We have a rather large roof on our 1988 Tiffin Allegro. The RV is 33 feet long with a solid aluminum roof, much of it free of anything. If we want to put solar panels on it, I’m sure there is a way, though it may require some work to make it all happen.
I’ve read a lot of information on putting solar panels on RVs, and most of them confirm that there is little to no impact on gas mileage with the panels installed. Technically, there would be some resistance, but it is so minimal compared to the fact that it is a large boxy vehicle that the results are negligible. So if we can figure out where to put the panels, I’m not really concerned about how it will affect driving.
Add to that the fact that we will hopefully only be driving once more and parking it, and then recycling as much as possible for the permanent structure, so we really don’t need to be concerned about resale value or travel, just getting from our current location to our final location and setting it up in place. With the power set up correctly, we can then live off grid in our RV while we build our house and transition everything over when we are complete, moving in all at once and being done with the vehicle.
When we are done with it, we have the option of selling it or recycling as much as possible. I’m not sure what there is in it of value that we haven’t added ourselves, but we may be able to take some parts like cabinets at least and put it in the house. We want to recycle as much as possible anyway, so if we take it from this home to adapt to the new home or get it from a demolition of a building closer to the final build, it is still reusing things.
Then of course, there is some stuff inside that might be able to be used that we have added. Things like the networking, satellite dish, Wifi antenna, cell booster, TVs and computers, water pumps, clothes washer, microwave, and any other kitchen appliance that can mostly just be disconnected, moved over, and reconnected. If we can use the RV as an experimental off grid home, then we get ourselves in that mindset, get ourselves prepared, and adapt to life under less demands.
To do that though, we need to start thinking about solar power.
A solar system is pretty simple at the base. Solar panels to generate power, a charge controller to avoid over-charging the batteries, batteries themselves, an inverter to change DC power to AC for many electronics, and a way to monitor it all.
We have a crappy, underpowered battery and a 2000 Watt pure sine wave inverter I have not installed. We do not have any solar panels, a charge controller, or all the cabling to connect it all together. To put the whole system together would cost a lot of money though, so I think we need to start small and keep building.
Now, our RV currently has some AC powered outlets and devices, some DC, as is the norm in RVs. We can go through our RV, start switching things over the be powered off of the inverter, though 2000 Watts will not power everything.
Or we can do what I would prefer, which is somehow get a travel trailer or 5th wheel and modify that to be off grid so we can do it while we still have somewhere to live.
Funding, however, is a huge issue.
If we had all the money in the world, I’d just get a brand new 5th wheel, pay someone to add solar and batteries, get it all set up and move it to the final location. Doing that though would be difficult, if not impossible unless we can severely increase our income. I’m not sure how to do that at this point though, being as we are both limited in the amount and types of work we can do.
If we can somehow get a trailer that requires some work and allows us to customize the hell out of it, then we can build from the ground up with the intention to make it wholly grid-independent.
One option is a tiny house, or even a trailer on which to build a tiny house. If done correctly, we could even make it the first part of the puzzle of our final house and make it comfortable enough, but not dedicated with final rooms and instead with areas to plug in additions in the future when we park it permanently.
The Tiny Home Idea
If we have the land under contract and being paid for, then we have somewhere to go eventually. I have a few places I’m looking at, its just a matter of having the ability to pay for it completely and get some prep work done to make it possible for us to live there.
Considering we live in a small space already, moving into a tiny home might actually be an upgrade. While many have an upper area with a loft, we might not need that space if we have no intention of it being a long term solution. Instead, we can build it with the space we have now, maybe a little more, outfit it with everything we would need to get started, make it possible to stay in there for awhile, but still leave openings for expansion in the future.
Build it for habitation now, but expansion options in the future.
In our current situation, we live in about 250 square feet. That does include some storage underneath, but is mostly just a bedroom, a couch, a kitchen and a bathroom. Making a tiny home with just that in it is pretty simple. Because it will not be permanent, but added onto once it is in position and on a foundation, then we can build things more for space in their final use and not so much how it would work now.
That means it has to have a bathroom and a way to cook food and somewhere to sleep. That’s really about it.
If we build it on one level, we can reduce our height, which also reduces our materials needed. If we make a bed that can either fold or be used as a couch, we no longer need a couch. We can eat on the couch/bed or outside, especially now since we are in Florida.
While we have a microwave currently, we have no oven and have been fine using a toaster oven on occasion. We actually cook over a fire a lot or in a crock pot for many of our meals. We also need a refrigerator. Of course, we need water as well as a way to get rid of waste.
For bodily waste, I want to get a composting toilet so we do not have a need for a black tank at all. That gives us more space and reduces our water demands further. We will need to have a shower though but depending on how long we are at this campground, we may be fine using the space for something else since we have never used our own shower anyway.
We do have a small clothes washer and hang our clothes inside to dry and that will likely continue. Since the washer has an outlet drain and a single way to put water in it, we need a water source nearby and probably a drain pan around it since we do splash at times. An old shower bin might be enough for that. Its possible we can even get away with not having a gray tank at all since ours is open anyway all the time. If the gray water just goes out the hose and into the sewer hookup, that is fine by us.
Beyond that then, is power. While I would love it to be completely off grid from the get go, we may need to have at least air conditioning powered by shore power. If there is a way around that, well, I haven’t found it yet. Since we will be putting the tiny home together in Florida, AC is pretty much required. I might be able to do some creative engineering to keep it cool in there, but it got pretty damn hot this past summer before we had our AC installed on the roof and I want to avoid that completely.
There is an option for the small AC units that have one part up on the wall and the other part down outside. It is possible we can install one of those and have it plug in directly to the 30 amp power pole, making it our only use of shore power. I am not sure what it would all take to make that work, but if we can simply plug the AC unit into power and have everything else running off of solar, then I’ll figure out how to do it.
The final system then is solar power.
Solar power means having enough panels to power the systems all day, enough batteries to store it all, enough wattage from inverters to power devices, and having it all work at once. It will require a lot of planning and calculations, and finally a lot of money to finalize it all. If we can run all the cable ourselves, then we save money on labor.
Plumbing should be easy as well and we can even build in a water filtration system before the drinking water and put it so it is accessible when we need to maintain it. Simple water in, simple gray water out.
Now then, I need to start figuring out how much all of this will cost to make happen, as well as how long it will take to complete. If we can do it over a summer when the campground is mostly empty, then we have both time and space to work on it and get it complete and moved over before season starts and the campground fills up. That means having most of the supplies on hand to put it together relatively quickly though, or at least having the tools and money to buy the needed supplies to make it happen.
Can it be done? Yes, but we have to prepare for it and be ready to put in a lot of work each day to finish it.