches a 22% efficiency rate.

Panasonic HIT panels are known for their durability and high efficiency. They boast efficiencies of up to 22.2% and are designed to perform well in high temperatures. They also come with a 25-year warranty.

Three best solar panels for tiny house

Let us present a few models that in our opinion are perfect for powering a small house. We picked them out with the help of our engineer.

LG NeON R 370 W: No compromises

Out of stock

LG NeON R 370W Solar Panel 60 cell LG-370M1K-A6 ACModule

  • Rated Power Output 370 W
  • Voltage (VOC)41.9 V
  • Number of cells60
  • Cell TypeMonocrystalline

Delivery on May 31 – Jun 05

The LG NeON 370 W solar panel is one of the best solar panels for a tiny house. It has a power output of 370 W with an efficiency of 20.4%. It’s an AC module which means it comes with a preinstalled Enphase micro inverter. The panel is durable and fully weatherproof but has a lightweight and slim profile that allows for easy installation on a variety of surfaces. The model has a 25-year warranty and is an excellent option for homeowners looking for a truly reliable option.

Canadian Solar HiKuBlack 390MS: Made in North America

Out of stock

Canadian Solar 390W Solar Panel 132 Cell CS3N-390MS HiKuBlack

  • Rated Power Output 390 W
  • Voltage (VOC)44.1 V
  • Number of cells132
  • Cell TypeMonocrystalline

Delivery on May 31 – Jun 05

This Canadian Solar 390 W panel is 19.2% efficient, rugged and more affordable compared to other popular choices. As an added bonus, this sturdy and weatherproof PV module has a stylish, all-black appearance. Canadian Solar is a reputable brand from Ontario. It is famous for adapting its panels specifically to the North American climate.

Panasonic HIT 325 W: Tested by time

Out of stock

Panasonic 325W Solar Panel 96 Cell VBHN325KA03

  • Rated Power Output 325 W
  • Voltage (VOC)70.9V
  • Number of cells96
  • Cell TypeMonocrystalline

Delivery on May 31 – Jun 05

This Panasonic 325 W panel is an excellent option for a tiny house. With its high efficiency of 19.4%, 96 cells and compact design, it can generate a significant amount of power in limited space. With a maximum power output of 325 watts, this panel is capable of producing over 700 kWh of energy per year, depending on the location and installation conditions. The panel is also built to withstand harsh weather, making it a reliable and durable choice for harsh climates.

Writing for electronics manufacturers like Bitmain taught Maxim to extract the important details from lengthy equipment documentation. At the same time, it made him aware of the environmental effects, and he put his talents to work for a renewable future.

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Illustrations – Natalya Absalyamova



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