Tag Archives: tiny house

Solar Panels: Types and Pros and Cons

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If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve at least heard of solar panels. They’re those big, (sometimes ugly) blue panes people put on their roofs to get free electricity from the sun.

What most people don’t know, is just how complicated choosing not only the right type of panel is, but also the amount of panels you’ll need can be.

Lucky for you, that’s exactly what I’m going to be talking about in today’s article.

I want to start out by saying I am in no way an expert on solar panels. I’ve just done some research – actually, a lot of research – and discovered there are a lot of frustrating inconsistencies and tips out there.

I’m hoping to alleviate some of those frustrations by providing an easy to understand article for fellow solar panel newbs, so they have the best shot at getting the exact panel that meets their needs.

First thing you’ll need to figure out before even thinking about stepping foot into a store (or ordering a panel online) is which kind of panel you’ll need.

Yes, that’s right – there are different kinds of panels! In my research, I’ve found three main different kinds: the classic panel, a flexible panel and sticker panels.

The ‘classic’ panel is probably what you imagine when someone says ‘solar panel’: it’s usually a large rectangle shape, with blue squares and a white boarder that makes it somewhat look like a window. These usually have little mounts or ‘feet’ you need to attach the physical panel to your roof (or ground/wherever you want to put your panel) and are said to work ‘best’ if they’re mounted on a slight angle, instead of 100% flat.

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The second kind, a flexible panel, is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a flexible solar panel. These flexi-panels are great, because you don’t need to mount them. Instead, you can lay them directly on your roof. What makes laying the panels directly on your roof so great? The fact you can walk on them! This is amazing if you’re (for example) building out a van or bus that has limited roof space. Instead of designating part of your roof to say, a deck/storage area, and the other half to the panels, you can lay these panels all over your roof, and still use part of it as a deck/storage area.

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The last kind we’re going to be talking about, is a sticker panel, which is also exactly what it sounds like. These panels are best to stick on your most sun-facing windows – not a roof – and give the windows a slight tint, similar to limo tinting.

Because these panels go on your windows, you can have all the roof space you want for other things like a deck or storage, and don’t have to worry about walking over them.

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Now that you know the difference between these three types of panels, you may be thinking you know the type you need. But don’t jump the gun! There’s a lot more to take into consideration than just whether or not you can walk on a panel.

One of the biggest things you need to figure out – and really, it should’ve been the first thing you figured out – is what your energy consumption is. If you don’t know this, I highly, highly recommend you find out. Either go look at your electric/hydro bill, do your best to keep track of your consumption over the course of a month or so, or use an online calculator.

I guarantee you’re using more power than you think you are. Most people tend to underestimate their consumption habits. And while I get it – we as humans are not so good at highlighting our flaws – that type of under-reporting will do nothing but hurt your chances of success in the long run.

This isn’t about shaming yourself, it’s about accurately getting a picture of how you’re already living. This way, you can accurately assess how you’ll be living your tiny home. And sure, you might be able to cut back in a few ways when you go tiny, but I personally would rather be over-prepared than under.

I’m the type of person to bring a small first aid kit with me wherever I go. Usually, I end up not needing it, and you could argue it’s just taking up space in my bag. However, the times when I have needed it? I was definitely happy it was there!

Okay, I feel like I’m getting slightly off topic. Below, I’m going to share the equation I learned to calculate the amount of solar you need.

I know, I know ‘ew, math!’ well unfortunately, math is important for some of these tiny living steps. It can seem too hard and complicated, but it’s 100% worth learning!

Also, there’s an added bonus of once you learn what it all means, it’ll be infinitely easier to fix any issues that come up. And, you only need to figure all of this out once.

This is the equation: Yearly kWh cost / ‘full sunlight hours’ = Total Watts Needed

kWh is the abbreviation for kilo Watt hours, which should be the unit of measure that’s used on your hydro/electric bill.

Because I’ve never had my own home, (if you missed the Intro post, I’m living at home, and this bus build will be my first moved out living space) I didn’t have any energy consumption to use for the equation.

This meant I had to ask my mom what our usage was. She informed me that our highest (5-person household) usage was 18 kWh. This was our consumption for one month, not a year!

This was our highest consumption at one point for the month of July – which was back when all 4 kids were home during summer vacation, we had the AC going all day, were cooking pretty much daily, and doing the 5-ish loads of laundry (in our double-load washer) every week we had to do so we didn’t run out of clothes.

So for me, I had to do some additional math, to figure out what that number was for 1 whole year.

18 kWh x 12 (months in a year) = 216 kWh

Now that I had our total consumption for a year, I could do the above equation:

216 kWh / 1166 (full sunlight hours in Ontario) = 0.1852 TWN

Then, to get the total cost of the solar you need: Total Watts Needed x ‘Average’ Solar Panel Cost (in your area), which for me, is $2.78.

