Solar Shed Office Part 1 - Planning & Research

Jonathan sitting inside rock outline of what will eventually be a solar sed/office.
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Updated November 17, 2020

It’s official, we are finally in the early planning stages of building our first structure on the homestead! But as with any off-grid project, there’s an enormous amount of research we need to do first. Let’s dig in.

Why a Solar Shed Office First?

Great question. Since we aren’t contractors by trade, and we are going to be using alternative building methods like straw bale and earth bag, we definitely didn’t want to start with our main house.

There will be lots of mistakes made on these early structures, so let’s work that out on non-residences 😂.

Besides that, a solar shed office is a great logical next step. While we have a good amount of solar and lithium batteries on the Airstream, we know that long term we’ll need a much larger 48 volt system for our house. That in itself will be a huge investment in terms of time, money, and research - but we can’t move forward on any of that until we have a climate controlled place to store the batteries and electronics.

Solar shed floorplan

Multi Functional Space

If there’s anything our Airstream renovation taught us - it’s that you should make the most out of small spaces. What else could we use a small building for out here? So many things!

Solar Wall

Obviously the main reason for this building is a place to store solar electronics. So our lithium batteries, inverter, charge controller, etc… will be mounted to the back wall for easy access.

Office

One of the first ideas we had was to use part of the space as an office. I’ve been working in 2-3 square feet with my tiny standing desk for years, but with the addition of a certain rapidly growing puppy, it’s getting harder and harder for me to fit - let alone focus.

Plus, with Ashley doing incredible work editing our YouTube videos - and managing it all on an outdated, tiny 13” laptop screen - we really need an editing bay for her as well.

Fridge & Freezer Storage

We just added our first meat animals to the homestead! But when it comes time to butcher them next year we currently have nowhere to store it. The solar shed office will be a great place to put a deep freeze. And while we’re at it, let’s put in a fridge, too. We’ve been managing food for 6 in a 7.5 cubic food marine fridge the last 4 years. I think we’ve earned it ☺️.

Couch + Bed

Did you know we have nowhere to like sit and relax? Sure, we have our dinette and a few camping chairs. But we haven’t been able to like lean back and chill in years. A couch sounds great. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure it can turn into a bed for guests that might want to come visit. It’s not like there are any hotels close by.

TV?

Finally, we thought we should ask the kids if there’s anything they wanted from the solar shed. “A TV!” they all practically shouted at us. Ok ok, we get it. If we have room on a wall we’ll add a TV, too.

Solar shed office floorplan walls

Planning and Materials

For this structure, we’re going to try straw bale construction. It’s super insualtive, quick to put up, and the square, flat walls will work well for the types of furniture and appliances we’re going to put in it.

We can source the straw bales and lumber locally, and use the dirt from our own property for cobbing the sides. This way we can be as eco friendly and low impact as possible.

We’ve settled on 12’x16’ interior dimensions which should put us right under the 200 square foot limit for outbuildings here. Based on our research so far, this should be big enough to fit all the stuff we want.

For the foundation, we looked into railroad ties and earthbags filled with gravel - but right now have settled on a raised deck similar to our floating Airstream deck. We want to make sure we’re up high enough in case of a freak flood.

Tiny Shiny Solar Shed Illustration

Passive Solar

While we’re at it, we may as well look at building the solar shed to take advantage of passive solar cooling and heating. The walls will already be very thick so we would just need to face the long side south, add windows, and an overhang to cast shade in the summer over them.

That’s a really simple explanation, and we’re still doing a lot of research here. But living off-grid in the desert, you need to do all you can to work with the environment. In the event that we have another crazy summer like we did this year, we’ll probably leave some space for a mini-split air conditioner, too.

One thing that’s puzzling us at the moment is that in order to get that overhang, that means our roof is slanted down towards North so it will make it hard to put any solar panels on top. If you have any ideas let us know!

Additional Uses

Besides having extra solar panels on the roof, we will definitely be using that roof to catch rain water! We may pipe it into our existing tank or into smaller tanks - but either way we’re going to use that roof.

We’ll also create a covered deck area on one (or two) sides. Any shade we can create out here is a win for sure.

What's Next?

As you can see we have our work cut out for us. So many decisions to make, things to think about, and plans to draw up.

Once the plans are finalized, it's time to start ordering materials and prepping the ground. Whoo!

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Friends, this is our first step in building our little homestead exactly how we want it - and we couldn’t be more excited! 

Thank you so much for being part of our journey!

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Jonathan Longnecker

About the Author

Jonathan Longnecker is the strongly opinionated tattooed and bearded half of Tiny Shiny Home. He loves making music, designing brands, building websites, exploring the outdoors, and living off-grid.

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Posted October 13, 2020


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