Posts Tagged Heating

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

tiny house insulationFall is here and, with it, colder weather, so let’s talk about the best insulation options for your tiny house. Having lived in my tiny house for seven winters now, I know a little bit about how to stay warm in a cold climate. Insulation is critical to a comfortable tiny home. I’ll break down R values, costs, options, and the pros and cons for each of the top tiny house insulation options for when you build your own tiny home.

You can review all the options for tiny house insulation below or choose what is most important to you:

highest r value insulation
lowest cost insulation
best value insulation
sustainable insulation
spray foam insulation
ryans recommendation

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Insulation is an important choice and you want to make sure you choose the best insulation for your tiny home. Let’s start with some basics before we dig into the details. Most of the info in this post is from living in my own tiny house for close to a decade now and from helping build hundreds of tiny homes.

NAVIGATION

tiny house insulation basicsInsulation Basicshow to insulate a tiny houseHow To Insulateinsulating different parts of a tiny houseInsulate Wall/Rooftiny house insulation optionsInsulation Optionsclosed cell spray foamClosed Cell Sprayopen cell spray foamOpen Cell SprayFiberglass batts for a tiny houseFiberglassrock wool insulationRock Woolfoam board insulation optionsFoam Boarddenim or cotton insulationDenim Cotton

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

R value is a measurement of how well an insulation resists heat being transferred. One thing that confuses first-time builders is that insulation doesn’t keep the heat of your heater in or the cold of your air conditioning in. All insulation does is slow heat from transferring to where you don’t want it.

In the case of air conditioning, cold isn’t actually a thing — it’s just air that has much less heat. So in the summer, the coolness of your house warms up as heat seeps inside. In the winter, you house will cool off as heat seeps outside.

R value is just a measure of how well something insulates from heat transferring. You’ll see it referred to as R-30 or R-7 the higher the number, the better job it does. But one thing to consider is how well something insulates per inch of thickness. This lets you compare insulations apples to apples. Keep in mind that most framed houses have 3.5 inches of space to insulate, unless you frame with 2×6’s, which have 5.5 inches of space to insulate.

Another important thing to remember is that heat rises, and for this reason, code requires your attics to be well insulated — often two to three times as much as the walls and floors. It’s pretty common to see walls that are rated at R-13, but the ceiling be rated at R-30.

highest r value per inch of insulation

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate – Climate Regions For US With R Values

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate

How much insulation do you need for your tiny house? Well that depends on your climate and how efficient you want your tiny house to be. The best guide is first determining your climate region with the Department of Energy’s climate zone map, which you can see here. Then use the chart below to see what the general guidelines are. From there you’ll need to get specific guidance from your local codes, which can often be found on Municode.

regional r-values of insulation
insulation r-value for wall thickness

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

It seems simple: choose your insulation, put it between your studs, move on. The problem with that approach is that the devil is in the details. If you get them wrong, your home will be hot, cold, moldy and uncomfortable.

Insulation does more than keep you warm. It also helps manage air flow through your wall systems and manages moisture in some very important ways. Nothing about insulating is difficult to do, but it requires you to understand some of the basics which I get into below.

Step 1: Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air sealing will do wonders for your home’s comfortability and how well your insulation will work. A leaky house with excellent insulation will actually perform worse than a house that’s sealed well and has average insulation.

The best thing to do is seal your house the best you can, then perform a blower door test. This creates a lower pressure inside the house and lets you see where air is being pulled in. You can use a smoke pen or a thermal camera to see where air leaks are.

Barring a blower door test, you can just make sure all the critical junctions are sealed:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Outlets
  • Exterior penetrations
  • Intersection of wall to floor
  • Intersection of wall to roof

The two biggest pieces of advice I have are to use Zip Panels tapped properly and use Great Stuff expanding foam to seal around cracks. These two things will let you seal up all the major areas of your home.

Step 2: Consider Thermal Bridges

Consider Thermal Bridges

This is a little advanced, but we’re now getting a lot of data showing this can be a big problem in the efficiency of tiny homes. To put it simply, thermal bridging is where a material that transmits heat crosses into or out of your conditioned space.

A practical tiny house example is wheel well fenders when building on a trailer,. If you build your walls partially over the wheel wells, you won’t be able to insulate around them as much as the rest of your walls. The metal of the trailer will take the heat from inside your tiny home and provide a pathway for it to more easily bleed out into the outside climate.

The studs of our walls act as a thermal bridge too, which is why we see more and more homes being build with an outer layer of insulation or a product called Zip-R which is sheathing with a layer of insulation built in.

Step 3: Check Your Codes

Check Building Codes for your area

Another important step is learning what code requires for your floor, ceiling, and walls. This is largely based on the climate you live in, so it will be different for each city/town. For moderate climates, you typically need an R factor of 15 in your walls and 30 in your ceiling. Colder climates will require higher R values.

Here is a great resource for finding your local insulation requirements.

Step 4: Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Later on in this post, I’ll get into the pro and cons of different insulation options for your tiny houses, but more broadly speaking I wanted to talk about choosing your insulation. The main considerations when choosing are:

  • Can you do it yourself or do you have to hire someone?
  • How much do you have to spend?

I’ll make this really simple: there are options that stand out clearly, but people don’t choose them because of cost or the need to hire someone to install it, which is essentially also cost. It comes down to how much money you can spend on your insulation.

The important thing to know is that insulation pays for itself in the long term. This is a widely understood and agreed upon fact, but people trying to get the most out of their budgets look for ways to cut costs and thus cut corners on insulation.

The difference between average insulation and the best insulation is around $2000, but remember that your power bill will be about 30% less each month for the rest of your life. This means that after about 3.5 years, you should be saving money.
Depending how long you live in your tiny house, it could save you thousands of dollars over the life span. Between my solar panels and insulation, I have not had to pay a power bill for the last eight years, so trust me when I say it’s game changing.

