When you start contemplating living in any sort of mobile home, one of your first thoughts is often “How am I going to power my belongings?” I get asked this question daily, and it doesn't have to be as hard as you think. This was one of the first problems I had when I went mobile and it took me several years to figure out a solution that worked. In that time I’ve tried almost every method of powering my possessions - keep reading to find out the easiest and the best ways.
Charge Everything Before You Leave.
The first method I tried was charging everything at a friends places, public bathrooms, camping grounds and pretty much anywhere else with a powerpoint. As simple as this sounds it can actually work really well, especially for shorter trips. If you look closely almost every public bathroom has a powerpoint, which in a pinch can let you recharge phones, laptops and cameras (if you can mind the smell or uncomfortableness). Fully charging everything before you go is also a big help and also limits power usage to absolute necessities.
The time will come however when you will want to be able to actually do things at night, or charge your phone without the restraints of a dodgy public bathroom. The next easiest/simplest form of portable power is something called a Portable JumpStarter. These are pretty much just a small battery in a box with a bunch of different power outlets already connected. They can be charged by either 240v or by 12v when you are driving and offer a great alternative to a full on dual battery system. They can be bought from most car stores and even Kmart for relatively cheap, and most of them offer USB charging as well as an Accessory outlet for laptops and anything else you need. The only problem with these portable units is that they can’t be used to wire lights, run heavy loads (like fridges or pumps) and can eventually be a hassle. If you can live with it though, they are an almost perfect cheap option.
Plug in to 240v
Another option is using power from caravan parks and other power outlets and running an extension lead to your van. Installing an external power outlet on the outside of your vehicle makes this even easier, and saves having to run a lead through a door or window. This method is great as you can use normal 240v appliances without having to worry about inverters and speciality 12v charges and lights. The other main benefit it that the amount of power available is limitless - you can run all your appliances, watch tv, run a fridge, power lights and anything else you can imagine - all without worrying about flattening your battery. If you are clever you can find many locations with power points which you can park close to and quickly borrow some power - public bathrooms often have powerpoints hidden somewhere. However, if you cant find a free power outlet your only option is to head to a caravan park and pay for a powered site. This is great for some people but for us it is not at all our style or in our budget. Caravan Parks charge huge fees (often between 25-50 per night) and are often super crowded. This doesn't really create the best atmosphere for a relaxing time. If you have a spare power lead and don't mind caravan parks, then this method may work for you. If not read on for a more off-grid alternative.
Dual Battery System
The next option is a Dual Battery System. This is what most camper-vans and 4Wds have and is basically a second battery wired up to the main battery to double your power storage. A Dual Battery kit can be purchased from eBay along with some easy to follow instructions. They work by connecting the main battery to a second (preferably Deep Cycle) battery via some sort of Isolator. The isolator (There are many different types) simply insures that the main starting battery wont be drained no matter how low the second battery gets. This is a great and relatively easy setup, which I used for several months. It allows for a far greater power storage, with some batteries containing a massive 200 Amp Hours. The other main benefit is that you can permanently wire appliances to the battery, meaning you can run your lights, an inverter, a fridge etc, all to your second battery and never have to worry about flattening your main battery. The only problem with this system is that the auxiliary battery is only charged whilst you are driving, so if you are planning on chilling out in a sweet spot for a couple of days pretty soon your battery will go flat and you will have no way to charge it, other than going for a drive or running your car for a couple of hours.
The ultimate system, which I personally have, is a Dual Battery System with a complete Solar System to keep your batteries topped up while you stay in the one spot for as long as your food and beer holds out. Solar Panels charge your auxiliary when your car isn't running, and as long as the sun is out theres no need to worry about your batteries going flat. My personal systems consists of a 200 Watt (the bigger the better) Solar panel which is wired to a Ctek 250s Dual Battery Controller which charges a 100amp hour battery. I find this the perfect setup to run our fridge, lights and vent, as well as charge up phones, cameras and the laptop. The Ctek is also connected to the vans alternator and automatically decides which power source is producing the most energy. Whilst driving the alternator is producing far more power than the 200w panel, but as soon as the engine stops, the solar kicks in to keep the battery topped up. I’ve found the Ctek systems to work perfectly and is much simpler to wire up than an independent solar regulator. There is a choice of either having your panels fixed to your roof or using portable folding panels. Both have their perks and limitations, it will be up to your personal needs to decide which is best for you. I’ve attached my panel so it can be easily removed and placed up to 10m away. This means on a hot summers day you can park in the shade but your panel can still be soaking up some rays in the sun. Just make sure you have some way of locking the panel to your roof. Solar is the is the best way to charge a battery, and keeps it in it’s healthiest state making it last years longer.
These are the 5 main ways to power your home. I’ve tried them all and with a bit of compromise, any of these systems will allow you to live in your tiny house.