Wood vs. Propane Heat for Small Spaces

Wood vs. Propane Heat for Small Spaces

Wood & propane are both great heat sources for small spaces. There are specific benefits and drawbacks to both LP and wood as a heat source. Lets take a look at the pros & cons of each:

 

PROPANE

There are many propane appliances for the RV industry that are great heat sources: like forced air furnaces and catalytic heaters. The furnaces are large and somewhat complicated to retrofit into an existing space. Catalytic heaters are very simple and easy to install but can cause humidity issues.

 

TINY PROPANE FIREPLACE

propane fireplaceAnother great propane solution, built specifically for boats, is a tiny propane fireplace. This little fireplace made by Dickinson Marine is easily installed in the smallest of spaces and with the venting does not have as many issues with humidity. Dickinson also makes a diesel version of this little fireplace. Here are some pros and cons of propane as a heat source:

 

PROPANE PROS

Less Chores

Propane heat is easy and convenient. The only chores that come with LP is keeping the tank full, turning-on then setting the thermostat — done.

Less Maintenance

Propane fireplaces are virtually maintenance free. After your stove is properly installed all you need to worry about is keeping the propane tank full.

Lightweight & Compact

Propane fireplaces are small and lightweight. The installation allowances and footprint is very narrow and can be installed in the smallest of spaces.

 

PROPANE CONS

Cost of Propane

Heating with propane can be a large expense. Currently (3/5/2014) propane is about $3.47 per gallon. The Dickinson Marine fireplace burns roughly 1lb of propane every 5hrs on high (7500btu). So a standard 20lb 5 gallon tank would burn for 100hrs on high and cost $20.

What if you don’t have access to propane?

While today there is an abundance of cheap propane this may not always be the case. What if the price of propane doubled or tripled? Or what if it was no longer available?

Boom! Leaks or malfunction = explosion

Propane is very volatile and if a leak happened in a small space it could be dangerous!

Condensation

Burning 1 Gallon of propane releases approximately 1 Gallon of water into the atmosphere. While a lot of LP appliances don’t have this problem (the majority of the water that is released is released through the vent) I have heard horror stories of too much condensation which can cause mildew and mold problems.

 

WOOD

Wood fuel is a renewable resource and when burned in a quality stove is fairly efficient. Wood burning stoves have been around for a long time and technology, efficiency and emissions have greatly improved! While there is an abundance of traditional wood stoves on the market if you are heating a small space there are much fewer options.

 

SMALL WOOD STOVES

Hobbit Wood Stove Colors

The majority of the tiny wood stoves on the market are for the Marine industry for use on sail boats, cabin boats and canal boats. These stoves are small, lightweight and produce enough heat as a backup heat source or a primary heat source for a small space. My favorite tiny wood stove is the Hobbit. It’s not as light as other models but it has a higher heat output and a longer burn time. Here are some pros and cons of wood as a heat source:

 

WOOD STOVE PROS

Widely available fuel source

Fire wood is abundant. Take a stroll through the woods and you will see an abundance of down, dead and dry firewood. (A short personal rant: we harvest too many lives trees for fuelwood! We need to utilize the fuel that has already dead.)

Affordable Fuel Source

As stated above fuelwood can be sourced almost anywhere. For small space tiny wood stoves you don’t need a chainsaw and wood splitter…take a stroll through the woods and gather a few arm fulls of dry dead wood. Casual collecting, burning wood scraps and utilizing tree prunings are all great free source of woodfuel.

Cook Top

The top of most stoves gets very hot! This is a great surface for heating some tea or cooking a meal. Some small wood stove also have an oven built it…hot chocolate chip cooking anyone?

Ambiance

Who doesn’t like the dance of flames and the warm dry heat from a woodfire? I personally love the sights and smells that come with wood heat!

 

WOOD STOVE CONS

Dry Climate, No humidity.

The dry heat from wood stoves saps humidity from a climate. This lack of humidity can dry out skin and surrounding wood furniture causing damage. If you heat with wood get a hygrometer and keep track of your humidity levels. If your climate gets too dry you can add some humidity into your space.

Heavy & Clearance Allowances

Wood stoves can be heavy and bulky, depending on the size and model of your stove. Every wood stove will have clearance allowances for how far it has to be installed from combustibles. For the tiniest of spaces installation can be a challenge.

Chores

Wood heat is a lot of work…splitting, hauling and storing wood, starting fires, stoking the stove, cleaning out the ash, cleaning out chimney build up. If all of this sounds like a headache then wood heat is not for you.

 

CONCLUSION

Ultimately the ideal heat source comes down to long term cost and how involved you want to be in the process of heating your home. Do you care if your are dependent on LP to stay warm? Do you not want to mess with chopping wood, lighting a fire and continual stoking? Then a propane stove is for you!

 

On the other hand if you don’t want to be dependent on propane and don’t mind the chores that come with wood heat – then a small wood stove is for you!

 

I hope this has helped you narrow down the right heat source for your tiny space!

 

Did I miss something? Questions, comments? Leave them below!

 

Resources

Here is a great forum conversation on wood vs. propane heating

Tiny House couple discuss there decision process with wood vs propane heating

1 Comment

  1. I’ve used both now for more than 20 years and for me it’s wood outside and propane inside. A propane heater just feels wrong outside, I think because it doesn’t give that same community feeling of standing around a fire. Inside it’s more about safety, cost and not having to clean anything up afterwards which makes me stick with propane.

    Reply

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