My advice is to buy the best option, even if that means delaying your build a few months for you to work and save extra. This isn’t an area you should skimp on, and if you do, it will cost you big!

Step 5: Understand Vapor Barriers

Understand Vapor Barriers

Vapor barriers are one of the most controversial topics among the building community. There is a lot of “that’s how we’ve always done it” thrown around, but most building hasn’t benefited from a lot of the data coming from actual building science.

The trick is that this can vary based on your location and your material choices. Take some time to read up on the basics of vapor barriers.

The quick summary is that we want to control where water vapor can enter and exit a wall, roof, or floor. Controlling this in the right place is all about where the moisture is coming from and which side warm moist air can come into contact with. When warm moisture comes into contact with a cool surface, it results in water condensing onto that surface. This can lead to mold, which obviously, we don’t want.

In general, you want to put your vapor barrier on the warm side of the insulation, but that’s where it can be complicated. For very cold climates or very hot climates, it’s pretty straight forward. If you live in a place like I do (North Carolina), it can be very hot in the summers and pretty cold in the winters, and we have a lot of humidity.

Step 6: Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

There is a lot of science that goes into today’s insulation, so getting the details are critical to it performing they way it was designed to work. Luckily, many manufacturers have realized the better job they do of teaching people on correct installation, the happier customers are. Happier customers will buy more of their product.

That means that most insulation manufacturers are willing to help you with questions and often have a lot of good resources about installation for free. Follow them closely and ask a lot of questions!

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

By and large, insulating your roof, walls, and floors is a pretty similar process. We frame out each of these in 16 inch on center framing (or 24 inch on center if you’re doing advanced framing). There are also some special notes about how to do each that I wanted to include as well.

Tiny House Roof Insulation

Tiny House Roof Insulation

The insulation in your roof is a big deal because heat rises, so it’s a major location for heat loss. That’s why code typically stipulates a much higher requirement for insulation, usually around R-30. The height of a tiny house is a critical dimension because we can only build so tall.

My recommendation is to frame your roof with 2×6 trusses which will give you 5.5 inches of space to insulate. Fill that with spray foam and you’ll have an R-30+ roof.

Tiny House Wall Insulation

Tiny House Wall Insulation
Your walls are pretty straight forward, with one major exception: slumping of insulation. Because the stud bays are vertical, your insulation is going to want to slide down to the bottom of the wall cavity. This is bad because insulation needs to completely fill the void and keep its loft to be effective.

Manufacturers know this can be a major point of failure for batt insulation, so they’ve devised several ways to prevent this. Typically they add in fibers or chemicals to maintain insulation loft, and include backings that can be affixed to the studs to hold up the insulation. The installation instructions include details to help prevent this, too.

Whatever your insulation option, pay special attention to installation instructions and choose options that are known to keep their loft for a long time to prevent insulation slump down the road.

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Insulating the floor of your tiny house is a critical area, as I find that tiny houses often have cold floors. The trailer of your tiny house on wheels will allow for cold air to flow beneath it. Add to that that there is a ton of thermal bridging happening in a tiny house through the floor, and you can see why this is an area that needs a lot of attention when it comes to insulating.

Because it’s so close to the ground, my suggestion is to frame this with treated lumber and choose an insulation that handles moisture very well. Foam board is a good option here, with any gaps sealed by Great Stuff foam.

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

As I mentioned above, a lot of tiny houses have cold floors. To help with this, you might want to consider installing insulated skirting for your tiny house on wheels. This creates a warm pocket of air underneath your tiny house trailer and reduces wind from flowing underneath, which carries your heat away.

The downside to this is that you’re making an ideal place for bugs, animals and mold to make a home. You’ll want to make sure it’s vented in such a way that air can flow through, but animals can’t get in.

I’d also suggest clearing the ground down to dirt and laying out a plastic sheet directly on top of the dirt to keep moisture from rising from it. Clearing the space of leaves and other organic matter will keep the bugs at bay. And if you have some gravel laid out with plastic sheeting on top, you’ll have even fewer issues with bugs and animals. Keeping it totally clear also allows you to inspect the space easily and easily spot any nests being built.

The skirting you build can be a good-looking façade that matches your walls or a nice contrasting color. I’d build this with a treated exterior grade plywood, seal it with a waterproof coating, and then apply a foam board insulation to the back of it. I’d also apply a flashing to the bottom edge of the plywood and insulation because it will be in contact with the ground.

It’s best to have the point where it touches the ground to be a few inches of gravel to allow for water drainage away from the materials. Be sure to grade your ground around your house to have water flow away from the house, too.

Tiny House Insulation Options

Tiny House Insulation Options

There are several types of insulation out there, and most are pretty good, but a few really stand out. Choosing the best insulation option for you typically comes down to cost.

I’ve seen it time and time again, people will be penny pinching so much that they actually cost themselves money in the long term. There is rarely a circumstance in life that has such a clear return on your investment, but insulation is one of them.

If you cannot afford the more expensive insulation options, delay your build just long enough to afford it, and you’ll thank yourself later.

There are a few exceptions to this.

If you have a severe chemical sensitivity and you want to build chemical free, you’ll have limited options. If you’re deeply committed to a sustainable building approach, there are a few options that do have some real drawbacks but are definitely a compromise.

Finally, if you want to use SIPs, they are mostly all the same, even across brands.

Closed Cell Spray Foam – R Value: 6.0 per inch

Closed Cell Spray Foam

ryans recommended insulation for a tiny house
highest r value insulation for a tiny house
spray foam insulation
Spray foam tops my list and, after years of working in tiny house building science, it’s the clear choice. Closed cell foam has the highest R value and is both a vapor barrier and an air sealer. The fact that it’s all three rolled into one is a big deal.

