There is something very romantic about home and hearth. The sound of seasoned wood crackling in the belly of the fireplace or wood stove while the brilliant orange glow dances in a shadowy ballet. The smell of pine as it burns, a fragrant reassurance to our senses that there will be comfort all winter long. Just because you live in a tiny house doesn’t mean you have to forego this pleasure or luxury. Wood stoves, specifically, have helped hundreds of families who call cabins, skoolies, vans, RVs, travel trailers, sailboats, and tiny houses on wheels, move even further off-grid without losing any necessities. But before the decision to move in such a direction a host of questions come to mind:
- Is wood better than propane?
- Is wood actually feasible for a small or mobile space?
- Are wood stoves legal or rather illegal in tiny houses?
- Is a wood stove even comfortable in a tiny house?
- What is the cost of a wood stove?
- Who makes the best wood stove that is designed with a tiny house in mind?
PROPANE OR WOOD?
A more traditional RV or travel trailer comes equipped with a forced-air propane furnace. A growing number of tiny houses on wheels rely on mini-split HVAC units for heat but have secondary units that run on propane. The easy facts are obvious.
- Propane means not having to chop wood, light a fire, and tend the burning wood
- Propane is void of soot and ash messes
- Propane doesn’t cause a fireplace smell in your home
- Propane is instant heat
Truth is, a number of people don’t mind the care it takes for a wood burning unit. There is satisfaction in lighting and tending the fire. There is something tribal or therapeutic about gathering and preparing the wood. If that doesn’t describe you though then propane is the answer, hands down. They are a bit more expensive though and that is probably the #1 consideration.
Wood stoves are more sustainable in that they don’t depend on non-renewable fuel. You don’t have to refill a propane tank, maintain the electrical components for the ignition and the blower both. Not to mention the issues that can arise from humidity and condensation caused by propane heat. But what is the cost breakdown?
To heat a tiny house that is 8.5′ wide by 24′ long with an average ceiling height of 12′ you would need 19,200 BTU/hour or 5,626 watts. (find out your needs with this BTU calculator) This style of heater, which heats through a duct system and heats space whether there are occupants or not, consumer roughly 1/4lb of propane per hour. If left on for 24-hours each day, a 20lb tank would last between 5 and 6 days. With today’s prices on average being $3.19/gallon that would mean propane alone would cost $14.93 per week or $59.72/month. On the flip side, a wood stove uses scrap wood. Traditional 16″ logs won’t work in a wood stove for a tiny house so you will need to split up what might otherwise be called kindling. Not a bad exchange considering this type of fuel can be literally picked up off the ground as you walk around including local dead, down and detached scraps of wood. For overnight or when you are void of dry wood source you can also use fire logs like the environmentally friendly Pres-To-Logs, which are made of 100% recycled, natural biomass material.
There is no definitive answer as to whether or not wood stoves are legal in tiny houses. EPA regulations and code ordinances are intended for residences so they don’t apply to small spaces. If you are going to stay put in one location for an extended amount of time it is best to contact local building code inspectors to find out what is legal in the area and what isn’t.
There are three major areas of safety to be concerned with: clearance, flue, and safety detection.
A wood stove has to be installed with proper clearance from combustibles. If not it can become a fire hazard quick. Much like you try to keep older Christmas tree lights away from curtains and draperies, you want to keep your wood stove away from fabrics and plastics. Check with the manufacturer for clearance requirements before installing a wood stove. You may also want to consider a heat shield
The flue, or chimney pipe, is crucial. Because stove pipes are hot they can’t be run directly through a tiny house roof. Flue systems are engineered to keep your home safe from the heat of the wood stove. These systems include fire stops, insulation boots, etc.
There is no excuse not to have a carbon monoxide alarm or detection device. A wood stove emits carbon monoxide and it is important to make sure it is not building up inside the home.
Recently at the Tiny House Living Festival, we met Nick Peterson of Dwarf Stoves. Nick designed and now manufacturers a Dwarf Stove that is created just for a tiny house space. Units can be purchased that provide 10K BTU, 15K BTU, and 20K BTU, and all at reasonable prices.
In terms of overall affordability and sustainability, wood stoves are the logical choice for tiny house heating. They offer form and function.
What do you think is best for heat? What do you want to use or what do you currently use? Let us know in the comments below or visit our Facebook page for more conversation.