Are Solar Panels Practical for Tiny Houses?

Published Date: June 30, 2023

Are Solar Panels Practical for Tiny Houses?

The tiny house trend represents a cultural shift towards simpler, more eco-friendly, self-sufficient lifestyles. Whereas the average size of new homes in the United States has grown to 2,561 square feet, the tiny home movement embraces smaller living spaces. But in a world where space is limited and energy demands are increasing, could installing solar panels for tiny homes be the answer to powering these miniature marvels of sustainable living? Read on to find out. 

What Factors Affect the Suitability of Solar Power for Tiny Houses?

There are numerous factors to consider when installing solar panels on a tiny home. 

  • Energy Use:
    Understanding the home’s energy needs is critical, especially if it is off-grid. Add up the energy consumption of all the house’s appliances, electronics, and mechanical systems. Then use a solar system output calculator or speak with one of our recommended solar installers to determine if solar panels can meet your energy requirements.
  • Connection to the Power Grid:
    Many tiny houses are not connected to the power grid, but the inhabitants want electricity around the clock. Therefore, a solar system with battery energy storage is needed to be self-sustaining. Some grid-tied tiny houses also have batteries for emergency preparedness during power outages.
  • Sufficient Roof Space:
    Although a photovoltaic system doesn’t need to produce 100% of a home’s electricity connected to the utility grid, it’s ideal if it can generate the majority. However, if roof space is too limited, a ground-mounted solar array may be a solution.
  • Solar Orientation:
    Ideally, solar panels face south in the Northern Hemisphere, but east or west is sufficient. However, north-facing roofs are not adequate for solar energy production.
  • Shading:
    The property needs sufficient sunlight to make the solar installation worthwhile. Some shading in the early morning or late afternoon isn’t detrimental, but midday sun is essential. If you have a shaded roof, there must be a sunny spot in the yard for a ground-mounted system.
  • Mobility:
    Many tiny houses are designed for easy transport. If so, the solar system must be easy to move along with the tiny home.
  • Budget:
    Tiny homes appeal because they can provide affordable housing. Although solar systems can virtually eliminate electricity bills, they require an upfront investment. Adding battery storage can significantly increase the total cost of the solar system.
  • Climate:
    Homes in sunnier climates need fewer solar modules to produce 100% of their own energy. If the tiny home is off-grid and has a solar generator with a battery, it will need more solar panels to ensure there is always power, even after several cloudy days.

How Many Solar Panels Does It Take To Power a Tiny House?

The average solar panel is 65 inches by 39 inches, and the average grid-tied home needs 17 to 21 solar panels to produce 100% of its electricity, according to EnergySage. However, tiny houses typically use far less electricity than the average home. 

Therefore, eight 400-watt panels are usually sufficient to power most tiny houses. However, the exact amount of solar panels you need depends on your electricity consumption, climate, shading, and if you are connected to the power grid. 

To help you better understand your energy requirements, the following section details how to calculate your energy loads, the climate factor, and the solar array sizing.

Calculate Your Electricity Loads

First, determine how much electricity the home needs when inhabited. You can refer to electricity bills if it is connected to the power grid and the tiny home is in use. 

Otherwise, list all the appliances, electronics, and mechanical systems and the length of time you expect to use them. Your list should include the heating and cooling system, well pump (if applicable), appliances, electronics, and lighting. 

For example, your Wi-Fi router may use 12 watts and run continuously. Therefore, it uses 8 x 24 = 192 watt-hours or .192 kilowatt-hours (kWh). A well pump may use 700 watts and run for 1 hour daily. Thus, it consumes 700 x 1 = 700 watt-hours or 0.7 kWh daily.

Here is what a list of electrical loads might look like for your tiny home. Keep in mind that the power consumption of various electrical loads varies by model.  Also, the time in use can vary based on lifestyle, the number of occupants in the home, and other factors. 

