Solar Power for Tiny House RVs

Modified Tumbleweed at the Solar Living Institute 

Can You Rely On Solar Power For Your Tiny House RV?

The short answer is - YES, but you'll need to determine which solar system will work for you. Do this by calculating: 1) Your energy needs, 2) Your expected sun hours based on your geographical location, and 3) The optimal weight and size of your system

 Ariel's Solar Powered 172 square foot Tumbleweed Cypress

How Can I Calculate My Energy Needs?

First, try using a solar calculator to determine your current electrical usage. You can also calculate your energy needs using this appliance chart. Next consider energy efficient or alternative powered appliances for your Tiny House RV to reduce your electrical usage and the overall size of your solar system.

Can you use an energy-star refrigerator or a propane refrigerator?

Can you switch your lights to LEDs?

Can you heat your space with a wood or propane stove?

Can you heat your water with propane?

Can you cook with propane instead of electricity? 

Do you need a blender? A coffee machine? A microwave? A washer / dryer? A big TV?

"Tiny The Movie" Colorado Tiny House RV, powered by Sol Man Portable Generator

How Can I Calculate My Expected Sun Hours?

If you do not plan on moving your Tiny House RV, use this chart to determine your average daily sun hours. Keep in mind, you can expect less sun in some seasons. 

Ryan Mitchell's Tiny House RV Solar Panel Set Up in North Carolina

If you plan on traveling with your Tiny House RV, it may be difficult (or impossible) to determine your average sun hours. You may want to purchase a larger solar system or reduce your electrical need. If you are caught in bad weather on your trip, and your solar system can not keep up, you can rely on campgrounds for an electrical outlet. You may also want to carry backup power - such as a gas generator. 

"Tiny House Giant Journey"'s Goal Zero Yeti Solar Generator

Weight & Size of the your Solar System

Solar panels, batteries and inverters are usually heavy and bulky. This is an important consideration when determining the preferred system for your Tiny House RV. If you do NOT plan on moving your Tiny House RV, you can build an external shell for your batteries. You can then park your Tiny House RV in an ideal sun exposure location and mount solar panels to your roof, or mount your panels on a swivel rack that can turn for optimal sun exposure.

If you intend on traveling with your Tiny House RV, you will need to take care when considering the weight and storage of your solar system. I'm going to speak from my personal experience, as I travel with my solar powered Tumbleweed Cypress. 

My Portable Solar System

I use the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator with four solar panels (two 100 watt panels and two 90 watt panels). I have one panel mounted to each side of my Tumbleweed for transport and the other two are stored in the bed of my truck. The panels in my truck charge my Yeti Solar Generator as we travel down the road.

You can see one of my panels mounted to the side of my Tiny House Rv in the above photo. The mount  is also a hinge, and I add telescopic legs to prop the panel for ideal sunshine

I do not suggest mounting solar panels to the roof of your Tiny House RV if you intend on traveling, for two reasons: 1). You may not always park in an area with optimal sunshine. Having my panels separate and portable allows me to position and clean them easily. 2). Damage may occur from low hanging branches to panels mounted to your roof. 

What I Love About the Yeti Solar Generator:

- It's an all-in-one system. The inverter, batteries and charge controller are combined to create a "solar generator." *Note: the Yeti generator cannot generate power without solar panels.

- It's extremely portable. It's on wheels! We store it in the cab of our truck when we are on the road.

- I can recharge it from a regular outlet if there is no sun.

- It weighs only 103 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but lead-acid batteries are heavy.

- It's affordable. $1599 for the Yeit Solar Generator. That's cheap for solar! 

- It powers almost everything in my Tiny House RV. The Yeti can keep my computers, phones, and cameras charged, as well as my LED lights and water pump powered forever, as long as I have sunshine. It's a small system - only 1250 watt hrs, so I cannot use my hair dryer nor my space heater. I use alternative appliances to lower my electrical need: propane water heater, propane stove top, propane refrigerator, and a wood stove heater. 


Jenna BioJenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop host. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting an open house. Follow their informative blog. 

Solar Power Woman!

Hey, my name is Cat. My buddy is Cisco, or /Francisco, Caballero de las Llanuras de la Costa del Golfo/. He’s a young English Springer Spaniel mix, a rescue that was picked up in a “dump zone” near Beaumont, TX. I’ve only had him a month. I wanted to give him a proper name to reflect his Spanish heritage, something like /Don Quixote de la Mancha/. (The Gulf Coast Plains is an ecoregion that includes Beaumont.)

Cisco the dog Cisco!

I own a smallish 900-sq. ft. house in south Louisiana, in the small, historic town of Grand Coteau. My interest in stewardship of the planet goes back decades. I’ve been a park ranger for the National Park Service, a systems engineer for IBM, performed in the Closing Ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympics. A life rich in experience, but not always rich financially. I’ve learned to be frugal.

In 2007, I had the good fortune to be selected to be trained by Al Gore to be a global warming presenter. Biggest surprise? He was funny! From that workshop, I met someone who told me about a two-week all women’s workshop with Solar Energy International learning photovoltaics (solar). “Wow!” I thought, “at last, I found my niche.” Leading the way, a life of sustainability. So, I formed a company, Cat Dancing Energy. Well, several years later, I’m regrouping. As someone in the industry told me, “The solar business is much more business than it is solar.” How true, running a business is far, far more work than I ever imagined...or wanted. 

Brad Pitt WorkshopWorking on the Brad Pitt solar project in New Orleans! 

And, as a “construction” type of industry, not so easy for a woman...unless you want to do sales, or work in the office. (Which I don’t esp. want to do.) Women in the field? Not so much. Nevertheless, I’ve had some good projects, installed a solar demo project for Brad Pitt in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, did an all Women’s install with Grid Alternatives in the SF Bay area, and a variety of other installs, site analysis, designs, energy consulting, taught solar workshops.

Along the way, I discovered Tumbleweed homes, visited Jay’s home the summer of 2011, and attended a Dallas, TX workshop that year with Dee Williams. The Tumbleweeds make a lot of sense to me, and fit in with the desire of a sustainable lifestyle.

At the back of my property is a small cottage, about 10 x 15 feet. It’s something I want to convert into a Tumbleweed. One thing I’ve learned this year, thanks to the 1%, is that working hard is not the way to (necessarily) make money. So, my hope is to convert my cottage into an adorable Tumbleweed with Tuscan styling, and use it as an investment, a little guest house.

cottageCottage to convert

My path then has a two prong approach: continue to try to find my niche in the solar/renewable energy world with the right company, and build a Tumbleweed home. Being a native of the northeast, I typically leave Louisiana during hot summers in search of cooler climates, more mountains, hiking opportunities, solar opportunities, etc. I don’t always have a clear plan of where I’ll go until summer is upon us. Watching “Field of Dreams” tonight, Cisco curled up into my lap. (At 40 lbs, he’s a sizable lap dog.) I asked him, “Where are we going this summer? Iowa?” He just wagged his tail and looked at me with sweet, brown eyes.

Written by Guest Blogger — February 01, 2013

Filed under: diy   education   guest blog   Lousiana   solar power   women builders  

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