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Call them tiny, manufactured or mobile homes, there is no question they are in demand right now. But how many solar panels will you need to power a mobile home? Is it even practical to use solar power here?
An energy efficient mobile home requires 15 x 300W solar panels. On average this solar array can produce 4500 watts a day, which is sufficient for a 500 to 780 sq. ft. house that uses basic appliances.
How Much Solar Power Does a Mobile Home Need?
While most mobile homes are in the 500 to 800 sq. ft. range, power usage varies widely. This is how we came up with the 4500 watts a day consumption, and what conditions apply.
A mobile house typically uses up to 4100 watts to 4500 watts a day, with 80% of that coming from cooling and heating. This is the breakdown of the power consumption per day.
- Computer 300W
- Mobile device 30W
- Lights 30W
- Refrigerator 800W
- Cooling/heating 3000W
Total: 4160 watts
These calculations assume you use propane gas to cook. If you use a solar powered microwave the power requirements will be greater. Note also that this house does not use any coffee maker, blender, gaming console etc. If you include those, adjust the numbers accordingly..
But let us assume your house needs 4000W-4500W per day, Now we need to figure out how many solar panels it will take.
How Many Solar Panels for 4000 Watts?
A solar array consisting of 15 x 300W solar panels will be sufficient. It might seem like overkill because in theory one 300W panel can produce 1500 watts a day (300 x 5 = 1500). So 3 x 300W looks enough, right? in reality it is not.
if you only need 4000 watts for a short time, 3 to 4 300W panels will do. But a house requires 4000 watts and more for longer periods. 4 x 300W solar panels might produce 1000 watts an hour on a good day, but if you have an AC or heater running all day along with other appliances, the hourly watt usage will exceed 1000 watts.
A refrigerator that uses 1000 watts a day likely has a 3000 surge watt requirement. Add in a microwave, dishwasher, toaster and you will see why 15 solar panels at 300 watts each is ideal. The more appliances you run, the greater the demand from your PV system.
There are many factors that affect solar panel production, but the most important are:
- Solar panel ratings are based on peak output. In real life, a 300W solar panel is unlikely to produce 300 watts continuously. It will likely be 250W or 200W.
- Solar panel production drops significantly during the winter. And if there is a sudden downpour production can cease altogether.
- Geography affects the output of a PV module. If you live in one of the colder states, that 300W solar panel may produce only half its rated output.
- Solar panel production is based on peak performance during the summer. Expect the numbers to drop during the cold season, so it pays to have more solar panels available during times like these.
If your power requirements are 4100 watts, you should add a couple hundred more. It is always a good idea to have some reserve power. Bottom line: you should have more solar power available than what you need. A good sized battery bank or a solar generator is also recommended.
What Else Do You Need Besides Solar Panels?
The panels are only one part of your solar system. To fully power your mobile house, you need a charge controller, batteries and an inverter.
A mobile that consumes 4100 to 4500W needs:
- 15 x 300W solar panels
- 1200ah lead acid battery bank (12 x 370ah batteries)
- 60A MPPT charge controller
- 5000W inverter
- Backup generator (optional)
You should also have a surge protector, circuit breakers, system control panel and the required cables, wires and connectors. if you purchased a solar panel kit or will have a professional installer do it for you, they will provide all the tools and hardware.
if you are going to do the installation, review each component and calculate how much solar power you need. A note about the generator: your backup generator should ideally have the same capacity as the solar array, in this case 4500W. It is not strictly necessary, but in case of emergency can be a real life saver.
You can never tell with the weather or if an unforeseen disaster strikes. If you end being unable to use your solar power system for prolonged periods, having a generator on standby can give you peace of mind.
What Solar Batteries Should You Use?
In this scenario we chose 12 lead acid batteries. You can opt for AGM or lithium, but for tiny houses, lead acid batteries are sufficient.
Lithium batteries have benefits and so do AGM, but lead acid batteries are cheaper. Their life cycles are more numerous than AGM too. Though they require more maintenance than lithium, it is not an issue if you are willing to take care of them.
But the biggest selling point is the price. Living in mobile homes is all about managing cost. And using lad acid batteries is one of the best ways to do that.
Can You Install Solar Panels on a Mobile Home?
It is possible to install solar panels on a mobile home, but it is impractical because the roofs on most of these houses cannot support the weight of several solar panels.
Roof space is not a problem. A 1000 or 1500 sq. ft. house needs 30 to 35 solar panels to power everything. If you scale it down to the size of a mobile house, around 500 to 800 sq. ft. you only need 15 PV modules as we mentioned. The roof is smaller, but you need fewer panels.
The problem is the weight. A 300W solar panel weighs 35 to 40 lbs. 15 of these means 600 pounds on the roof. Plus you have to install the brackets, mounts and rails because solar panels need space.
To install those solar panels, two to three people have to get on the roof. Assume each one weighs 160 lbs., that is another 480 lbs. 480 plus 600 is 1080 pounds, that is more than a ton!
Even though the installers are only there temporarily, the roof will have to support the weight of snow during winter and deal with strong winds too. So unless the roof is super strong, it is not a good idea.
Is Your Mobile House Roof Strong Enough?
The only way to find out is to contact a solar installer. They will inspect the roof and determine if the supporting structure can handle the weight of the solar panel. Before any installation takes place, they will check the joists, the roofing material to ensure it is durable enough.
Solar panel installations also have to follow the building codes and if your local codes say mobile houses cannot be placed on the roof, then you have to look for alternatives. And the good news there are other options.
Are There Alternative Places to Install Solar Panels?
If you cannot put solar panels on the roof, that does not mean you have to give up on solar power. Here are some ideas.
The first option is to install the panels on another structure close by, like a pergola, a patio or even a shed. Once set up, you can connect these panels to your main house.
If your property has a sizeable land area, consider a ground mounted solar installation. In a grounded configuration, a structure is set up where the solar panels can be installed. If your local building code allows this, it is the best alternative to rooftop solar panels.
Keep in mind that ground mount solar panels cost more than rooftop panels to install. Their output is also lower because they are further from the sun. However, it is the most practical option if you want solar power for your mobile home.
In the past, mobile homes were notorious for being energy wasters, often consuming more than the average size American house. Nowadays these properties use energy saving materials, which make them a practical alternative for many.