Mother Earth News Features The Off-Grid Tiny Solar House

Tiny Solar House Feature Mother Earth News

The Tiny Solar House has been on a surprisingly big tour of America the past 6 months, sharing experiences and inspiration of a solar-powered lifestyle. Logging over 12,000 miles since departing from Austin, Texas, in May, the journey has made stops in 18 states and 12 National Parks.

This 210-square-foot off-grid house on wheels is essentially an RV with a different look. The base of the home is a dual-axle trailer atop a structure was framed, insulated, and enclosed.

Click here to read the article featured on Mother Earth News.

Tiny Solar House Goes To Arizona

Next stop on the solar powered tiny house tour across America was the lovely sunny state of Arizona. We parked at Justin's Diamond J RV Park on the outskirts of Tuscon, conveniently located just minutes from Saguaro National Park. Checking off Saguaro marked our 12th National Park visit in under 7 months!

The park is named for the large saguaro cactus, native to its desert environment. Many other kinds of cactus, including barrel, cholla, and prickly pear, are abundant in the park.

Ancient Native American legends involve humans turning into saguaros, and after seeing all types of varieties across the park, it’s hard not to attribute human-like qualities to them as they seem to wave, bow, flex, and welcome us, each one very much its own ‘person.’

Pictures From Saguaro National Park

Bring em on!

Bring em on!

Hands up

Hands up

Is this guy flexin'?

Is this guy flexin'?

Detail

Detail

Cactus family

Cactus family

What do you think - Can you see any human-like qualities in the above cacti? 

After getting our exercise hiking around Saguaro National Park, we headed into town to check out the Tucson vibe. To our surprise, we found abundant bike lanes throughout downtown, numerous craft breweries, affordable fine dining, and some really, really cool art murals! 

Pictures From Downtown Tucson

Downtown art mural

Downtown art mural

Pedestrian tunnel at night

Pedestrian tunnel at night

Enjoying a tasty cocktail

Enjoying a tasty cocktail

Part of the goal of the tiny house travels is to research various cities where we might settle down. Austin was great, but we moved there about 5 years too late, hit by a high cost of living and way too much traffic & congestion on the roads.

By contrast, Tucson felt like a little known secret of America. We found the city was affordable, friendly, and safe, with a happening art scene and lots of promise for the future. Sure, the summers are hot (real hot), but the winters are mild and the humidity is low, so temperatures should be more bearable (in theory). Tuscon is definitely on the list, along with Ridgway and Fort Collins Colorado.

After a week in Tuscon we were back on the road, headed north to check out the scene in Sedona.

Sedona's main attraction is its array of red sandstone formations. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. The red rocks form a popular backdrop for many activities, ranging from spiritual pursuits to the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails. At an elevation of 4,500 feet, Sedona has mild winters and hot summers, much like Tucson.

Pictures From Sedona

sedona
If you look closely you can see solar panels atop many of the roofs!

If you look closely you can see solar panels atop many of the roofs!

Last on the tiny house tour of Arizona was Yuma. You might recognize the name of the city from the western movie 3:10 to Yuma.

All cowboy references aside, Yuma is one of the driest, sunniest, and least humid areas of the lower 48 states of America, and has the lowest frequency of precipitation along with the highest number of days per year (175) with a daily maximum temperature of 90°F or higher. Dole is one of the largest employers of the region thanks to an environment highly conducive to growing produce and vegetables.

Accordingly, more than 85,000 retirees make Yuma their winter residence, and we enjoyed our experience of being 'snowbirds' for a few days, helping out with some farming work-trade in exchange for free rent and good conversation at Tree Love Farm.

Pictures From Yuma & Tree Love Farm

Isaac, Lia, and the rest of the crew we encountered at 'The Jungle' (as the locals call it) made delightful new friends, and we hope to make it back to the area in March/April. 

12,000 miles into our solar powered journey of America, generating 100% of our electricity from the sun! Living off the land supported by an off-grid solar kit for 7 months!

Tiny Solar House Explores Carlsbad Caverns National Park

After leaving the Austin Live|Work tiny house community we headed west to meet some friends at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Whites City, New Mexico. This leg of the journey was extra special because it was our first time meeting up with fellow travelers. Katie's buddy Elliot just purchased a new Mercedes sprinter van which he picked up in Colorado. Elliot and his travel partner Gen. met us at an RV park outside of Carlsbad Caverns for a few days of adventure before they made the drive east up to New York.

Tiny Solar House meets Sprinter van

Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber, The Big Room, a natural limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. It is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world. It was our 10th National Park visit since beginning our Tiny House Journey back in May.

Look at that - a solar roof in the background!

Look at that - a solar roof in the background!

Fun Fact: Carlsbad Cavern is 56°F year round, so a light jacket or long-sleeved shirt is recommended. The trails and cave features are electrically lit, but flashlight or headlamps are recommended as well if you want to see specific details of the cave.

The park contains over 119 caves, but only three caves are open to public tours. Carlsbad Caverns is the most famous and is fully developed with electric lights, paved trails, and elevators. Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spider Cave are undeveloped, excepted for designated paths for the guided "adventure" caving tours.

Pictures From Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns1
With flash

With flash

Carlsbad Caverns2
With flash

With flash

Carlsbad Caverns3
With flash

With flash

Touching cave formations

Touching cave formations

A spooky cool tour of the Lower Cave using just lanterns

A spooky cool tour of the Lower Cave using just lanterns

Detail of lanterns

Detail of lanterns

Gen the cave explorer

Gen the cave explorer

Michael the cave explorer

Michael the cave explorer

Katie the cave explorer

Katie the cave explorer

Other Attractions

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located Salt Flat, TX just 30 minutes down the road from Carlsbad. The park features Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet elevation.

