jessica-hounshell avatar image
jessica-hounshell asked

I am just beginning and want to use solar in my tiny house.

I have no idea what I am doing. Can I use a different type of battery brand with a different type of solar panel system brand? I need all the help anyone is willing to offer.

batterySolar Panelsmart solar set-up help
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3 Answers
ejrossouw avatar image
ejrossouw answered ·

Hello @Jessica Hounshell It may be worth finding a local installer to help you design the system as this key to years of trouble free service. Start with a clear requirement so the system can be sized correctly and the correct components can then be selected. The list is long of what to look at and take into account.

Compatibility is not a big issue if it is a small and very basic system e.g. solar charger, battery and panel only, but as systems get smarter and more complex, selecting a manufacturer certified solution is best, especially for support and warranty purposes. This will also allow everthing to function optimally and communicate and interact correctly if necessary e.g. a battery sensor with a charger etc. Also consider solutions like Victron Easysolar, which is very much all-in-one solution where you just need to add panels and a battery.

See tiny house

Good luck and success with this exciting addition to your tiny house.

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David Blackwell avatar image
David Blackwell answered ·

Hi Jessica - I applaud your decision to pursue the tiny house dream. In addition to the comments above, you may find the forums and resources listed below helpful.

There are really two major elements to a successful solar energy project: accurately gauging your aptitude and measuring/estimating your loads. Another issue is budget - more on that below.

Aptitude: Many people who know nothing about alternating or direct current (AC/DC), wiring, or electronics, but want to learn, can do just fine. It's definitely not rocket science but algebra does help (Ohm's law: Volts x Amps = Watts). Other people are much happier hiring a contractor or consultant to handle all of the installation and post-sale support. (Almost all systems require some level of maintenance and/or monitoring to ensure it's functioning properly.)

Know Your Loads/Setting Reasonable Goals: Before you buy anything, the first step in any successful project is a clear statement of your ultimate goals. Once you know where you want to end up, you can work backwards from there.

For example, let's assume you are targeting an off-grid solar project. What devices will you require (stove, lighting, washing machine, dishwasher, etc.)? How many watts are needed to start and run each device as well as how long each device will run? Tip: Search for power consumption worksheets for boat - very similar to tiny houses - that will help you get a ballpark on the size of a system to meet your needs.

An often over-looked factor is personal energy usage. It really does make a big difference in system design. Are you a person who wants the convenience of a "normal" grid connected life-style vs. always turning off unneeded lights, appliances, or only doing laundry on sunny days when the batteries are fully charged?

Another factor - designing a strong, resilient, and high quality system is more than just buying stuff on Amazon and throwing it together. Care must be given to understanding all of the design parameters and ensuring batteries will (generally) be properly charged. You may come across the following joke: Almost all first time buyers of solar systems kill their battery banks i.e. buy a cheap set of batteries to learn from your mistakes before investing in expensive ones.

A few more design comments:

- how many days of power do you want until your solar panels can recharge your batteries?

- will you live in an area where winter blocks the sun for months?

- do you need an alternative way to charge your batteries i.e. a generator? Generally, batteries do not like being left in a low state of charge for long periods of time. If a generator, what will it run on?

- what type of batteries (this is a huge topic)? It will drive a lot of the system design criteria as will as depend on how much hands-on maintenance you want or will put up with.

- does the system have to be portable i.e. what if you move your tiny house?

- do you want to design for growth i.e. what if your needs grow over time, do you want to buy equipment with room to handle more panels in the future?

- buy from reputable manufacturers (like Victron) who stand behind their products with service and warranties. While not all Chinese manufacturers are the same, well over 90% of the solar stuff on Amazon is poor quality.

The above is not intended to dissuade you in any way but merely a short and very incomplete list of things to think about as you go down this road.

I wanted to mention one more item and that is budget. Notwithstanding that I'm a big believer in green solutions, and there are scenarios where a power company may have a very large connection fee, generally speaking, the cost of solar is much higher than the cost of grid power. If connection to the local power company's grid or a grid hybrid system is a possibility, by all means look for a reputable contractor/company.

(Grid hybrid is referring to solar systems that generate power and feed it back into the grid during the day and later draw on it at night when needed i.e. the grid is a virtual battery.)

Good luck with project.

Here is a very incomplete list of further resources:

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Guy Stewart (Victron Community Manager) avatar image
Guy Stewart (Victron Community Manager) answered ·

Great answers already, encouraged to read it all and follow the advice.

A few more useful resources that I could think of;

There are a lot of people going through the process you are on Youtube, so that can be a good place to start. My advice is always to ring around a few professionals' and find one that you like and has a good reputation in your local area -

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