Initially, I considered it to be one of the better options, but over the years, I’ve come to realize that it is the BEST option. That kind of statement is one I don’t make lightly, as so much in building science is very dependent on a lot of other variables. Spray foam, however, is unique in being a clear winner.

Open Cell Spray Foam – R Value: 3.7 per inch

Open Cell Spray Foam

I’m going to make this pretty simple: Open cell spray foam lacks a lot of the benefits of closed cell foam, but only comes in at a slightly lower cost. For this reason, I suggest that people skip this option. The only reason people opt for open cell spray foam is for the cost savings, but If I couldn’t have closed cell, I’d opt for Rock Wool insulation.

Fiberglass Batt Insulation For Tiny Homes – R Value: 3.1 per inch

Fiberglass Bat Insulation For Tiny Homes

lowest cost insulation for a tiny houseFiberglass batts are one of the most common and economical insulations available. Because of their broad use, economy of scale has driven the price down to be very affordable. I insulated my tiny home for around $500 at the time I built.

They aren’t the greatest thermal insulators at an R value of 3.1 per inch, but the cost versus benefit here is pretty good. Most rolls are sold in an R-13 rating for your standard 2×4 walls. If you need more R value from your insulation, you’ll either need to jump up to 2×6 framing, use an outer layer of insulation (more on that later), or switch to a higher R value insulation.

Most of the rolls will come designed for the depth of your wall cavity: 3.5 inches for your 2×4 walls and 5.5 inches for your 2×6 walls. You can also find widths to be pre-sized for 16 inch on center framing or for your advanced framing which is 24 inch on center.

This makes it pretty easy to install because it trims down on having to cut things. Just unroll, cut the height of the framed bay, then staple into place.

Rock Wool / Roxul Insulation – R Value: 3.3 per inch

Rock Wool Roxul Insulation

ryans best insulation
best value insulation for a tiny house

Rock Wool, aka mineral wool or the brand name Roxul, is my second favorite option for many reasons. First off, it’s water resistant which is a big plus in my book. In the event that water does enter your insulation cavity, rock wool won’t break down and generally handles moisture pretty well.

Unlike other insulations that can slump over time or deflate if they get wet, rock wool is pretty rigid. While still being pretty easy to work with, you don’t have to worry about it slumping in your wall cavity in a decade or two. This isn’t always the case with other insulations and can lead to cold spots in your walls.

Another huge plus is the acoustical benefit, Roxul does a very good job at dampening sounds, which makes for a more comfortable living space. I like the fact that I can use a single product to insulate my exterior walls for thermal insulation and my interior walls for noise insulation. I put these batts in bedroom walls for a quieter night’s sleep and bathrooms for extra privacy.

Finally, rock wool is also a fire barrier. It can withstand a direct flame and not catch on fire. This is good peace of mind on top of an already well-performing insulation option for your tiny house.

There are of course some downsides, the big one being cost. Rock wool is about 35% more expensive than your standard fiberglass batts. Rock wool has a slightly higher R value, thought, so that does help. While mineral wool insulations come at a small premium, I feel the benefits outweigh the cost.

Since we are talking tiny here, you’re going to spend less than $200 extra dollars for this upgrade. It’s reasons like this why building tiny is great, as upgrades to nicer materials come at tiny cost increases.

Rigid Foam Board Insulations

Rigid Foam Board Insulations

Rigid foam board comes in a couple of varieties and the R values depend on which type you choose. In general, I use these types of insulation in the sub-floors of my tiny houses because they have a higher R value and are very water resistant.

With the floor system being closest to the ground, it has a higher chance of moisture contact, so rigid foam board is a good choice. In a perfect world, I would use closed cell spray foam in the sub floor of a tiny house, but you have to insulate the sub floor long before you insulate the rest of the house. You often won’t be able to get a spray foam contractor to come out and do such a small area. Sometimes they’ll even turn down the main body spray because it’s too small of a job.

To do this, first I built my sub floor framing and then sealed the seams with Great Stuff foam in a can. You can see how I did it in this video here:

From there I will lay in my foam board, which you can see here:

There are a few types of foam board that you will want to consider.

Extruded Polystyrene Foam Insulation (XPS) – R Value: 5 per inch

Extruded Polystyrene Foam Insulation

This comes in two varieties: blue board and pink board, which really is identical, just from different manufacturers. These have a good R value for the cost and thickness.

The one downside they have over the other major types is they will be slower to absorb water, but also slower to release the water back out. Generally, it is accepted that the other option I talk about next will hold up better long-term.

Expanded Polystyrene Foam Insulation (EPS) – R Value: 3.8 per inch

Expanded Polystyrene Foam Insulation

Expanded Polystyrene is essentially fancy coffee cup foam, which expands to fit a mold at the factory, creating a sheet of the foam. While EPS foam is similar to XPS foam (the one above), there are some performance differences.

Expanded foam is a good option for wet environments and is often used under slabs to insulate places where water contact is very likely. I’ve heard anecdotally that bugs like this stuff less than your XPS foams, but I’ve heard from others that they can still burrow through EPS, too.

This is commonly used as the foam board of choice for insulating tiny houses because it’s pretty easy to use, lower cost for the R value and handles water very well.

Polyisocyanurate Foam Boards (Poly ISO) – R Value: 6.7 per inch

Polyisocyanurate Foam Boards

Poly ISO foam isn’t used too often in residential construction, but you’ll invariably run across it on the shelves at your local big box store, so I thought I’d mention it. The nice thing about this foam is its higher R value and that it’s pretty tough stuff. It’s great when you want to affix it to commercial roofs and exterior cladding systems, and can take fasteners pretty well.

The Achilles heel of this is that when this foam gets very cold, it’s R value actually drops by 30%, a curious dynamic that not everyone in the building trade know about. At that point, studies have shown it to not be much better than EPS foam. In general, I’d skip this.