Electrical Item Watts Time (hours) Daily Total kWh
Well pump 700 1 0.7
Space Heater 1500 7 10.5
Washing Machine 600 1 0.6
5 LED Lights 50 6 0.3
Toaster 1100 0.1 0.11
Electric kettle 1500 0.2 0.3

Refrigerator 200 8 1.6
Laptop 25 7 0.18
Wi-Fi Router 8 24 0.19
Cell phone 5 4 0.02

Next, add up this list for a final tally of estimated energy use, and don’t forget to add in the load of the solar inverter. This is also an excellent opportunity to identify ways to conserve energy, such as switching to LED bulbs or getting energy-efficient appliances or a solar water heater. 

Many off-grid homes use non-electric appliances, such as gas stoves and refrigerators instead of electric ones, fans instead of air conditioning, and clotheslines instead of electric dryers.

Consider Your Local Climate

The amount of sunshine you will get varies widely based on your climate. If you live in your tiny home year-round, you’ll want the system to be sized accordingly. Most areas of the United States get less sunshine in the winter due to cloudy weather and shorter days. Also, your tiny home might use more electricity in the winter if you have electric heat and no air conditioning.

Sizing the Solar Array

Now, you can determine how many solar panels you need to power your loads adequately. If you are connected to the power grid, you can just size your system according to your yearly energy needs. But, you will need more solar panels if you are off-grid because you must prepare for cloudy weather, and the battery isn’t 100% efficient.

NREL’s PVWatts calculator helps size solar systems and takes climate into account. We can also connect you with a solar company that can accurately estimate how many solar panels you need for your tiny home.

What Are The Benefits of Going Solar?

There are many advantages of using the sun to power your tiny home.

  • Reduces Your Carbon Footprint:
    Unlike fossil fuels, solar panels generate no greenhouse gas emissions when producing energy. 
  • Decreases Your Reliance on Fossil Fuels:
    Many tiny home dwellers want greater energy independence. Going solar is an excellent way to achieve this. 
  • Reduces or Eliminates Your Electricity Bills For Decades:
    Solar panels can dramatically reduce or eliminate power bills. Plus, the solar panels are designed to produce renewable energy for thirty or more years, resulting in many years of utility bill savings.
  • Promotes Off-grid Living:
    If you don’t need to be connected to the power grid, you will have more possible locations for your tiny cabin. Installing a solar system with batteries makes it easy to enjoy off-grid living.

How Much Money Can Solar Panels Save You for Tiny Houses?

Many solar-powered homes save $100 or more on monthly electricity bills, but the exact cost-savings of using solar energy depend on numerous factors. Refer to our solar savings calculator for an accurate estimate of the cost and output of a solar system for your home.

  • Energy Use:
    The amount of electricity your tiny home uses will impact how much money you save from your solar panels. The more electricity you consume, the more significant the potential energy bill savings from going solar.
  • Off-grid Living:
    If your home is far from the utility grid, connecting to it can cost many thousands of dollars. Although installing a solar battery can be expensive, it is often more economical and budget-friendly than extending the power grid to a remote location. Other alternatives are adding wind power capacity or using a generator, but they can be noisy, produce exhaust, and require fossil fuels.
  • Solar Incentives:
    The solar tax credit and perhaps local incentives can significantly reduce the cost of installing solar panels. For example, the federal solar tax credit can lower the total cost by 30%! Some states, such as California, Oregon, Hawaii, Illinois, and Massachusetts, have incentives for installing solar batteries.
  • Net Metering:
    Currently, 38 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, have net metering laws. If you live in one of these areas, the utility company will compensate you for the surplus electricity you feed to the power grid with solar credits on your energy bills. However, off-grid solar systems are not eligible for net metering programs.
  • Electricity Rates:
    If you are connected to the power grid, your solar energy savings depend on the cost of electricity. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average cost per kWh in the United States is 15.85 cents. However, electricity prices vary widely, and solar panels can save you more money in areas with higher electricity costs.
  • Energy Output:
    Identical solar systems will produce different amounts of electricity depending on the climate, orientation, and shading. If you live in a sunny climate with little or no shading, your panels will generate more solar power. However, all areas of the United States have climates that are conducive for solar panels.

How Much Will Solar Installation Cost for Tiny Houses?

The average cost per watt of a solar system in the United States in 2023 is $2.95 per watt before solar incentives, according to EnergySage.

