Sun Tracking Tiny House


One of the great advantages of a tiny house on wheels, is that it can be moved or reoriented to suit the needs of the occupants.  Don’t like your view?  Spin that thing around!  I believe this unique feature is of particular use when considering climate control of the home, and how the sun plays a part in this.

I’m sure I do not need to explain to the reader that solar heating and cooling systems are designed into many “off grid” type homes, and that with some forethought, a domicile can be built which takes advantage of the sun’s radiation to greatly reduce the need for supplementary climate control.  It pains me to see (and no doubt you as well if you’re interested in tiny homes), the thousands upon thousands of McMansions lining windy suburban roads in housing developments.  The designers, having taken no consideration as to the path and angle of the sun, doom these homes to be the resource hogs and money pits “affordable housing” has become.

I want my home to operate as a living thing, utilizing energy locally available, and then discarding the most useless waste heat into the environment.  A tall order, no doubt, but a goal worth striving for nonetheless.  Because a tiny house on wheels is so small, and the occupants attitude toward conservation is so great, efforts towards taking advantage of solar insolation could potentially have a substantial impact on household energy consumption.

Beyond insulating well and installing good windows, I’d like to fool around with reorienting the whole trailer periodically to get the most sun in the winter (when it’s not too terribly cloudy), and turn the house away from the sun in the summer (unless heating is desired).  I will most likely design my tiny house to have a large number of windows on one long side, and fewer, smaller ones on the other.

This whole rotating house thing started in my head a few days ago when I imagined a small house, twice as tall as it is wide, square at the base, with two common walls having a large number of windows.  The entire house sits atop a spinning platform that permits a full 360 degree rotation.  Some manner of an automatic drive would slowly move the house to track the position of the sun throughout a day, so from the occupant’s point of view, the sun would never arc, but simply rise and fall while the local scenery panned across their vision.  Any solar panels fixed to the house would track as well (at least the azimuth).  In the summer, or when it’s too warm in the home, the house would track as well, but it’s back with fewer windows would face the sun.  In this situation, the solar panels would have to be flipped around (possibly automated).

A Tall Order

As much fun as this is, it would be very difficult to make the house mobile.  I’ve though of hundreds of different iterations, and other than building a spinning platform on a strait axle trailer that allows a conventional tiny house to rotate, I believe the simplest solution is found by going back to the start.  Spin the whole trailer.  I would prefer to come up with a better solution that was a little smoother and wouldn’t involve tire wear, but to avoid some major design issues, this appears to be both simple and feasible.

Crazy, But It Might Work

A version of this would involve a set of landing gear in the back of the trailer with wheels, which provide the stability, and one drive wheel landing gear supporting the trailer tongue.  Throughout the day, the drive wheel would push the trailer tongue back and forth, managed by a simple micro-controller that uses the position of the house on the Earth, the time of day, a magnetic orientation or optical feedback from predetermined cardinal points, and tables of sun position data.  It sounds complicated, but I don’t think it’s that bad, really.  The drive system could slowly roll the house across an arc or re-calculate every so often and move the house periodically.  A suitable drive mechanism would need to be found.  Tire wear and “rutting” might be lessened by parking on two sheets of plywood.  There’s a possibility of the whole trailer “walking around” if the pivot point changes in a sort of “Spirograph” fashion.

Maybe, Too Crazy

The more I write about it, the more I realize the whole thing is crazy, but it’s a fun thought experiment.  Ideally, I’d prefer the whole trailer were supported off the ground and onto a spinning platform, or with some landing gear that ride on a circular track. But, this too is impractical and difficult to make mobile.

Spinning the house on top of the trailer is difficult, unless a straight axle trailer were used, thereby avoiding the wheel wells.  I don’t like straight axle trailers for the simple reason that the floor of the house will be higher, reducing head clearance, and more importantly that the center of gravity is pushed higher, reducing stability when in tow.  If it wasn’t for that, I’d go this route and install outriggers that fold out from the trailer body, and utilize a low profile spinning platform between the house and trailer.  Some means by which to lock the house in “travel mode” would be needed.

All of these design issues are beyond me right now, but it’s clear that I’d like to pursue the project further.  Whatever I do, I know that some manual reorienting of the house will be done, and If I can find a way to make it an automatic feature, I will pursue.

More at Corollary to a Sun Tracking Tiny House.

-M.C. Pletcher

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Posted in Dwelling, Philosophy, Tiny House

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