How to Install a Wood Stove in a Tiny Space
If you're looking for a DIY Stove Installation Guide, start by checking out our free beginner's guide for installing wood stoves in small spaces. DIY wood stove installation is pretty basic if you follow manufacturer's recommendations for clearances, use the properly rated flue pipe, and your flue exits the structure with the proper clearances from combustibles.
HOW NATURAL DRAFT STOVES WORK
One of the most important steps of a successful wood stove installation is a good flue design. Natural draft wood stoves don’t use fans or blowers to move air through the stove—the flue itself is the “engine” of your wood stove. The vertical movement of hot gases inside your flue system create a “draft,” which actively pulls combustion gases out of your stove, and pulls fresh air in through the air intakes. If you don’t have a good flue design, your draft will be weak, and your stove will burn inefficiently. You may see thick black smoke belching from your chimney or spilling into your living space, or you may find creosote clogging up your flue. Or if your flue design is especially bad, your stove may refuse to burn at all.
Wood stoves in small spaces can be especially sensitive to poor flue design. In addition to smaller stoves having less heat output to drive the draft, stoves in small spaces will usually have a relatively short flue system. Traditional construction usually requires flue systems to be no shorter than 15 feet from the fire to the chimney opening. That distance in a tiny house may be around 10-12 feet total, while a flue system installed in a van may be as short as 5 feet with a detachable chimney deployed. Small stoves with shorter flue systems can draft well, but they need to be well designed since they’re already at a disadvantage when compared with taller traditional construction.
GOOD FLUE DESIGN
In general, you’ll get the best draft out of a flue that’s taller, straighter, better insulated, and extends a couple feet higher than any other point on the structure. If your structure is relatively airtight, connecting the stove’s air intake to an outside air supply can help ensure there is adequate air supply for the stove.
Using insulated pipe and keeping as much of the flue inside the heated envelope of the structure as possible will keep your flue gases hot and moving. Elbows and horizontal sections slow down flue gases, so they should be used sparingly or avoided if possible.
Residential code typically requires the chimney opening to be 3 feet above the roof line, or 2 feet above anything within 10 feet. That keeps the chimney far enough above the roof to prevent wind from creating backdrafts, and helps keep sparks from igniting combustible materials on the roof. For tiny structures with pitched roofs, that usually means the chimney cap needs to be 2 feet above the roof peak, since the entire structure is usually within 10 feet of the chimney. Planning the flue to penetrate the low side of the roof and including a detachable chimney can help avoid problems with height restrictions for tiny houses, RVs, vans, and other structures that move.
WHERE TO PLACE YOUR STOVE
The living room area is the most popular place to install a wood stove, somewhere you can view the fire while seated. If you’re going to be using the stove for cooking, the kitchen might also be a good candidate. Consider whether the stove should have its back to the wall, or if installing it an an angle makes more sense for your space. You may want to use optional long legs, a wood storage stand, or build a custom cabinet to elevate your stove off the floor for better fire viewing or easier cooking.
When I installed our first wood stove in our Airstream, our son Ryder was a toddler. I built a platform for the stove to sit on so that he couldn’t accidentally fall into it, and used a movable bench as a barricade to allow him to move around freely without the danger of accidentally touching the stove. If you’ll have very young children in your home, it’s a good idea to think through how you might keep them away from the stove so that you don’t have to play goalie whenever they’re toddling around. By 5 or 6, most children have the reasoning skills to know not to touch the stove, and the balance to avoid it without a barricade, but you should always supervise young children around a hot stove.
In a tiny house, it’s best to avoid installing the stove under a loft area, since that complicates the flue installation. For a roof exit to pass through a loft or attic area, you’ll need to use insulated pipe for everything above the first ceiling penetration, and build a chase around the pipe to enforce clearances in the loft area. The alternative is to use a wall exit, which is not ideal due to the sharp turns, horizontal section, and the majority of the flue being located in the cold outdoors. Wall exits can work for 4” and larger flue systems, but they should be used only as a last resort.
BUILDING A SAFE ZONE
Prior to installing your stove, you’ll need to build a safe zone for your stove to sit inside of. This zone consists of hearth of proper size and thickness, proper clearances to combustible materials, and (in some cases) heat shields.
Make sure you have enough room for the stove plus the required clearances. Most people in tiny spaces use some heat shielding, which can reduce clearances by up to ⅔. Be sure to read the stove manufacturer’s directions on clearances and using heat shields, since not all stoves require the same clearances, and not all heat shield designs reduce clearances by the same amount. Most people use a sheet metal or cement board heat shield with 1” air space behind and around the perimeter of the shield. I’ve seen beautiful laser-cut steel heat shields, hammered copper, tile, polished All-Clad aluminum, salvaged tin sheeting, and too many other heat shield materials to name. There are countless options to fit any aesthetic. Ceramic or metal spacers are available for attaching this type of heat shield to a wall, and the free air flow behind the heat shield is very effective at reducing required clearances.
Your stove will need to sit on a fireproof hearth. Depending on how hot the bottom of the stove gets, the hearth may need to provide some insulation, or it may just need to protect the floor from embers. It’s important that the hearth extends far enough in front of the stove to protect the floor from embers that could fall from the door when you open it. If the stove is on a platform, consider where embers would land if they fell out of the door, and ensure that area is covered in a noncombustible material like metal or tile.
Need more help planning your stove installation? Check out our free guide about wood stoves in small spaces, or contact us for help with specific questions. We don't just sell wood stoves—we actually live in tiny spaces and heat with wood ourselves, so we know how to help with your project. Whether you're planning on using one of our stoves or not, we'd love to hear from you.