0.1852 x 2.78 = 0.5148

According to this, my entire solar panel set up should only cost me 51 cents. Even with a USD to CAD conversion rate, I knew that couldn’t be correct.

So, I went back over my math to try and determine where the heck I went wrong.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to figure it out. I had done the equations exactly as the article instructed, used a calculator, and even asked some of my more math-savy friends if my numbers matched up.

I even tried some different online solar panel calculators, to no avail – one of them even told me I needed -2 panels!

I’m still to this day (22.06.28) trying to figure out where I went wrong, however, I wanted to share my experience in this article, as a sort of example of just how confusing some of these calculations can get.

I know I’ll figure it out some time, and I’ll definitely update this article to include the correct way of doing things when that day comes – but for now, I’m going to continue to focus on things I do understand.

Which, for the purposes of this article, include taking a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of the different types of solar panels.

The Classic Panel

Pros:

  • Usually the cheapest of the three
  • Most widely available for public purchase
  • Least likely to break (due to sturdy bracket mounting)
  • Only panel that you can change the angle after installed

Cons:

  • Need to put holes in your roof (for the aforementioned brackets)
  • Needs it’s own dedicated space
  • Heaviest of the three
  • Rigid, big and bulky
  • Raises total height of your roof (this is especially important if mounting on a vehicle, in which case you need to take into account total height for law compliance, as well as flexibility to drive under bridges)
  • The most difficult to take down and remount (in the event you move)

 

The Flexible Panel

Pros:

  • Can walk on/store things on top
  • Easiest to clean
  • Conforms to a variety of roof shapes
  • Less roof holes
  • More aesthetically pleasing than the Classic panel
  • Lighter weight
  • Has raised dots to help gather sunlight

Cons:

  • Has the least variation of sizes available (at least in Ontario)
  • Cannot change angle once mounted
  • Their lighter weight means they could possibly fly away in strong winds (even with proper installation)
  • More prone to scratching

 

The Sticker Panel

Pros:

  • Doesn’t take up roof space
  • No roof holes
  • Easiest to install
  • Most lightweight of the three

Cons:

  • Shortest lifespan
  • Not widely available for public purchase
  • Most expensive of the three
  • Usually need more panels (since these go on windows, and windows tend to be smaller in size than a roof)
  • Easiest type to damage (due to their thinness)
  • Tints your window, allowing less sunlight into your home
  • Prevents the windows they’re on from being usable (can’t open)

Obviously, this isn’t a complete list of the pros and cons of each type of panel. If I were to do that, this article would be way too long. So instead, I’ve listed what I feel are the most important points for each type of panel.

I also haven’t mentioned some things that all three types have in common, such as: installing any kind of solar panel will lower your carbon footprint, they will also help lower (or completely eliminate) your electric/hydro bill, all three pull in roughly the same amount of sun, their effectiveness is greatly affected by the type of weather you have, all three have a pretty high up front cost and many places won’t even allow you to add them to your home at all.

I know the world of solar panels can be confusing, and even scary when you’re just starting out. However, familiarizing yourself with the pros and cons of each type, and doing your own research should help alleviate your concerns.

All in all, getting free power from the sun is amazing, and I highly encourage you to continue your solar panel research as it’s, in my opinion, the best option for powering your tiny.


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Tiny Houses vs Skoolies vs Van Life

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This article was written 21.06.02. Please excuse any reference/joke about the pandemic that is longer applicable.


There are lots of different options to living small, which is great! But, if you’re a newb, how are you supposed to know which way is the best fit for you?

Not to worry, because today I’ll go through three of the biggest ways to live small, and explain the differences so that you can make a more informed decision.

Please note: this article isn’t the be-all, end-all of tiny living information. I always recommend you do your own research, and look at multiple articles, posts and even videos of people living these different lifestyles so you can hear from a wide range of sources.

Tiny Houses

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You can technically call Skoolies and van conversions ‘tiny houses’ as well, but I’m going to use this term in this article to mean non-vehicle small houses.

‘Tiny house’ refers to homes that are (usually) 400 square feet or less, and are more stationary than a vehicle home. Tiny houses can be built either on a trailer (wheels), or right on the ground like a regular house. These homes are better suited for those who don’t want to travel very often, but who still want to reap the benefits of small living.

Most tiny homes I’ve seen consist of a kitchen, living room and bathroom on one floor, and then a bedroom and/or office/second bedroom built in a loft area. You don’t have to follow this formula however. It’s your house, so you can make it look however you want! Though, that does bring us to an important question: will you be building out the tiny yourself, or outsourcing to a company that specializes in building them?

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Some companies have certain templates you must follow if you want to order a house from them. While DIY-ing your house gives you all the freedom and flexibility you may want, there’s a big risk involved if you don’t know what you’re doing. And sure, you could learn – there are many DIY-ers who built their own house – but building a house from literally nothing can be a huge project to undertake.

