DIY Solar is Now Affordable, Easy

Our DIY solar setup for the Birdhouse
Better Farm's human-scale Birdhouse is the perfect, private retreat for artists-in-residence throughout the year. But while we're big fans of lanterns and candlelight, it occured to us that having light at the flip of a switch would be nice and significantly less of a fire hazard for the little wooden structure.

So with the help of solar extraordinaire Walter Dutcher, we found a very simple, inexpensive 45-watt solar kit for $179.99 through Harbor Freight. The setup came with two lights, and lends itself to bigger projects down the line (it can be hooked to an inverter, larger battery, and additional panels).

The biggest issue we had with installing the kit was figuring out how to mount the panels. I was (I think understandably) concerned about poking holes in our beautiful, brand-new metal roof, so building a mount for the panels involved digging several feet into that clay soil, sticking a 4x4 into the hole, and filling it back in. Mark Huyser helped put the finishing touches on the mount and attach the panels facing south. From there, it just involved running the wires into the Birdhouse, hooking them into the included LED charge indicator, and marveling at the power created.

Depending on what you're hooking into the kit, this particular setup can pay for itself in as little as one year. This is a great application for powering a specific room in your house, work shed, or garage. And it's so straightforward, you don't need to have any experience with wiring or construction to get it set up.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.