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Solar Panels for Mobile Homes and RVs

Avatar for Hatham Al-Shabibi
Published on 08/25/2019 in
Updated 08/23/2019
Solar panels on top of RV

In short: Are solar panels for mobile homes and RVs a good idea? In both cases, the answer is “yes, but…” It’s a bit tricky, and there are rules and best practices to follow. First, you should try to reduce your electricity usage, then make sure you install the right amount of solar in the right place.

Can you install solar panels on a mobile home?

We’ll start with the bad news. Most mobile and manufactured homes don’t have the necessary roof and joint strength to support the weight of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Not only that, many local housing codes don’t allow solar panels on a structure that isn’t permanently fixed into the ground, like a house.

But wait…That’s the only bad news in this article. Because mobile homes use around twice as much energy for heating and cooling than traditional homes, renewable energy in this arena is absolutely worth discussion, improvements are happening, and there are some clever workarounds taking place.

RVs are a whole different story, and come with their own complications. But RV solar panels make sense, because wherever you go, you’re gonna need power. RV solar panel kits exist to help you capture the kilowatts, even far away from civilization.

Let’s explore some of the ways solar energy generation is possible on mobile homes and RVs.

Method 1: DIY and install a small-scale solar array

Before embarking on any solar panel project, it’s important to make sure your roof can handle the extra weight of a few solar panels, so check with a professional or your home manufacturer first.

While going for a small solar system won’t offset all of your energy usage, it can make a significant dent. You can stretch the power of your solar system further by making other improvements to lower your energy usage, such as:

  • Improving your insulation
  • Replacing old windows with energy-efficient windows
  • Making smaller repairs like caulk and duct improvements

The Department of Energy found that in testing of manufactured homes built before 1976, performing the above improvements resulted in a 31% decrease in energy usage. Not only does this have direct benefits to your wallet and the environment, but it also means a smaller solar system will cover more of your energy needs.

You can also install a small solar panel system on accessory structures you may have, such as a garage, shed, or carport.

We are here to help you calculate your solar energy needs and costs, and help you find expert solar panel installers. We can also help you explore ways to pay for solar!

solar panels on old school bus converted to home

We like this whole situation.

Method 2: Install a ground-mounted solar panel system

A ground-mounted solar system requires a few extra considerations, such as the available unshaded south-facing space on your property, and protection from small animals who seem to like the taste of grilled PV wiring.

Despite that, a ground-mounted solar panel system is a great way to go solar if your roof isn’t suitable for panels. If there’s minimal tree shading, the panels can be mounted on standard rack mounts just above the ground. If needed, you can raise the panels higher up with cement foundations.

An added benefit of ground-mounted solar panels is the ability to mount the panels at exactly the right angle and orientation for maximum solar output. The panels don’t need to be stuck in whatever direction your roof is pointed!

Some clever things are happening with ground-mounted solar and mobile home parks. Check this story out!

Method 3: Get your neighbors together to explore a community solar project

Community solar is on the rise, and it’s a great way to go solar while building relationships between neighbors! In essence, a group of people – such as a mobile home park – invests in a solar panel system large enough to generate power for everyone buying in. It reduces the materials needed to make solar panels for every individual home, and it saves everyone money over time.

It has numerous soft benefits as well, such as community bonding and collective ownership in a great thing for the planet.

In 2018, Sunworks installed a 1-megawatt (MW) community solar system in San Bernardino, California, large enough to power 268 mobile homes! The system will cover the majority of the community’s energy needs within the first year of operation. As of this writing, that’s already happening.

Portable solar kit sitting on beach

Soaking up that sunshine…and getting a tan.

Method 4: Get a portable solar kit

Portable solar kits are exactly what they sound like: small-scale solar panel systems you can take with you. They can be mounted on a trailer or other towing platform, and usually come with everything you need: the panels, generators, and battery storage systems (for when you need power but the sun isn’t shining).

We researched some of the top portable solar kits out there, based on performance and reliability, and whipped up a few recommendations:

(Full disclosure, as an Amazon Associate, Solar Power Rocks may earn a commission from qualifying purchases)

Side-note: Look into passive solar heating

If a small solar panel system, a ground-mounted system, or solar panel kit aren’t viable or financial options for you, then passive solar heating, or some form of it, is definitely an option. Chances are you already generate passive solar energy on a small scale when you do things such as open your windows on a bright day instead of turning your lights on.

The great thing about passive solar heating is you don’t need solar panels or other machines to make it happen. We wrote an article all about passive solar heating here.

Solar panels installed on top of an RV

Power your next road trip with solar energy.

What about solar panels on my RV or camper?

A lot of what we described above can be applied for an RV or camper, but if you’re on the move, you need something portable. RV solar panels can be connected to a battery bank, which can then provide power to everything from phones to medium-sized kitchen appliances.

If you travel often, and to remote locations, an RV solar panel kit will do wonders in terms of convenience and cost savings. Full hookups cost more over time; with solar panels you pay upfront but recoup the cost quickly as you save on electricity — then you start saving money (more travels anyone?).

How many solar panels do I need for my RV?

The short answer is: Most people need about 2 standard 100-watt solar panels to keep their RV’s deep-cycle batteries charged without plugging in to an external power source. Here’s the long answer:

Sizing a portable solar system is mostly a matter of figuring out how many kilowatt-hours you use per day in your RV, then choosing solar panels that produce enough wattage under full sun to make that much electricity every day.

Check out our guide to designing an off-grid solar system to get an idea of how much energy your appliances might need every day. But here’s an example, to show you how it might work:

To run the appliances in an RV every day, you might need 50 amp-hours of electricity from a deep-cycle battery bank at 12 volts (that’s if you use propane to heat, cook and run the fridge). Multiply amp-hours by volts to get watt-hours (Wh). That’s 50 x 12, or 600 Wh per day.

A single RV solar panel makes about 100 Watts under full sun, and most places in the U.S. get the equivalent of around 5 hours of full sun per day. So a single solar panel can supply about 500 Wh of power to your RV’s deep-cycle batteries. Because energy is lost between the production and storage of solar power in batteries, you should get two 100-watt solar panels to be safe.

Here’s a look at the number of sun-hours per day in various parts of the country, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
NREL map of peak sun hours in June

How can I lower my electric bill/energy usage in my mobile home or RV?

There are several improvements you can make to reduce your energy usage in your manufactured home or RV, whether you invest in solar or not.

A few ways to improve your heating and cooling efficiency:

  • Get a tune up
  • Replace the filter
  • Seal the duct ends
  • Seal underneath the furnace

Improve your lighting:

  • Install energy-saving features on your exterior lighting
  • Use low-wattage bulbs
  • Replace your lights with LED

Ways to eliminate leaks:

  • Seal gaps and cracks in your walls and floors
  • Seal or fix leaky windows
  • If your exterior doors don’t fit, or have significant gaps, look into replacing them

Taking some or all of the measures above, combined with a home energy audit, can save you a lot of cash on your power bill!

We hope this article answers some of your biggest questions about solar for manufactured homes and RVs. And the verdict is in: despite the roof challenges, it’s very possible to go solar and save money if you live in a manufactured home. If you want to explore solar energy options for your home, or look into community solar, we can help!

Last modified: August 23, 2019

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