If you own a piece of land in a rural location and would like to have your own peaceful retreat out of the city, you can build an energy-efficient solar cabin on your property. Instead of hiring a team of contractors to construct your vacation home, you can order a DIY kit and build the structure in just a few weeks. However, as you begin planning, you need to make some key decisions about your cabin before you order the solar kit.
Choose Between A Grid or Non-Grid Solar System
When you build a solar structure, you can choose to make the building completely independent of the nearest municipal power grid or make it a grid-tied cabin.
When your cabin is off the grid, you use solar panels that are connected to a battery bank. The bank will convert the energy via an inverter into voltage that can be used for AC outlets for your electronics, appliances and other devices.
If you want a backup to your non-grid system, you can also connect to the grid but only use the municipal power if your do not get enough power from your solar panels during some periods.
With a grid-tied system, you will still have the majority of your power coming from solar panels. In addition, some energy companies will enable you to feed your excess energy into the grid. In return, you will be provided with energy credits, a process called net metering. Your credits will apply towards the cost of the municipal energy you consume. You can enjoy a very low energy bill with a grid-tied system.
Determine Your Energy Usage
You will need to figure out your estimated energy usage when you build a solar-powered structure. This will help you determine the size of your vacation home's power system.
The retailer that sells you your solar power kit may have a solar panel calculator you can use to figure out your estimated energy use. When you use the calculator or provide data to the retailer be sure to have the following data handy:
Your electricity usage in your permanent home. Examine your electric bills from the past year to determine how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) your family uses per month.
What percent of electricity you want to generate with solar power.
The peak sun hours at the location of your proposed solar home. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides detailed maps and statistics of the average amount of sunlight each part of the country receives per day.
Determine Your Heat Source
If your solar cabin will be in an area that experiences temperatures cold enough for you to need heat, you have to determine where that heat will come from. If you are not going to be using electricity from the grid, you can use propane or a wood-burning device like a stove.
A wood-burning stove is a quaint solution, but you must make sure that the device you use has proper ventilation and will not fill your cabin with large quantities of pollutants that can be harmful to your health.
Propane is an economical solution that can power small heating appliances. You can install an underground or above-ground propane tank that you buy outright or lease from a propane company. If you plan on visiting your cabin frequently, you can also enter into a fixed-price arrangement for the fuel so you will not have to deal with price changes over the year.
Make Sure You Apply for a Permit
Even though your solar cabin is in a rural area, it does not mean that you are immune from county building permit rules. Once you decide what type of solar structure you want to build, contact the local government to find out what types of permits and codes your cabin must meet. You do not want to risk getting fined for building a structure that violates local building codes.