Improved Solar Panel Set-Up

Honestly I’m trying to keep this simple, no really. I could just slap an RV photovoltaic (PV) panel rack on the roof and be done with it but it just seems like that would be harder to live with day-in and day-out. PV panels need to be kept clean and tilted toward the sun to be most efficient. So it seems reasonable that a mobile tiny house should have some kind of flexible mount that is easily accessed, quickly deployed, adjusted, stored for transport, and mounted in a way that makes it hard to steal.

After posting a few other ideas and listening to all the great feedback I think I have stumbled on a really simple solution that meets all the requirements I just mentioned and could be built out of 2x4s, a sheet of plywood, and door hinges. I think these sketches illustrate the simple idea. In fact I think Kieran might have suggested this and I’m just now figuring it out. But thanks to everyone for all the great input. It all added up to this latest design.

8x16-simple-pv-closed

Above: The panels mounted to a bi-fold set of 2×4 frames, folded away for transport.

Below: The panels folded out toward the glass-side of the house, assuming that side is facing the sun. The panels themselves would be mounted to a metal rack with hinges at the top so they can pivot up. A piece of wood or metal could be used to hold the panels at the correct angle.

8x16-simple-pv-open-right

8x16-simple-pv-open-left

Above: Now the bi-fold mount is opened to face the other direction assuming that the homeowner wants the windowless side of the house to face the sun, like during in the hottest days of summer.

I think this could actually be built easily and inexpensively. It could also be added to virtually any tiny house design. PV panels come in a lot of different sizes so before constructing the frame you’d want to buy your panels and build the frame to fit. If you’re handy with a welder it would actually be better to build this out of metal, but 2x4s with ample cross-bracing would work too, especially it you boxed the 2×4 frame in with exterior grade plywood. The whole thing would be fairly heavy so use heavy duty door hinges. So… did I solve the solar panel mounting issue? Please let me know.

Oh… as far as wind power and this tiny solar house, I think I’m going to have to leave that out because from what I’ve read you really need a tall pole and guide wires for a wind turbine. This would be very difficult to add to a mobile tiny house. I suspect a wind turbine installation is just as permanent as a micro-hydro set-up. Please chime in if you know of a mobile solution.

14 thoughts on “Improved Solar Panel Set-Up

  1. Warren says:

    Just looking at the design and I cannot help thinking that you are wasting a lot of space on the roof itself – then I was thinking – well yes the sun moves .

    But if you were to orientate the house North-South then the sun would then travel over the top of the house (East/West) and that way the roof would see the sun.

    Then I thought – hey what about the rotating the house to follow the sun! (Still that is a different subject I am sure)

    Back to reality – have the panels on the roof – and then perhaps the upper edge hinged and then be able to lift the lower edge to get the best angle for maximum coverage (and have the house North/South)

    Anyway good to see the ideas coming forth

  2. Brenda Ruble says:

    In a small house it doesn’t make sense to me to have the solar panels mounted on the house because in the summertime you will want the house positioned under a nice shade tree and the solar panels out in the sun. That’s one of the beauties of having a house on wheels…it can be moved to accomodate the seasons.

  3. Dimwit says:

    Another problem I can see is those expensive panels facing into the wind as you tow your house around. Bug hits would be the least of your worries.
    Sorry Michael but I think leaving them on the roof is the best thing.

  4. Grant Wagner says:

    I like it, The double hinged idea is really brilliant.

    While some may think that leaving the panels on the roof is a good idea, I don’t. Having the roof tiling away from the sun lets keeps less of the harsh summer sun from hitting it, keeping your home cooler in the summer, while maximizing your south wall where the lower winter sun can do more to keep your interior warm. A set of retractable awnings designed for your latitude will keep the summer sun out entirely.

    That said, maybe having a completely detached, free standing solar array may be the best solution. This allows you to keep your home in a shady spot for an even cooler summer, while letting your solar array suck up the sun.

    If you plan on doing a more detailed design though, you should make sure that there is some sort of hard cover on the panels to protect them from road debris during transport or the occasional nasty storm. Also keep in mind that large flat panels can have a lot of force on them from the air currents. It’s important that they are very well braced.

    As for the wind power, you don’t strictly need a tall pole, but it should be completely disconnected from the structure due to vibration issues. Several people who have built small turbines like the one I showed earlier often only have them on poles made from a single 10foot length of pipe. The base and the guy wires on just a series of large stakes.

    In sort, there is a big difference between ideal and effective.

  5. Tim R says:

    I like it, cool idea! What about using removable hinge pins instead of door hinges? This way you could swing it right or left depending on which end your removed the pins from. Also if you removed both sets of hinge pins you could store the panels inside trailer or truck for safe transport. Or place the panels out in the sun if you wanted to park the trailer in the shade. It’s versatile and functional. That way everybody is happy! 🙂

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Tim… great idea. It sounds like there is no one solution that would work for everyone everywhere… which makes sense especially for a mobile tiny house. But making this flexible and removable makes a lot of sense. Add a couple of wheels like a dolly and and extension cord and we might have a great solution. Thanks!

  6. frank says:

    With the removable hinge pin idea, you’ll want some way of securing the panels so no one walks off with them. And as others have pointed out, they’ll have to be protected during transit. Given those problems, I think you might as well just mount brackets on each side of the house and build a light-weight mounting frame for the panels from aluminum angle. Carry the frame to the sunny side of the house, drop it in the brackets and lock into place. It’s not as if you’d be moving them very often.

    Small wind turbines do get used by sailboaters but I don’t know how they deal with the vibration. Maybe the offshore breezes are steady enough that vibration isn’t a big deal.

  7. SteveR says:

    I applaud your persistence and the creativity. I like the idea of having them swing one way or another or having them removable, relocatable and storable. I think that provides a lot of flexibility.

    I would want them off if transporting the house just to keep road debris from damaging the panels ( they would be directly behind the trajectory of the wheels). Also, given how expensive they are, how attractive they might appear and how low slung to the ground they are positioned, there is too much risk from them growing their own wheels and going in a different direction. Also, my diesel exhaust would likely leave a nice black smudge on one side.

    What’s next?

  8. Michael Janzen says:

    Thanks Steve.

    I think I’ll polish up the bi-fold idea and add a cover of some kind to protect the panels. Then I’ll post an updated version of the pdf.

    After that I’ll update the 5×8 and 8×8 plans with some improvements discovered while drawing the 8×16 and post new versions of those plans.

    Then… I was going to ask everyone what they wanted next and post new sketches of three different designs with a voting poll. I’d like to do all this tonight but we’ll see, that’s a tall order 🙂

  9. frank says:

    Rather than a separate removable cover, you could probably use hinges at the tops of the panels that allow them to flip all the way over to the backside of the swing-out section.

  10. reddwarf2956 says:

    I think I just thought of a solution which would maximize the sun year round. Design the roofs slope to the suns angle in winter. At the roofs peak place hinges along the ridge as to allow the solar array to lift up. At the bottom strong polls which can be extended to left the array to the summer angle. By having the dark colored panels near the roof in the winter you warm the roof. And in the summer, shade the roof with the panels raised and allow air to move.

  11. Matt says:

    I love the idea to have solar panels connected to a small home. What about having the slanted roof be slanted the other way (according to the figure above), with the non-window wall on the taller side of the house. Then you can cover both the roof and the non-sided window with solar panels, allowing for lot’s of sunlight collection. The panels hanging on the non-window wall could be propped up to tilt toward the sun a bit also. Keep the ideas flowing guys, it can be done!!

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