And, because this is a tiny house, there are even more logistic questions you’ll need to keep in mind, like:

– Will you build on a wheel base, or right on the ground?

– If building on a wheel base, are you able to conform your dream home to road safety standards so it can be transported?

– Will you make your house on or off-grid?

– Do you have a plot of land you can put/build the house on, or will you be renting a space?

– Are tiny houses even allowed in your city/country as the main living area?

I’d recommend checking out the laws wherever you are before getting your heart set on a tiny home. There’s nothing more crushing than getting excited for something, only to have the government say it’s not allowed.

 

Skoolies/Bus Life

‘Skoolies’ originally started out as a term to refer to converted school buses, but I’ve seen other bus lifers use this term to describe their non-school bus conversions, too.

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Many people choose living in vehicles over building out a tiny home, because converting a vehicle gives them more freedom to travel. Since vehicles are already built to road standards, and you’re starting with a structure, some find converting a vehicle easier to do than starting from scratch.

Another benefit of converting a bus is the fact they come in many different sizes! Most buses range from 25 to 40 feet in length, which is a ton of space when compared to building out a van. Though, because the vehicles are pre-sized, one downside to bus conversions (and van conversions) compared to tiny houses, is the fact that they’re typically narrower than you may be used to. Most buses and vans are between 7-8.5 feet wide.

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You can also usually find school buses for pretty cheap, since most school boards operate on an ‘age out’ system. This means that while the buses are still in great condition (because the school board has to maintain them) and have a few good years left, due to their age, the district switches them out, regardless. A similar thing happens with city transit, shuttle and even tour buses! Which is awesome, because that means more options for you.

A lot of buses also come with pre-built storage compartments, and some (such as coach and tour buses) may already also have plumbing and even Wi-Fi installed. This is great because that can help you not only keep the cost of conversion down, but may also help you finish your conversion sooner.

So, which bus should you get? Well, that depends on you and your needs. The biggest complaint I’ve seen with school bus converters is the fact that yes, they were able to get the vehicle for cheap, but they had to spend more on the conversion, because school buses aren’t meant for long distance drives. A common complaint I’ve seen with shuttle buses is the fact that they are slightly wider than most other buses, which can make driving down certain narrow roads a challenge. And while transit buses are good for long drives, these typically sit pretty low to the ground which again, depending on what type of roads you plan on driving down can be a problem.

That said, buses are a great medium for those who want a bit more space than vans allow, but more freedom than a tiny home. Also, no matter which tiny you choose, they all are going to have a list of both pros and cons. You just have to find the one that you think would work best for you.

 

Van Life

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Van conversions are arguably the most aesthetic of the three tiny home types, but just because they are flooding your Instagram feed doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for you.

Sure vans are more compact, which is great for driving and parking in regular spaces, but can you really live in 60 square feet? Think about how small that really is. A 10×10 foot bedroom is 100 square feet. Go ahead and look around (and possibly measure) your bedroom. Can you really fit everything you need in such a small space? A kitchen, bedroom, place to work and bathroom?

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(Can’t fit a tub in a van!)

Due to their compact sizes, many van lifers have to choose to live without certain amenities, such as a proper bathroom and/or shower. Pre-pandemic, this was less of a problem, since there were open gyms, cafes, etc. that had free public bathrooms. Now though, you may want to consider giving yourself your own bathroom. Even pandemic aside, public bathrooms are not always the cleanest, and are also not always around when you may need one.

Boondocking is all fun and games until you need to pee (or worse). If there’s no rest stop close by, do you really want to pack up and leave your gorgeous, private spot, to drive who-knows-how-many-miles back down the road to the closest public bathroom? Or, are you comfortable popping a squat where you are? Is it even legal to do so in that area? (Yes, there are laws about this)

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A lot of vans also don’t come with pre-installed storage, and again, because they’re smaller in size, you can’t fit as much in them. Sure there are some crazy conversions out there that have tons of storage, but there’s only so much you can do with a small body.

Another con to van life? Because of their increase in popularity, many people are catching on to the stealth camping techniques used by van lifers when staying in a city, and you may get fined (or towed!) if you’re parked somewhere you’re not supposed to be.

As said above, tiny living isn’t for everyone, and while you may love the aesthetic of the life, don’t get lost in the rose-coloured Instagram filtered pictures. You need to think out the logistics of living tiny if you want to have any hope of succeeding at it.

That said, if your heart is really in it, and you think you can seriously make it work, then go for it! Continue your research and plans for what you want your goal life to look like, and while I want you to be mindful of the realities of the lifestyles, don’t get discouraged just because it may be harder than you originally thought.

Everybody deserves to be happy.


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