Guadalupe Mnts National Park

The park also features McKittrick Canyon, a trail of which leads to a stone cabin built in the early 1930s, formerly the vacation home of Wallace Pratt, a petroleum geologist who donated the land in order to establish the park.

6 months into our solar powered journey of America we finally hit cold weather and had to plug-in to the power grid. Luckily, our off-grid solar power kit was designed to recharge with shore (grid) power, so we were able to enjoy a small electric space heater and refill the battery bank!

Leaving Carlsbad

After spending a week exploring the attractions around Carlsbad Caverns the Tiny Solar House got back on the road and continued the journey west, towards Arizona.

Visiting A Tiny House Community In Austin, Texas

It seems only fitting that we would find a community of tiny house enthusiasts in Austin, Texas. After all, our house was built in Austin, and it's where our solar powered journey across America first began.

Austin Live|Work is located on the outskirts of town, close to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) F1 racetrack. The founder's vision is to connect entrepreneurs, futurists, and forward-thinking individuals to work together to enrich the lives of one another and sustainably improve the land we inhabit.

For full-time tiny house dwellers, finding a permanent spot to park your home can sometimes be a bit of an uphill legal battle. For example, there was once a community in the small town of Spur, TX which was at the time designated as a "tiny house friendly" location. But after local politics created a fear of the community bringing in the wrong kind of residents, the town decided they would not issue utility permits (water, sewage, electricity), essentially making it impossible for the tiny living ideal to fully blossom.

That being said, Austin Live|Work offers much needed living space to tiny house dwellers who may not legally be able to live in their hometowns.

Staying at the tiny house community was our first real interaction with fellow tiny housers. We were one of nearly twenty tiny houses on the property, making Austin Live|Work one of, if not THE biggest tiny house communities in America!

Pictures Of The Tiny House Community

Tiny House Community Austin Texas
Tiny House Exterior
Tiny House Community Living

In addition to permanent parking, electricity, water, and sewage (greywater) hookups for tiny house dwellers, Austin Live|Work also offers tiny house rentals (so that you can see what it's like to live tiny) and a number of tiny houses for sale.

The Modernist is a tiny house available for rent and for sale at Austin Live|Work.

The Modernist is a tiny house available for rent and for sale at Austin Live|Work.

The Retro is a 12-foot tiny house available for rent at Austin Live|Work.

The Retro is a 12-foot tiny house available for rent at Austin Live|Work.

Tiny House Tours

Austin Live|Work offers a monthly tour of the tiny houses in their community which takes place at 10AM on the first Saturday of the month. RSVP is required on the Austin Tiny House Meetup Group.

Persons interested in renting a tiny house in Austin can contact Austin Live|Work by clicking here.

Tiny Solar House Goes To Virginia

Next stop on the solar powered tiny house tour across America was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. With 200,000 acres of protected lands, many of which are above the clouds, Shenandoah features cascading waterfalls, wooded hollows, and 500 miles of beautiful hiking trails. 

This park has 3 different campgrounds that can accommodate large RVs, though it should be noted that none of them have electric, water, or sewage hookups. This of course was not a problem for us, since our electric system is 100% powered by the 6 solar panels on the roof of the tiny house and our off-grid solar kit. But we did spend some time researching the campgrounds to see which one appeared to have the most sunlight (and sunniest parking spots) ahead of our trip.

After navigating the landscape of our upcoming journey using the satellite imagery filter of Google Maps, looking for parts of the campgrounds that had the least shaded camping spots facing south, it was determined that our luck would be best at Big Meadows Campground.

Additionally, since there are no water hookups, we had to plan ahead and fill up our water storage before entering the park. We prioritized the water storage for showering only, and instead used gallon jugs of water for dish washing and ancillary water needs. 

Pulling into the Shenandoah National Park entrance station that morning, we were relieved to see that all 3 campgrounds had lots of openings.

Tip: It's been our experience that your odds at finding lots of camping spots at national parks are better earlier in the week before the weekenders rush in. 

After driving up the windy road to Big Meadows and checking in with the campground attendants, we got some advice on where the sunniest locations were located. 

The camp site we picked was a short distance away from a bathroom facility (always a plus when you have a compost toilet).

Tip: Save time, effort, and resources emptying and cleaning your compost toilet by using other toilets when they are available!

And, to our surprise, the nearby bathroom was also powered by a rooftop of solar panels.

Shenandoah National Park solar powered bathroom

That night, we spent most of our time setting up camp and researching the nearby hiking trails and natural attractions.

We were delighted to wake up to a mystical fog that rolled into the park the next morning, followed by a series of nature adventures exploring the waterfalls and trails around the park.

Pictures From Shenandoah National Park

Tiny Solar House Foggy VA Park
Foggy mountain morning
Shenandoah National Park woods
Shenandoah National Park waterfalls
Shenandoah National Park waterfall
Shenandoah National Park fall colors
Shenandoah National Park fall colors2
Shenandoah National Park fall colors3
Shenandoah National Park fall colors4
Shenandoah National Park bridge 2
Shenandoah National Park bridge
Shenandoah National Park moss
Shenandoah National Park moss rock
Shenandoah National Park moss (2)
Shenandoah National Park moss3
Shenandoah National Park moss4
Shenandoah National Park mushrooms
Shenandoah National Park mushrooms2
Shenandoah National Park mushrooms3
Shenandoah National Park mushrooms4
Shenandoah National Park hike
Shenandoah National Park tree detail
Shenandoah National Park tree
View from the mountains

Hiking around Shenandoah National Park was some of the best fun! Right up there with our incredible experiences exploring Colorado.

21 weeks into our solar powered journey of America and we are still generating 100% of our electricity from the sun! Living off the grid supported by solar panels for 5 months!