Tiny House: Solar Ark - exterior and interior

Solar Ark: A Pathbreaker in Tiny House Design

Interview with Tiny House Creator, Ben Strong.
Solar panels sponsored and supplied by Specialized Solar & Electrical.

What is Solar Ark?

It’s a fully off-grid Tiny House that’s literally smothered in solar panels. I’ve designed it as a high tech home office and a green, silent power generator. It’s got 4.4kW of solar panels and a good size battery set-up – so it’s also a bit of power house!

Why did you call it Solar Ark?

The word ‘Ark’ has biblical references. I think the terms symbolizes hope and fresh beginnings. With all the challenges facing our planet, I think creating something that is positive and has the potential to inspire is worth doing.

What’s inside?

There’s a dashboard display on a TV screen showing the state of power in Solar Ark. It’s also got a quality Bose sound system. The sound is great thanks to the ply floor and Wool Felt laminate on the ceiling which has good acoustic properties. There are also several internal power points so it’s easy to plug in more appliances like a fridge, laptop etc.

Tiny House: Solar Ark - interior

Why are there power points outside?

I installed a couple of power points on the outside. That way, you can run a lead for power tools etc. This could come in useful on a build project where you move Solar Ark to the site and use it as a convenient power source.

You can also charge Solar Ark from mains power. (I’ve used Shore Power technology to do this; something that’s often used for providing electrical power to a ship at berth and works very well for Tiny Houses too!).

How big is Solar Ark?

It is 3.6 metres long; 2.2 metres wide and 3.4 metres high.

This is smaller than a typical Tiny House. It’s designed to be an office – or study – rather than a place to live. It’s a cost-effective alternative to an extension.

Solar Ark is literally covered in panels. Why?

There are four reasons for this:

  • Energy production
  • Insulation
  • Cladding
  • Aesthetic

It’s a classic case of form and function coming together to create something special. The form is novel and visually striking. The function is there with energy production, insulation and cladding.

How do the panels work as part of the structure?

The panels are an integral part of the structure.

Here’s a sketch to show how this works:

Tiny House: Solar Ark - Structure Sketch

For the ceiling and back wall, the internal finish is laminated Wool Felt. I chose this for its acoustic properties and because it keeps an even temperature.

Getting the panels lined up correctly on the sides was detailed work. It is panel-to-panel with no gaps. That was quite a challenge as everything had to line up evenly all the way around. Each panel is independently removable and can easily be replaced.

How many panels do you have on each side?

There’s four panels each side of Solar Ark. On the roof, there’s two sets of two panels each on their own string.

There’s an app that comes with the Victron inverter that shows how much power each string of panels is producing. You can remotely login to the app and see how much power Solar Ark is producing from anywhere in the world. I think that’s really cool!

Tiny House: Solar Ark - Skylight and Closeup of panels

I see you have a lovely big skylight. Why did you do this?

I couldn’t put windows on the sides because of the panels but I wanted to create the feeling of a light-filled space. So I made a skylight the whole length of Solar Ark and put a big window at the front and a glass door at the back.

For readers who are technically minded, what does the off-grid comprise?

The core elements are 4.4kW of Seraphim solar panels, Victron Charge Controllers, 48 Volt Lead Acid Deep Cycle Battery, a Victron Inverter/Charger and a safety switch.

Here’s a diagram showing the technical set-up:

Where is Solar Ark now?

It’s out the front of my Melbourne home. Everyone who walks past has a look and lots ask questions. I will be putting it up for sale soon through Tiny House Australia. It’s legally registered with VicRoads so it’s good to go!

Tiny House: Solar Ark - Ben at his desk

System details

4 x Lead acid 12 Volt 200 amp hour deep cycle batteries
12 x 370 watt Seraphim solar panels, supplied by Specialized Solar and Electrical
Victron Inverter/Charger
Victron DC to DC converter running a 12 Volt System for LED lighting and phone charging

To learn more about Ben’s work visit tinyhouseproject.com.au