Comparing wood and propane heat for small spaces
When comparing wood and propane heat one has to consider all kinds of factors and specifics for the space you are looking at. If you want the ambiance of a real fire without the maintenance of a wood stove, a direct vent propane fireplace might be an option for you. A propane fireplace allows viewing of the dancing flames of a real fire, while providing dry, radiant heat to your home similar to a wood stove. Unlike unvented propane appliances like catalytic heaters, a direct vent propane fireplace exhausts combustion gases outside of your space, so there’s no buildup of water or depletion of oxygen in your living area. And unlike forced air furnaces, propane fireplaces require little or no electricity to operate, and they are quiet or silent while in operation.
There aren’t many direct vent propane fireplace options available for small spaces as of this writing. The only one we typically find in small spaces is the Dickinson Marine Newport. But we are developing the Dwarf Gas Stove that we hope will be ready to ship in 2023.
Both wood and propane heat can be a perfect solution, depending on your requirements, expectations and living situation.
Pros of Propane Heat
With propane you only burn as much fuel as necessary to maintain inside air temperature. If your heater is controlled by a thermostat, once the temperature is reached, the burner shuts off. This saves fuel and maintains a steady, constant temperature in your living space.
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.
A properly calibrated propane fire burns very cleanly, so propane fireplaces are very low maintenance relative to wood stoves. After your propane stove is properly installed, all you need to worry about is keeping the propane tank full, keeping the pilot assembly clean, and sweeping soot out of the flue as needed.
Lightweight and Compact
Propane fireplaces are small and lightweight. The installation allowances and footprint is very narrow and can be installed in the smallest of spaces.
Cons of Propane Heat
Cost of Propane
Heating with propane can be a significant expense. Depending on prices propane ranges from $2.75 – $3.75 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 100 hours (about 4 days) on high and cost $15-20.
While there is an abundance of cheap propane today, that may not always be the case. What if the price of propane doubled or tripled? Or what if propane was no longer available due to a shortage or interruption in supply lines? Wood can be foraged, but propane needs to be purchased.
Toxic, Volatile Fuel
A leak or malfunction could be dangerous. Propane is an explosive gas, and a leak could build up quickly in a small space! On top of that, propane gas is poisonous.
Most appliances have safety valves, so if the flame goes out, it turns off the gas. Propane detectors installed in a living space can detect leaks at very low levels and alert any occupants. Proper installation and maintenance should be trouble free.
Burning 1 pound of propane releases approximately 1.6 pounds of water. Every 20 pound cylinder produces nearly 4 gallons of water as water vapor during the burning process.
While appliances that vent outside don’t add to condensation problems, unvented propane appliances like catalytic heaters can cause mold and mildew problems.
On the other hand, when heating with wood, no moisture is added to the air. A dry, powerful heat source can help correct moisture problems during the winter.
Wood fuel is a renewable resource when harvested responsibly, and when burned in a quality stove, wood is a fairly efficient heat source. Stoves have been around for hundreds of years 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 far fewer options.
Small Wood Stoves
Recently, there have been an increasing number of suitable small wood stoves for tiny spaces. Some target the Marine industry for use on sail boats, cabin boats and canal boats. Other stoves, like our line of small wood stoves, are perfect for all kinds of tiny spaces like tiny houses, RVs, and bus conversions. These stoves are small, lightweight and produce enough heat as a backup heat source or a primary heat source for a small space.
Here are some pros and cons of wood as a heat source
Pros of heating with wood
Widely Available Fuel Source
Firewood is abundant. Take a stroll through the woods and you will see an abundance of down, dead and dry firewood. Landscaping companies often have a lucrative side-business reselling trees removed from their customers’ property as firewood. Hardware stores, farm supply stores, gas stations, and even grocery stores typically sell kiln dried firewood in bundles.
Affordable Fuel Source
Depending on your location, firewood is probably available for cheap or free. If you own or have access to wooded property, downed wood can be gathered in abundance for free. When you have somewhere to store it, firewood can be purchased in bulk for relatively low cost. And even if you need to purchase kiln dried firewood in bundles, a tiny stove uses very little fuel, so the fuel cost is often minimal.
The top of most stoves gets very hot! This is a great surface for heating some tea or cooking a meal. Some small wood stoves have an oven built in … hot chocolate chip cookies, anyone?
Who doesn’t like the dance of flames and the warm dry heat from a wood-fire? I personally love the sights and smells that come with wood heat!
Cons to Wood Heat
Climate, No Humidity
The dry heat from wood stoves saps humidity from your space. This lack of humidity can dry out skin and surrounding wood furniture causing damage. If you heat with wood, you can use a hygrometer and keep track of your humidity levels. In case your climate gets too dry, you can add some humidity into your space by placing a kettle or a cast iron steamer on top of your stove for a while.
Weight and Space
Wood stoves can be heavy and bulky, depending on the size and model of your stove. Every wood stove will have clearance requirements for how far it has to be installed from combustibles. For the tiniest of spaces, safe installation can be a challenge.
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 might not be for you.
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 want to be independent of fossil fuels and don’t mind some extra chores? Then a wood stove is right for you! Or do you favor convenience, don’t mind buying propane and just want a warm space? If this is true then a simple propane fireplace is the best option 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!
9 thoughts on “Comparing WOOD and PROPANE Heat”
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.
I live in Western NY and there’s a ton of trees, and tons of downed trees, and scrap wood all over the place – so, a wood stove would be the most affordable heating option for me, BUT i have a question- if the wood stove zaps humidity, but the top is always super hot – why not leave an oven safe pot on top of the stove when it’s in use and keep it filled with water? like something cast iron? The heat from the stove would heat the water and cause it to evaporate and would supply the room with moisture. Wouldn’t it?
Yes! There are specific humidifier products you can purchase that are exactly what you’ve described.
We use an old small tea kettle for the same result.
Thanks for the comment!
I cannot wait for your propane stove. One question: I am at a 3700ft elevation and someone told me that the propane stove must be set for higher elevation………will your dwarf propane stove be OK at that elevation or higher?
Sharon- Thanks for the message! We’re still in the prototyping phase of the Dwarf Gas at the moment (April 2020), so we haven’t yet been able to test the altitude limit for ideal operation. You’re below 5,500 feet, so you should be OK with standard equipment on most propane appliances. If we find that there’s a problem operating the Dwarf Gas at higher altitudes, we’ll probably look into offering a high altitude kit for it in the future.
Thank you Dan.
Is there any stove that combines wood and propane? The propane advantage =thermostate to stove in winter. wood advantage= ambiance.
My cabin at 7,000′ alt. and 700sq. feet in size. We now have elec. heat (a mini-split wall mount) but our electrical grid goes down often. It is in a oak wood forest and I lived with wood heat for many years…but the propane is the best backup for winter as you have a thermostat for cold.
I realize the dangers of both stoves.
Not yet, but we’re working on one. It might be a few years to get it through the R&D phase.
It is not if everything falls apart; it has. When, the gas, propane, diesel, generators, electric goes down, and the clouds keep you solar from charging, you have wood. It was true a hundred years ago, and it is now.