  • A 2.5 kW solar system without batteries would cost around $7,375 before incentives. 
  • If you apply for the 30% solar tax credit, it would reduce the total system cost by $2,212
  • Thus, the total cost would be roughly $7,375 – $2,212 = $5,163
  • There are also state and local incentives available in some areas, so refer to the DSIRE website, or we can connect you with a local solar contractor that is knowledgeable about these.
  • Adding solar batteries can significantly increase the total cost of the system, but may be necessary if you aren’t connected to the utility grid.

Best Solar Installers for Tiny Houses

Let’s examine some of the top solar contractors available for tiny homeowners.


High-Quality Solar Panels


High-Quality Solar Panels

This solar company is known for excellent customer service and for using quality Maxeon solar panels. It offers a 25-year industry-leading warranty if you buy your solar system, but it also offers solar leases. SunPower has $0 financing options and has been operating in all 50 states since 1985.

Palmetto Solar

Great Solar Lease Options

Palmetto Solar

Great Solar Lease Options

Palmetto Solar operates in 25 states and has many satisfied customers. It offers a variety of solar ownership options, including solar leases and financing options. Palmetto Solar was founded in 2010, and its clean energy services include battery energy storage and EV chargers. Because it uses high-quality solar panels and components, customers have long warranties on their solar equipment. For example, both Q Cells and Rec solar panels have a 25-year warranty.

Sunlux Solar

Great Solar Lease Options

Sunlux Solar

Great Solar Lease Options

If your tiny home is in Southern California or Central Texas, Sunlux can be considered because it provides excellent customer service and 25-year warranties on equipment and labor. This solar installer offers numerous ownership options, including pre-paid solar leases, ownership, and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

What Should You Look Out For When Considering Solar?

Some tiny houses have tiny roofs, so producing all the electricity the home needs might be challenging. However, if it is connected to the utility grid, it isn’t critical to produce 100% and be net zero. 

For off-grid systems, it might be helpful to boost home energy efficiency by using LED light bulbs, line drying clothes, and perhaps using some gas-powered appliances. Unfortunately, solar batteries can significantly increase the cost of a solar system and its environmental impact, so it is helpful to be connected to the utility grid if possible. If you have a tiny house on wheels, mount the solar panels, so they are easy to move.

Bottom Line

Many people are drawn to the tiny home movement because they want to embrace a simpler lifestyle with a smaller environmental footprint. Tiny homes and solar panels are an excellent combination because most tiny homes use a modest amount of electricity and have ample sunlight to power their electrical loads. Installing solar panels can also reduce or eliminate electricity bills, making them a wise financial investment.


Sarah Lozanova


Sarah Lozanova is an renewable energy journalist and copywriter and is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living. Her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She also taught green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.


Can I install my own solar panels?

Some convenient tiny homeowners may opt to install their own solar panels, which can eliminate the labor cost of the project. However, there are some drawbacks. For example, some incentive programs require you to use a certified solar installer. 

Local laws and permits may require you to use a licensed electrician to wire your solar panel system. Also, working on the roof and with electrical wiring can be dangerous, especially if you aren’t highly skilled in this area.

Can a small house run on solar power alone?

Yes, but it depends if the property is shaded, the energy consumption of the home, and the available space for solar panels. If the roof is too small, installing the solar panels on the ground might be possible.

Can I take my solar panels with me if I move into my tiny house?

Yes, moving the panels with the home or using a portable solar kit is often possible. In this case, plan the solar system mounting accordingly. For example, make it easy to remove and reattach the solar panels.

What is the lifespan of solar panels for a tiny house?

The design life of solar panels is 30 or more years. However, the lifespan of a solar battery is often shorter. For example, many lithium-ion solar batteries have 10-year warranties but usually last for 20 years. The design life of a solar inverter varies widely by the type of technology and manufacturer.

How long does installing a solar system in a tiny house take?

If you hire a solar company to install your solar panel system, they should be able to complete the project in one or two days. This includes installing the solar modules and connecting them to the electrical panel. However, installing pole-mounted solar systems or arrays with battery storage may take longer.

How many watts does it take to run a tiny house?

Many tiny houses need a 2.5 kW (or 2,500 watts) solar system to power the home.  However, this can vary greatly depending on the local climate and if it has an electric water heater, clothes dryer, range, and heating system.

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