Living off the grid in a solar powered cabin can be an inexpensive way to own your own home, embrace minimalism, and escape the rat race. A DIY off grid cabin allows you to build your home to your exact preferences and specifications, and live mortgage-free while you pursue your passions.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basic steps involved in the process of bringing your off grid cabin ideas to life.
Let’s get started!
What is an off grid cabin?
First, let’s narrow down what we mean by off grid cabin. For our purposes, an off grid cabin is a small dwelling that does not connect to city or municipal water, sewer, gas, or power lines. All power is generated on-site, usually with solar power but potentially with other power sources as well.
Most off grid cabins are pretty small – usually between 200 and 500 square feet, although there isn’t necessarily a size limit. However, smaller homes are easier (and more economical) to heat, light and power with off grid sources than larger ones.
How does a solar powered cabin work?
Most off grid solar cabins have solar panels installed on the roof and/or a ground-mounted array of solar panels. The power from the solar panels then flows into a battery bank, where it’s stored for later use. Then, if necessary, the power passes through an inverter (to change the current from DC to AC), or it flows straight to appliances if they run on 12V electricity.
Of course, solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining. So the power must be stored in batteries for night-time use and/or to save up energy for days when it’s rainy or snowy. Although modern solar panels can still harness the sun’s rays even on overcast days, the power output will be much less.
There are special energy-efficient appliances often used in off-the-grid cabins and some appliances that run on 12V energy, as mentioned above, which means that you don’t lose as much energy by having to power an inverter all the time.
Here’s what you need to know about how to build an off grid cabin.
6 Steps to building an off grid cabin
While installing your own solar energy system may feel daunting if you’ve never done it before, it’s a relatively simple process.
Let’s break it down:
1. Choose your location carefully
First, you need to choose the location for your solar powered cabin carefully. Select a site that gets an adequate amount of sunlight – somewhere that’s not shaded by trees, hills, other structures, etc.
Also, be sure to think ahead several years. For example, suppose there are saplings around your cabin that will eventually grow into giant trees. In that case, you may need to either replant the saplings or choose another location for your cabin. Alternatively, you can build the cabin there and opt for a ground-mounted solar array away from the trees.
You will also need to ensure that it’s legal to build an off grid cabin in the location that you select. These rules vary by county, city, and township, so you’ll want to research the laws for your specific area. Some zones have regulations regarding the minimum size of a residence or forbidding the use of entirely off grid power. Be sure to do your due diligence, secure any necessary permits, and carefully draft your off grid cabin plans before you begin building.
2. Build your structure
Once you’ve got your site chosen and approved, you can begin building the off grid cabin. Keep the pitch of your roof in mind if you’ll be installing roof-mounted solar panels. This is because the angle at which the sun hits your panels can make a big difference in the amount of energy that will be produced. You’ll also want your solar panels to be south-facing to maximize their sun exposure. Additionally, ensure that your panels are easily accessible so cleaning them or performing maintenance is not problematic.
You may wish to leave the interior of your cabin unfinished until you get through the wiring and plumbing portion. But building the actual structure before you install your solar system will make the whole process easier.
You may be wondering; how do I power my tools and equipment when I don’t have my solar energy system hooked up yet?
Enter the Jackery Solar Generator!
With portable folding solar panels and a high-capacity power station, the Jackery Solar Generator allows you to generate power wherever you need to and run all your power tools, lights and equipment that you need during the build phase. You can also charge up the Explorer Portable Power Station before heading to the construction site with the 12V port in your vehicle or with a standard wall plug.
3. Calculate your solar needs and purchase components
Be sure to plan for how much solar energy you will need. Consider all the amenities and appliances you plan to install, how much energy each uses, and how frequently you plan to use each one.
Then add a little cloudy-day cushion to the estimated amount of energy that you will use. Keep in mind the seasonal differences between the number of daylight hours, the lower angle of the sun in the winter, and the fluctuation of power usage throughout the year. For example, since it gets dark so much earlier in the winter, you will likely want to have your lights on for longer each day and will therefore use more power.
Pro tip: Check out our article on what size solar generator do I need? for help and information on performing the calculations.
It’s always a good idea to install as much solar and power station capacity as your budget and space allows for, so you won’t be stressed by lack of power later. Once you have decided on your goal wattage and amp-hours, you can begin shopping for your components.
Solar panels come in various sizes, wattages, and efficiency levels, so select those that meet your specific needs and budget.
You’ll also need to purchase:
A charge controller to prevent your batteries from getting overcharged
The batteries themselves
An inverter (if necessary)
Wiring, switchesand outlets
There are several different types of 12V batteries that are well-suited for off grid cabin use, including AGM, flooded lead-acid, gel, and lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are the most efficient, longest-lasting, and have the highest usable capacities. However, they are the most expensive option. You can also opt to use 6V or 24V batteries for an off grid cabin, although that is a less common choice.
4. Install solar panels and battery bank
Once all of your components have arrived, you can begin installing everything. Mount your solar panels on your roof or on their rack, put your batteries in place, and install your inverter (if you have one), as well as any appliances that will be wired up.
5. Hook up your system
Finally, you can hook up your system and begin generating power. Minimize cable run and use thick wires to reduce resistance and heat generation. Most of your components will likely come with wiring diagrams and instructions to help you through this stage. It’s safest to hook up your system while the sun is not shining (e.g., at night.) This reduces the possibility of shocking yourself. Although fortunately, a 12V current isn’t deadly.
Double-check all of your wiring and connections. Keep an eye on your system as the sun hits your panels and you begin generating your own off grid energy. Test all your appliances to ensure that they work. Also, check over the input and output for the first few weeks to ensure that all your calculations are correct.
6. Enjoy off grid living
Most solar panels have a lifespan of 20-30 years, and lithium batteries can last as long as 10 years. Once you have your system purchased and installed, all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy your off grid cabin mortgage-free and relatively maintenance-free for the next decade!
It’s time to get building
Making the move to living off grid doesn’t have to be daunting. We hope the steps covered in this article help you on the way to building the off grid cabin of your dreams.
For the best outcome, remember to plan things out carefully and be mindful of the key considerations outlined above. Our Jackery Solar Generator can support you with power during the build and as a renewable energy source to your finished cabin. Just do your calculations to ensure all your solar energy needs are met.
Most importantly, enjoy the experience and your new sustainable way of life. Go for it!