Denim Insulation / Cotton Insulation – R Value: 3.5 per inch

Denim Insulation Cotton Insulation

sustainable insulation for a tiny houseMade of recycled cloth, denim insulation is a reasonably sustainable option that has come to the mass market. I frequently see it as an option at my local big box hardware store. While cotton from recycled sources is great, cotton is a pretty intensive crop that isn’t always farmed in a sustainable manner.

The cotton is easy to work with because it doesn’t put off any toxic gasses or itchy fibers. However, it can be difficult to work with, as moisture absorption can be a real problem leading to mold. I’ve also seen a lot of problems with it slumping inside the wall.

Some people have also reported that it will not always be a uniform size, making it hard to fill stud bays with. In principal it’s a nice idea, but for me the moisture absorption is a big red flag.

Natural Wool Batt Insulation – R Value: 3.8 per inch

Natural Wool Batt Insulation

sustainable insulation for a tiny houseNatural wool batts are an interesting concept and the industry that produces them have come a long way. When I first starting building tiny houses, you could get wool, but it was a loose fill product. Today they come in batts which is much more practical and easier to install.

I think this approach is the most practical for a truly sustainable option. Sheep are sheared and the wool processed. The wool is cleaned, combed and washed several times, then created into the batts you’ll install in your walls.

Wool has been a practical fiber for a long time. People still reach for wool blankets, clothing and other wool items because it performs so well. It holds up to moisture quite well and has decent loft and good structure that holds up over time.

That said, unless someone is very concerned with sustainability or has a severe chemical sensitivity, I’d still favor closed cell foam. While far from sustainable, the higher R value, air sealing and total moisture resistance all add up to costing fewer resources in the long run from power plants or heating fuel.

Final Thoughts

thoughts about insulation

Insulating your tiny house on wheels is an important step in making your home efficient and to control costs going forward. A dollar spent on insulation will pay for itself many times over in savings on your power bill for years to come. There are a lot of options and many things to think about, but hopefully I’ve been able to help you navigate the question of what insulation you should use for your tiny home.

Why Closed Cell Spray Foam Is The Best Tiny House Insulation Option

Why Closed Cell Spray Foam Is The Best Tiny House Insulation Option

The thing that really won me over was the fact that closed cell spray foam is a vapor barrier in and of itself. This means that you have a vapor barrier on both sides of the envelope and within the insulation itself. That’s a really big deal.
Because tiny houses can move, you ideally want to be setup so your vapor barrier location accommodates all types of climates. If you build and layer your tiny house for a cold climate, then move to a hot climate, your vapor barrier will actually hurt you, not help you. Mold inside your home and wall cavities is highly probable at that point.
For people like me who live in a climate that has large temperature swings (hot humid summers and cold wet winters), there isn’t a great answer to where you put your vapor barrier.

Closed cell spray foam solves all that.

I can’t overstate how much of an advantage being an inherent vapor barrier is. Add to that that closed cell foam is a decent air sealer and has the highest R value insulation per inch — it’s truly a winning combination.

The Downsides Of Spray Foam

The Downsides Of Spray Foam

Closed cell isn’t without some drawbacks, and to not discuss them would be disingenuous. The biggest of course is cost. Spray foam will run you an additional $2,000 above the other options out there. But I’ve already covered why I think this is a smart place to spend your money.

The next biggest downside is that finding a roof leak could be tricky with closed cell spray foam. But I also think the spray foam, because it adheres to the surface it’s applied on, is just as likely to hold the water where the leak is and prevent it from spreading. Add to this that your roof will be brand new and most likely standing seam, and know that this is a small risk to take.

The other downside is that if you have an installer that doesn’t know what they are doing, they can make a real mess of things. The foam might not set right, it may cure and pull away from the studs, etc. If done improperly, it can be very difficult to clean up. For this, I’d make sure you visit some previous job sites of the installer, talk with customers, and get a sense for how many jobs the installer does in a given year. You want someone who has a good track record and does hundreds of jobs per year.

Spray Foam Off Gassing Of VOCs

Spray Foam Off Gassing Of VOCs

The final downside that I hear about is toxic off gassing after installation. The off gassing actually occurs while it’s being installed, but the EPA says after about 24 hours of curing, the foam becomes inert.

If you’re concerned about this, I’d stay out of your tiny house after the foam has been sprayed for at least 24 hours to allow it to cure. I’d then give it several days to continue to off gas any residual VOCs. Though there is a lot of anecdotal “evidence” thrown around, I prefer to read studies from reputable sources which mostly have not found any evidence of off gassing, but they readily agree that that’s also not the same as no off gassing.

This is how I choose to approach it. Since you spray your tiny house after you’ve already dried in your tiny house, meaning it’s a fully built shell of the house, you can let it sit empty to off gas before you continue building. If you’re really concerned, give it a few weeks while you plan the rest of your build or take a break.

Off gassing typically has a steep curve downward, meaning each hour that passes, you’re exponentially reducing the VOCs. Setting up a heater after the foam has cured to raise the temperature to something akin to an attic in the summer will also accelerate reactions. Ventilating well, using heat to facilitate any off gassing (if there is even any to be had), and time will all help this.

Your Turn!

  • What Insulation option are you thinking about choosing?

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long

Heating a Tiny House: How To Heat Your Tiny House And Stay Cozy All Winter Long

heating a tiny house

NAVIGATION


Heating a tiny house in the winter has it’s challenges. Now that we’ve moved to Vermont from the sunny South we’re doing research into heating appliances. We have been talking to folks in the area about what they use and we’re pondering between a few options.

Choosing Which Tiny House Heater Option Is Right For You:

There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing a heater for your tiny house and it boils down to a few key things. First off will you be on the grid or off the grid. Off grid winter heating will narrow your options to a few, while if you are on the grid, you have many other options.

