Scaled Solar for the Tiny House Off Grid on the Cheap

Solar panels

by Joe Zummach

Here are some pictures of my system. First, of course, are the Solar panels which consist of two 50 watt panels wired in parallel and then connected by way of charge controller to two deep cycle golf cart batteries. They use a 6 volt wired-in series to make the 12 volts that my system than runs on.

I got the panels used for fifty bucks each. The batteries cost $300, but will last at least ten years with regular maintenance. The charge controller was under a hundred dollars. The fuse box is from an auto parts store and cost $20. The fixtures are 12V halogen lights. I also have LED lights for conservation periods, such as cloudy days in winter. This, plus a small inverter for recharging my computer and small appliances, complete the system.

Solar batteries

Fuse box


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TC - September 6, 2012 Reply

Nice setup.

Mike - September 6, 2012 Reply

I especially like the cooler containment for the batteries- keeps them off the ground and affords some protection from the elements. Great fuse box, too.

Phil - September 6, 2012 Reply

I have a friend who put four golf cart batteries in his service vehicle to run equipment – he used them for about 15 years with no issue. He said the only reason he put new batteries in his new vehicle after 15 years of using these was because he wanted to put a small solar system together for his house. He’s still using those original four with no issue. There are two KEY points for success with batteries: maintain water level and don’t go under 50% of your capacity too regularly. Golf cart batteries are a little different on the 50% regard because they can handle regular drawdowns better than the average battery. I’m glad to see someone use this setup – Our plans will call for four golf cart batteries, two wired together like you’ve done, then the two banks wired together creating an amperage increase.

Warren - September 6, 2012 Reply

I love it – and perfect for my proposed tiny home. My problem is I need 25 Kw of 208V 3phase for my shop so I’m really looking for a much larger scale solution – one that doesn’t require a fossil fuel powered generator and 3phase inverter. Currently I’m thinking of micro-hydro, but that’s going to mean I have to find a property with running water with sufficient head. Sigh.

Al Mollitor - September 6, 2012 Reply

Nice setup!

What kind of inverter so you have? Pure sinewave or modified sinewave?

Mike - September 6, 2012 Reply

I’m amazed at how little we really actually need. With the advent of the fuller spectrum, neutral to warm LED lamping, the load requirements get even lower.

Thanks for the post!

Grant Wagner - September 6, 2012 Reply

A wonderful article. I would also be interested in seeing more of your home. The one internal picture is gorgeous.

Nerida - September 6, 2012 Reply

I would also very much like to see more of your home. That one shot has a wonderful feel about it.

Mark - September 6, 2012 Reply

Beautiful. Very inspiring thank you!

MBee - September 6, 2012 Reply

Your place looks cozy! Good on you Joe, your place looks like a success.

This post just reminded me how little I understand about solar. Kent, any chance you could post about the basics of solar sometime? For instance, can you have electricity when it’s cloudy? If so, how much? Does it absorb energy from the sun then send it to a battery for storage so you can use it later? How much can you get on a sunny day? How many panels do you need for a small home?

Thanks for sharing Joe and keep on!

    Lynn - April 8, 2015 Reply

    I agree! I have questions about the basics of solar.

gregory - September 8, 2012 Reply

Well done and I love the affordability of such a system. I recently bought a 200 watt panel and have been wanting to hook it up. Could you post or email me your wiring diagram? The size of wire and the lengths and the configuration? I do better when I can actually see a visual! Very inspiring work.

Br. Anthony - September 8, 2012 Reply

am going to see if I am able to make this work for my small home here in Nikolaevsl, Alasla

alice h - September 8, 2012 Reply

The problem at my place is the only spot for the house is far from the best spot for solar panels. Not sure how much power you lose either sending charging input to the batteries over distance or drawing on power from a distance. Moving batteries would be difficult as there is a steep hill involved.

Rafaelo - September 8, 2012 Reply

Hey that’s great, almost exactly the same electricity storage system as I installed in my do-it-yourself camper, except of course I am using an alternator for charging rather than solar. And I was not smart enough to use a cooler, I built my own battery box. But halogen rather than LEDs? Halogen burns power making heat rather than light. I have 12 volt LEDs I found at Ikea that draw less than 1/3 amp for brilliant light.

Scott S. - September 8, 2012 Reply

Hi MBee – just thought I’d chime in here re: your question about learning more about solar energy. I’ve studied a lot on the subject, both on the internet and via purchased DVD courses. For the readers of this blog, I think all you need to know to get started you can find right here:

If you’ve not read HandyBob’s stuff before, well…he’s got a unique style. He’s extremely direct, and doesn’t pussy-foot around the issues, which I for one appreciate. Of course he concentrates on RV setups, but for discussions regarding installations such as the one in this post, that’s perfect. My recommendation is just do what HandyBob tells you to, and you’ll have a solid system at minimum cost. Hope this post helps…I know his information helped me a lot.

Scaled Solar for the Tiny House Off Grid on the Cheap | {clearly} not astute - September 11, 2012 Reply

[…] at least ten years with regular maintenance. The charge controller was under a hundred dollars. The fuse box is from an auto parts store and cost $20. The fixtures are 12V halogen lights. I also have LED […]

Charles teubert - October 20, 2012 Reply

The pic are nice. Is there a way to show me the complete setup? And how much time do you get before recharging? And how fast will it charge back up.

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