What’s the best heat source for my tiny space?
While this website is about wood heat I feel propane should be mentioned too. When considering a heat source for our Airstream Travel Trailer propane was a natural solution. For the majority of people and small spaces propane probably makes the most sense:
- You don’t have to light and tend a wood fire.
- You don’t have to chop, stack and move wood.
- You don’t have to clean up a sooty-ashy-mess.
- You don’t have the faint, “fireplace” smell in your living space.
For us the drawbacks of wood stoves don’t really apply…I love to light and tend fires, enjoy chopping wood, don’t mind the occasional clean up and like the smell. If any of these really turn you off a simple propane fireplace or catalytic heater is probably the best option for your tiny space. If you are still unclear as the best option for your space read below for a more detailed presentation of the pros and cons of both propane and wood heat.
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
Another great propane solution, built specifically for boats, is a tiny propane fireplace. (http://www.dickinsonmarine.com/propane.php) This little fireplace is easily installed in the smallest of spaces and with the venting does not have as many issues with humidity. Here are some pros and cons of propane as a heat source:
PROS of PROPANE HEAT
EFFICIENT. With propane you only burn fuel to maintain inside air temperature. With propane heaters once the temperature is reached the burner is shut off unlike wood stoves. This saves fuel and maintains a steady, constant temperature.
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.
CONS of PROPANE HEAT
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.
PROPANE DEPENDANCE. 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 = potential 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 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
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:
PROS of WOOD HEAT
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 live trees for fuel-wood! We need to utilize the fuel that is already dead!)
AFFORDABLE FUEL SOURCE. As stated above fuel-wood can be sourced from 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. Dead tree limbs, wood scraps and tree prunings are all free sources of wood fuel.
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 stoves have an oven built in…hot chocolate chip cooking anyone?
AMBIANCE. 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 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.
WEIGHT & SPACE. 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.
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!
TECHNIQUES: Fire starting, cleaning, inspection, chopping & storing firewood.