Once you’ve determined your grid status, you’ll need to consider the practicalities of your lifestyle. What do you want your life to be like day to day and what is and isn’t going to work for you. Many people idealize a wood stove, but they don’t think about waking up in the morning to a cold house before they can stoke a fire up again. For me I just wanted the simplicity of pressing a button, so I opted for a heat pump in my tiny house.

Sizing your heating system is critical to keeping your house nice and warm without getting too hot. I’ve been in my fair share of tiny houses where a heater either couldn’t keep up with how cold it was outside and I’ve also been in an equal number of tiny houses that were so hot we had to open windows in the dead of winter to prevent us from sweating. For me, I needed a tiny house heater that made about 3,000 BTUs for where I live in N.C. Use a BTU calculator to figure out what is right for you tiny house.

comparison of heating fuel prices

Finally price, money is important. Some setups cost more on the front end and less over time, while some are cheaper to start with and require on going costs or the costs are higher over the long term. I’ll dig into each of these as we go through all the options.

Electric Heater Options For A Tiny House:

heating a tiny house with electric

Electric Heater Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to find at any store
  • No installation, just plug in
  • Can find the right BTU size for you

Electric Heater Cons

  • Takes up floor space
  • They’re not particularly good looking
  • Expensive to run, draws a lot of power
  • Not practical for off the grid

Electric
Cost

  • $40-$100

Probably the easiest, cheapest option right now and fairly efficient in terms of heating a space our size. We could get through the rest of the Vermont winter comfortably with our current electric heater but it’s certainly not attractive and it takes up floor space. This option also requires you to be on the grid, most of these heaters start at 1,500 watts for a around 5,000 BTUs and go up from there. With electrical loads like that, you’d have to have a very expensive solar array to power that in the winter.

The great thing about electric heaters is that they’re super cheap, we picked our us for around $45 and you can find that at any major big box retailer. The do work well to heat a space and you have two main options: forced air and radiant heaters.

Forced Air is for when you want to heat up a space fast, the fan in them often is pretty loud, but you can heat the space quickly which is nice when we come home from work and want to turn up the heat. While they are noisy, this is a good option for us because we are out and about often, so we turn down the power while we are gone.

Radiant Heat is for when you can take the time to let a space to heat up. These are often oil filled radiators style heaters, which are near silent in their operation and gently heat the air around them. If you’re on the grid and going to be spending a lot of time in the house this is a good option because you can heat the house up and then let it coast.

Since this would only be a temporary situation right now, seeing as we will be hooking up our solar panels this summer and investing in a small wind generator later in the year. We’re also contemplating micro-hydro electric but that’s for another post!

Heating A Tiny House With A Wood Stove Or Pellet Stove:

heating a tiny house with a wood stove

Wood or Pellet Stove Pros

  • Cozy fire is nice
  • Less impact on environment
  • Can be used to cook, heat and more
  • Fuel generally cheap

Wood or Pellet Stove Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Needs large clearances
  • Hard to find one small enough
  • Takes work and can be messy

Wood or Pellet Stove Cost

  • $800-$2,000

We met a tiny house dweller on a farm nearby who uses a wood fired stove. She loves it because she enjoys the processing of the wood and the look of the wood stove in her tiny house. She’s also able to heat water on top for tea making or dish washing. When electricity has gone out during the winter she has had no problems keeping warm and heating food.

There is a homey feeling to a wood stove that you just can’t quite achieve with gas fueled units. However, a wood stove is messier, with ash falling through and wood chips and bark trailing in from the wood.

Tiny House Wood Stove Options

It’s not easy to find a small wood burning fireplace, most are just too big for a small space. Jotul is a popular wood and gas stove company here in Vermont and folks tell us they are the best. We’re not sure they make one small enough for our space so we’re going to check out their showroom this week. We’ve also been looking at Dickinson Marine wood stoves as well as Woodstock soapstone stoves made regionally over in New Hampshire. Kimberly Stoves are also an option, but are expensive.

Finally Hobbit Wood Stoves are a popular options because it’s one of the few best heating options for small homes due to it’s size. It’s designed for small spaces so it’s a serious contender for wood stoves for your tiny house.

ways to make the most out of a wood stove

There are a few considerations you need to make when it comes to having a wood stove in your tiny house. First is getting a stove small enough for you tiny house, if you don’t size it right, it will generate too many BTUs and leave you roasting inside your tiny house. This happens to most people when they try to heat their small house with wood because it’s hard to find a wood stove that’s small enough.

Next is the space it takes up. Wood stoves require a lot of space just in their size, but also in clearances. You often need to give a good amount of space around the wood stove to make sure it’s safe and doesn’t catch nearby surfaces on fire.

Finally consider your lifestyle and how a wood stove will impact that. Wood stoves require frequent tending, wood needs to be chopped, stacked, then hauled in and finally the stove needs to be cleaned. It’s a lot of hard work and it can be a messy affair when soot gets out. Pellet wood stoves I’ve found to be a happy medium between ease of use, easy temperature maintenance and ease. You can’t really make your own pellets, but there is a strong case to be made for them.

Kerosene Heaters For Indoor Use:

heating a tiny house with kerosene

Kerosene Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Kerosene Heater Cons

  • Medium to high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Kerosene
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Several people have told us that kerosene is worth the set-up and cost of fuel. It burns really hot and it is 90% efficient according to a local gas supplier. In terms of BTU output kerosene beats out propane, but it’s not as clean burning and is more polluting to the environment although they make filters now that reduce emissions.

Kerosene is the cheaper option when compared to propane, but we have found it’s not as easy to find. I’m also most concerned about carbon monoxide so a vented heater would be essential in such a small space. The Toyotomi Laser kerosene heaters are an option, but I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. Another option is a free standing kerosene heater like a Dyna-Glo heater, which is nice because you can remove it when not using it. The main downside is that it isn’t a direct vent heater, so you need to be careful about air quality and safety. Overall, kerosene seems like a good option for back-up to electric heating,m but after more online research we are considering this option less and less.

