Alternative and Renewable Energy Resources for Tiny Houses

Want to save money while saving the planet? Check out the Tiny House Blog’s top 10 sources for alternative and renewable energy.

If you’re building the tiny house of your dreams from the blueprints up, you’ll never have a better opportunity to go green. In the process, you’ll drastically lower your energy bills over the lifetime of your building, while radically reducing your impact on the environment. In other words, START SMART.

Many of the tools and strategies showcased in this article are used at Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, so if you want to see them first hand and learn more of the nitty-gritty while you’re making plans, consider spending some time with us soon.

Top 10 Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources for Tiny Homes

10. Call your power company.

If you’re already connected to your local power grid, or you know that you will be, going green may be as simple as calling your local utility company.

All you have to do is ask them if you can switch to renewable energy to power your home. You might pay a few cents more for it, but that’s a small price to ensure our future loved ones still have a planet capable of sustaining life.

Even if the option turns out not to be available in your location, your local electric company will count it as a vote in favor of renewable energy. If enough people weigh in, they’ll make some changes to stay competitive.

9. Work smart, not hard, with passive solar design.

Pop quiz. What’s the biggest source of free energy in our solar system?

The answer is obvious.

By designing your house for passive solar benefits, you can reap the benefits of hours of FREE solar light and heat year-round, day in and day out.

The sun WILL rise tomorrow, and if you play your cards right, your energy bills WON’T.

8. Check out micro-hydroelectric power.

Hydropower has been used for hundreds of years, and if you happen to live near a babbling stream, this could be your ticket to an endless supply of clean electrical energy.

Energy.gov offers an excellent explanation of how the modern versions of this technology get the job done.

7. Cook without gas.

At Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, we cook with solar power all the time. It saves energy and time, because we don’t have to slave over a hot stove in order to prepare a delicious meal.

How?

Your first option is a solar oven. You can make one yourself using commonly available materials, or buy a commercial version sized to suit your family’s needs.

You can also use a death ray… No, seriously.

Basically it’s a reflective dish that collects solar energy and focuses it on a specific point – great for boiling liquids.  (It’s the gizmo in the picture above with the painted wooden cover on it.)

In addition to being clean and convenient, these cooking methods operate with 100% free energy.

We also make wood-fired pizza in homemade earthen hearth ovens.  High life, all the way.

6. Replace fossil fuels with biofuel.

If you’re using oil to heat your home, you can probably switch to a blend of between 20% – 99% biodiesel without making any modifications to your system. Ask a qualified technician to help you figure out whether this switch is worthwhile for you. Finding a source for biofuel could also be easier than you think, if you live near a large metropolitan area, and if not, you can always learn how to make your own.

You can also heat your home efficiently using renewable wood. (Duh…)

Modern wood and wood-pellet stoves have evolved a long way from the one your great-grandparents used, and by and large, contemporary models burn efficiently and cleanly.

A quality wood/pellet stove could be one of the best investments of your life.

If you’re into natural building, you can also try a rocket stove mass heater. If properly designed and installed, they can heat a home just like a manufactured wood stove using odd scraps of kindling you can pick up around your property. At Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, we often use off-cuts from a local oaken furniture factory, which would otherwise wind up in the landfill.

Check out this video to learn more:

5. Heat water with compost.

Back in the mid-20th century, a French innovator named Jean Pain perfected a method of heating water using compost.

In a nutshell, the technology works by pumping water through a long coil of tubing that is embedded in a compost heap. The natural microbial breakdown of organic material generates a lot of heat, which you can harness to take a hot shower, wash your dishes and clean your clothes. In the process, you’ll also get loads of rich compost to add to your garden. Win-win.

Mr. Pain even went so far as to create a towering heap of wood chips that could heat water for several years, but you don’t need to go that big. A few bales of organic straw and a dash of weeds and other scraps from around your house will be sufficient. Getting the right mix of hot and cold water can be a bit tricky, but if you’re flexible and quick on your toes, this could prove an excellent method for you to heat your household water.

4. Go solar.

In the last decade, the usage of photovoltaic technology has increased by more than 53-fold. It’s getting cheaper and more efficient by the day, and that spells big savings for us AND the planet.

Sorry Big Oil… Your assets are going to be stranded someday soon. (Fortunately for the rest of us.)

3. Ride the wind.

Just like solar technology, small wind-powered electrical systems have gotten better and cheaper over the years. You only need a wind of 7 mph to generate juice, which will allow you to power your tiny home even when it’s dark, cloudy, or your solar panels are covered with snow and you’re feeling too lazy to go outside and sweep them off.

2. Install an air source heat pump.

Would you be interested in cutting your heating and cooling bills drastically, throughout the year?

You can, with an air source heat pump.

The technology works by grabbing heat molecules from the external air surrounding your home and forcing them into the structure to make it warmer.  Even at sub zero temperatures, there are sufficient heat molecules in the ambient air for the pump to heat your home to a comfortable temperature – and it can be done for hardly any energy at all.  (This is the way of the future, my friends.)

The downside is that most models are designed for ‘standard sized’ homes of a thousand square feet and more, meaning that even the smallest model is oversized for the needs of most tiny homes.  That doesn’t make it a bad idea to install one, it just means that you’ll be paying for capacity that you wont be able to use.  Currently, the smallest air source heat pumps on the market run in the ballpark of $3000, including the costs of installation.

1. Go hybrid.

The most resilient energy system is the one that is both diverse and flexible in its capabilities. Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket, find a way to incorporate several of these energy sources into your design, so that your needs will continue to be met – even if the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

How to get started?

Keep in mind there are a few additional considerations to weigh when you’re choosing which types of renewable systems to include in your design.

First, you need to clearly understand how much electricity you need, (along with how much you’ll save, if you decide to incorporate passive solar techniques… which you totally should.)

Depending on what kinds of appliances you’re using, these calculations can be a nightmare, but Energy.gov has an outstanding calculator to make it easier for you.

Second, you need to be aware of any local legal constraints that may impact what you’re able to do. Local building codes, restrictive land use covenants, zoning ordinances, easements, mandatory inspections… This stuff will make you want to give up in a hurry. I recommend hiring a consultant and a lawyer that’s well-versed in property rights contracts to help you figure these things out. You’d be surprised how quickly the right person can answer your questions and make your life headache free.

Third, and most importantly, you need to be aware of the conditions present on the specific site where your house will be located. Depending on your particular micro-climate, you may find that wind won’t work, or that solar will leave you in the dark for several months of the year. Spend some time on your land and get to know it’s eccentricities before you lay your plans… and DEFINITELY before you spend any money.

A great way to simplify your decision making process is to see how others have implemented these technologies, and learn from their mistakes. At Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, you’ll be able to see more than a dozen tiny homes all in one spot. Many of them incorporate some form of renewable energy in their construction, along with passive solar design strategies, natural building techniques and so much more. Make sure to visit our webpage and learn about the ways you can visit us and get on top of your tiny house game.

Also, if you’re interested in more ways you can make the tiny house of your dreams eco friendly, check out this excellent video offering ten great design ideas to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

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Gwendolyn - February 3, 2016 Reply

Where is Dancing Rabbit Eco-village? I am very interested in a tiny efficient house

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