Wood Heat vs. Propane Heat
Comparing wood and propane heat for small spaces
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.
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 gasses 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 at the time 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 2024.
Pros of Propane Heat
With propane (LP), you only burn as much fuel as necessary to maintain the inside air temperature. If your heater is controlled by a thermostat, the burner will shut off once the temperature is reached. 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 are keeping the tank full, turning it on, and setting the thermostat.
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 occasionally sweeping soot out of the flue as needed.
Lightweight and Compact
Propane fireplaces are small and lightweight. The installation allowances and footprint are very narrow and it can be installed in the smallest of spaces.
Cons of Propane Heat
Cost of Propane
Heating with propane can be a significant expense, with the price per gallon ranging from $2.75 – $3.75. 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. Larger spaces in colder climates will obviously burn much more.
While there is an abundance of cheap propane today, that may not always be the case. Prices can shoot up without much warning and supply shortages or interruptions in supply lines are possible. 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. Thankfully, most appliances have safety valves, so the gas will turn off if the pilot light goes out. 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, however accidents are possible.
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.
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, there are far fewer options for heating a smaller space. However, there have been an increasing number of suitable small wood stoves for tiny spaces recently. Some target the marine industry for use on sailboats, cabin boats, and canal boats. Other stoves, like our Dwarf 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.
Pros of heating with wood
Widely Available Fuel Source
Firewood is abundant in many places. 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 a 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 get very hot! This is a great surface for heating water or cooking a meal. Some small wood stoves have an oven built in or added as an appliance on top.
The dance of flames and the warm dry heat from a wood fire makes a house feel like a home, particularly if the stove has a glass pane with which to view the flames. Many folks enjoy the process of interacting with and tending their wood stove.
Cons to Wood Heat
Climate, No Humidity
The dry heat from wood stoves saps humidity from your space. While this is beneficial in very wet climates, this lack of humidity can dry out skin and surrounding wood furniture causing damage. If you heat with wood, you can use a hygrometer to 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.
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 the chimney build up. If all of this sounds like a headache, then wood heat might not be for you.
Not sure if propane or wood heat is best for you? Contact us with your questions and we will be happy to help you find the answers.