Tiny House Propane Heater Options:

heating a tiny house with propane

Propane Heater Pros

  • Vented or un-vented
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Burns very clean

Propane Heater Cons

  • Medium-to-high initial cost
  • Uses fossil fuels
  • Hard to find fuel sometimes

Propane
Cost

  • $80-$1,500

Clean burning, efficient, relatively inexpensive and easy to find we’ve seriously considered the propane option. Our stove currently helps heat our house and it’s run off propane so hooking up a heating element wouldn’t be too difficult.

The Dickinson heater is an attractive and efficient option and was a contender to the wood stove option in our deliberations, but after talking with many other tiny housers, we heard a lot of bad things. Mainly that they look nice, but don’t put out enough heat. Even though the Dickinson heater says it puts out 4,000-5,500 BTUs, many people have called that into question. It also lacks a thermostat which was a deal breaker for us.

The other really good option if you’re considering this is a Mr. Heater propane heater. This was great in the south because we didn’t always need a big heater, so we could store it away when we needed to, but on those colder than normal nights we could break it out and heat our tiny house up fast. While it uses 1lb propane canisters, we felt it was very wasteful, so we got the 20lb propane tank connector hose (the size your grill runs off of).

What I like about propane is that it’s pretty cheap, I run my tiny house off of it and we spend about $100 per year heating the house, using it to cook and for my hot water heater for my tiny house. The other thing is you can get the tanks refilled almost anywhere and I prefer to use the 20lb tanks because even when they are full, I can carry them pretty easily.

Tiny House Heat Pumps:

heating a tiny house with heat pump

Heat Pump Pros

  • Can heat and cool
  • Thermostat Controlled
  • Takes up no floor space
  • Very efficient

Heat Pump Cons

  • High initial cost
  • Requires some expert help to setup
  • Doesn’t work in very cold climates

Heat Pump Cost

  • $800-$3,500

This is a good option for people who live on grid, because heat pumps are getting more and more efficient. In really cold locations this should generally be avoided because the system functions by capturing any available heat from the air and concentrating it to heat the home. Once you get to around 30 degrees, most units have electric heating coils to boost the system, but that puts you back in the boat of standard electric heating.

The upside to heat pumps is that the provide heating and cooling for your tiny house, which is what I ultimately decided for my system. While it is difficult, you can run a mini split off solar with a large enough system and an efficient enough system.

The main brands you want to look for is Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, both make good units that are a high SEER rating which is a measure of how efficient they are. You’ll want to find a unity that is at least a SEER 20 for on grid use, if you’re off grid you want to be as high of a SEER rating as possible. At the time of writing this, Carrier just launched a new mini split that is a SEER 42 which is astounding.

What’s great about mini splits is you can mount the air handler on the wall so it doesn’t take up any floor space. It is also programmable, so the thermostat can turn on and off when you want and some even allow you to control via your phone so you can turn it on remotely to come home to a toasty house.

Best Heating Options For A Tiny House:

best heating options for a tiny house

Now that we’ve broken down some of the major types of heaters for a tiny house, I want to share what I think are the best options when it comes to heating a tiny home.

1. Carrier Infinity Heat Pump – $2,500

Heat pump by carrierIt’s hard to beat these heat pump mini splits because that can heat and cool all in one unit. Their high efficiency inverter heat pump with a SEER of 42 is insane, I have yet to setup one, but I’m guessing it can heat at around 500 watts which is unheard of.

2. Heat Storm Deluxe Indoor Infrared Wall Heater – $80

convection electric heaterThis is the best alternative I’ve found to the popular Envi Flat Panel Heater which is no longer made. What’s great about this heater is it plugs right into an outlet, its very low profile so it doesn’t take up much space because it mounts right on the wall. The kicker is that since it’s just a plug in heater, you can remove it easily and store during the warmer months. At $80 and a 10 minute install it’s hard to beat it if you’re on the grid.

3. The Hobbit Small Wood Stove – $1,100

hobbit small wood stove for a tiny houseFor those who want to go off grid with your heating you’ll need a very small wood stove and the Hobbit Wood Stove is one of the smallest ones out there. While you could go with the Kimberly Stove, its very expensive. At 18 inches x 12 inches you can’t get much smaller and still feed it wood, so this is a great option for those who want to heat and cook with wood.

4. Mr. Heater – MH9BX Propane Heater – $69

Mr. Heater propane portable heaterThis is a great heater and super practical. It runs off of propane which you get almost anywhere, it’s easily portable and it puts off a lot of heat when you need it. I think everyone should have a Mr. Heater regardless of what heating option you go with as a back up heating source. It can be fuels by 1lb tanks or you can get the hose for grill size tanks.

5. Oil Filled Radiator Heater – $72

oil fille radiator heaterThis is another good option and make the cut for my list because they’re good at heating spaces, you can wheel it in when you need heat, but still store it when it’s warmer weather. The oil filled radiator means you have a nice even heat that doesn’t make much noise. The down side to these is that use up a lot of energy, so if you’re off grid it’s not an option and if you are on grid, power bills can be high.

Considerations When Heating Your Tiny House:

considerations when heating your tiny house

The last few points here to consider are safety, indoor air quality, and insulation. Obviously safety is paramount and many of these flame based heaters can lead to fires if you’re not careful. If you have smaller children, a heater on the floor presents a hazard to kids touching it. Indoor air quality is something to consider too. When in such a small space, as you burn fuels you’re using up your oxygen and putting out gasses like carbon monoxide which is serious business. Venting is always preferable, but it’s a trade off because venting takes up a lot of space and need to be done correctly.

Finally if you’re build your own tiny house, it’s important to make sure your house is well sealed and spending more money on insulation upfront will result in a lot less money being spent later on. Don’t skimp on your insulation and choose the highest quality windows that you can afford.

Ultimately our main criteria for heating units include efficiency, safety, cost and environmental impact. We are deliberate in every choice we make with the house and want to make the best choice for our space, the environment and our wallets. It’s not an easy choice but a very necessary one now that we live in a state with actual winter. It’s definitely going to be easier to heat the tiny house than it was to cool it in the hot, humid Southern summers!

which fuell option is best for heating a tiny home

Your Turn!

  • What do you recommend for heating a tiny space?
  • What options have you considered?

 

10 Ways To Make The Most Of A Wood Stove On Your Homestead

If you’ve ever considered starting up a homestead of your own or just want to live off grid, many people consider a woods stove for their home. They not only provide a link to a simpler time, they also save you money on your fuel bills every month.

use wood stove

 

A wood stove can come in many forms and can burn many kinds of fuel, but they all provide a wide range of benefits. Some are common sense, like cooking our food and heating your homestead. Some are not so obvious like dehydrating foodstuffs for long term storage or, believe it or not, generating electricity. But more on that later on.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can maximize the value from your wood burning stove.

 

1: It cooks your food

Well, this one is a no-brainer, but anything you can cook on your gas or electric fired stove or oven you can cook on a wood burning stove. Place your pots or pans on the top of the stove, and cook just like you normally would.

A pot belly or Franklin style stove only have enough space for two or maybe three items. A wider kitchen style stove, like the one your grandmother may have used in her younger days, will be as wide as a conventional stove and will have room for three or four cooking vessels.

Some models come with just a flat surface for cooking, while those designed for use in the kitchen will have a flat cooking surface and an oven built in as well. If you don’t want the bigger kitchen style stove you can still bake using a cast iron or aluminum dutch oven on the stove top.

2: It dries your clothes

Your wood stove is a giant heat generator and you can string a clothes line around three sides, keeping it a few feet away to avoid burning your clothes, and let the heat from the stove provide the same results of an electric clothes dryer without the power bill. Boots can be dried the same way on the floor, just remember to keep them a foot or so away from the stove.

3: It dehydrates your food

Build drying trays with narrow slats to let the warm air get to the food you want to dehydrate. They should be as wide as your stove top to take advantage of all the heat rising up.

home made dehydrator over wood stove

Many homesteaders dehydrate their food for long term storage. You don’t need to buy a dehydrator at the store when you can make your own racks and hang them over your wood stove.

Mount them on the wall or around the stove pipe a few feet above the top of the stove. Make sure to keep them well above any cooking vessels you might be using. The heat rising off of the stove will provide the gentle, slow heat needed to dry out whatever you want to dehydrate.

4: It heats your house

Another no brainer is that it will heat your house. At a minimum it will heat the room that it is located in, but there are ways to transfer that heat into other areas of your home. If you have a chimney attached to it, the hot air will running through the chimney will provide some heat to the other rooms it runs through.

heat smaller room wood stove

Wood stoves come in all sizes so if you have a room that isn’t heated from your main wood stove, you can put a smaller one in the room that needs it.

You can also surround the stove with a wall of bricks, stone, or other masonry materials to serve as a heat sink that will serve as a radiator to warm the room after the stove has burned out.

If you have a fireplace, and the duct work in place to circulate the warm air into other rooms a wood stove in the form of a fireplace insert is another option for you to consider.

5: It keeps you in shape

 

If you haven’t heard that wood is the only fuel that warms you twice, you will understand it if you choose to use an axe to cut and process your wood into stove sized pieces. You get warm the first time just processing the wood, the wood stove is where you get warm the second time.

6: It humidifies your air

humidify moisture in air pot of water

Without central air conditioning the air in any home can get very dry. That is one reason many people prefer gas heat over electric heat, because a byproduct of burning the natural gas is water vapor which helps to humidify the air.

You can achieve the same thing by placing a pot of water on top of your wood stove and keeping a fire going in it. Even a small fire will be enough to help the water in the pot turn to vapor and release it into the air.

7: It dehumidifies your air

Conversely, on humid days, the dry heat from your wood stove can help to turn a muggy day into a comfortable day. Leaving the fire door on the front of the wood stove open for a while can speed up the process.

8: It heats your bed on cold winter nights

Well, it can heat your bed warmers so they can do you some good on those cold winter nights. You can buy bed warmers or make them yourself. In colonial days they were enclosed pots with long handles that you filled with hot coals from the fire or stones that were warmed in the fire. They were placed in the bed to warm it up before retiring for the night, moving it around like an iron to warm all parts of the bed.

coals pre heat your bed

You can achieve the same effect by putting fire bricks on top of your wood stove so that they can get nice and hot and store lots of heat. Bricks that are wide and just a couple of inches thick will work the best to store energy and still have a good amount of surface area to transfer it to the bed.

Once heated, wrap them in a blanket and place them in the bed before going to sleep, or put them at the bottom of your bed to keep your feet warm, just like you would with a hot water bottle. Warm feet will go a long way to keeping the rest of your body warm too.

9: It gives you ashes and char wood

wood ash char wood icy walkways

Wood ash and char wood have many uses. In winter they provide a cheap and biodegradable way to melt snow and ice. They also provide more traction on slippery walkways.

Ash, the gray powdery material left in the bottom of your wood stove when everything has burned is actually quite useful around the homestead. It is very alkaline, so you can use it in a slurry of water and ash to help tan animal hides. You can also put a bit in the hole where you are putting plants that like an alkaline soil like tomatoes, garlic, onions, and asparagus.

You can mix it with fat and water to make soap. It can also be used as a mild abrasive for cleaning your hands or pots and pans.

Its alkaline nature also makes a natural ice melting product, so you can sprinkle it along icy roads or walkways. Add in the smaller chunks of charred wood from the bottom of the stove and you can also add some traction to those slippery surfaces.

10: It generates electricity for you

Biolite camp stove

A Biolite camp stove that cooks your food and also converts the heat from the fire into electricity with the orange box on the side of the stove.

Thermo electric generators, or TEG devices for short, are deceptively simple devices that convert heat into electricity that you can store in a battery. They are based on a phenomenon called the Seebeck Effect where the difference in heat between two pieces of metal, like steel and aluminum, can be used to generate an electrical current.

If you want to channel your inner engineer and learn more about the technology you can check out the TEGPOWER website and then go to the TEGMART site to buy the components you need to build your own custom system. A builder and homesteader in British Columbia tried his hand at it to build a thermo electric generator that is attached to the wood stove.

A few companies, the most well-known being BioLite, make small wood burning stoves that have TEGs built into them. They all work by using the heat in the metal container or from the boiling liquid to generate electrical energy.

Put it where it will do the most good

The placement of your wood stove has much to do with how well it meets your needs and serves its purpose. The first consideration is what you will use it for. If cooking is one of its intended uses then you will want to place it in or near your kitchen.

If the stoves purpose is mainly to provide warmth in the house, then placing it in the room where you spend the majority of your time will serve you well. If you have a central room with other rooms off of it then the stove can radiate its heat into those rooms as well. Just remember that heat radiates in straight lines so if there are corners to go around you might want to use additional stoves to heat those rooms.

wood fire place in house

Placement in a central room, especially one on the interior of the home where it is better insulated, will allow your wood stove to serve multiple purposes in one location; heating, cooking, and drying clothes. This consideration is especially important in the event of an emergency where it is the only source of heat in the house, such as during a natural disaster where your normal source of energy is not available.

The owners of a repurposed school bus decided to place their wood stove between where the kitchen area ended and the living space began. In this way one stove provided a cook top for kitchen and heating for the living area.

Buy the Right Kind of Wood Stove

Another key decision you need to make is what kind of stove you want, and what material should it be made of.
Do you plan to cook with it? Will you be doing any baking? Is its only purpose to keep the house warm? Will you be heating water with it? How large are the rooms you need to heat? These questions all feed into what kind of wood stove to get.

pot belly wood stoveIf baking is even a slight possibility, then you should definitely give thought to buying a stove with a flat top for cooking and an oven for baking. There are ovens that you can put on top of a flat top stove, but they are less efficient than one that is built in.

Pot belly stoves, or Franklin stoves, are good for heating rooms and for heating or cooking a few things at a time due to their smaller flat top surface. If you want a general purpose stove, then this style is a good choice. It requires less fuel than the larger stoves designed for use in the kitchen. They also normally cost less than the larger kitchen stove designs.

The materials the stove is made from is also an important consideration. Steel stoves may be more durable but they do not store heat well. So, when the fire dies out they will lose their heat quickly. Stoves with a cast iron construction hold heat longer, they will even provide enough heat to continue cooking once the fire has gone out. They also continue to radiate heat into the room longer.

Another option, especially if you do not want to build a wall of masonry or similar materials around the stove to serve as a thermal battery, is to look into a soapstone lined stove or one with an insert that will hold the heat.

…and finally, think about size

In addition to the variety of materials used to make wood burning stoves, they also come in a variety of sizes. There is enough variety to find the right size for your own unique needs. The table below provides some good guidelines on what size stove to get.

Size Area to heat Firebox size
Small 600-1000 square feet Less than 2 cubic feet
Medium 800-2000 square feet 2-3 cubic feet
Large 1500 – 3000 square feet More than 3 cubic feet

 

Your Turn

  • What kind of wood stove would best meet your needs?
  • In what ways do you make the most of your wood stove?

My First Winter In A Tiny House

After getting back from Croatia I’ve been learning a good bit about living in my tiny house in the winter. This December in Charlotte has been breaking records left and right for how cold it has been. Most mornings when I wake up it’s been in the 20’s which is very cold for this time of year.

The real issue for me has been right now I’m running off a generator and propane heater for my heat. Soon my solar panels will be installed and I can shift to my mini split. The generator has been working well, but because of how energy intensive the heater is and how cold it is, a full tank will only last about 3-4 hours. The propane heater works great too, a 1 lb propane tank will last about three hours.

First Winter in a Tiny Home: How to prepare

My strategy has been mainly to heat the house up for about an hour while I get ready for bed and then shut things off. With the propane heater, its a “catalytic” heater that while is technically a flame, it is more efficient and doesn’t use up as much oxygen as a open flame would. I don’t want to leave it running when I sleep because of it being a flame and also the danger of low oxygen. The heater has a low oxygen detector that will shut it off if it comes to that, but I don’t want to chance it regardless. Once I fall asleep, I’m fine until I wake up anyway.

One thing that I’ve learned is that the floor is always cold. Being on a trailer there is obviously an air gap below the trailer. I know a lot of people have used skirts for their house, but I’m not a fan of the look and its not windy in my location, so I’m not sure how effective it would be. It may come to be installing a skirt of a sort, but I think I’d like to start with trying an area rug. I think this might be an easy way because I noticed that when I stepped on a piece of cardboard that I happened to have on the floor, it seemed to do a pretty good job of feeling warm on my bare feet.

So far it’s been a pretty cold winter in my tiny house. That’s about to change.

First Winter in a Tiny Home: Preparations

Very soon a solar panel system is going in that will change my heating situation drastically. I will have a huge battery bank that will let me run my mini split and keep my space heated and on a timer, without the danger of an open flame or running the generator. The timer will be really helpful because I can drop the temperature when I’m asleep nestled under my covers, but then ramp back up right before I wake up and have to get out of bed. I’ll also be able to set it to maintain a minimum temperature, which will be nice because I can keep it a reasonable temperature, but not draw a ton of power.

The other thing I’ve noticed is since its been so cold outside, I’ve been inside my house more and wanting to go outside. Nothing really bad, but I’ve been so used to be going for long walks and just enjoying the weather since its so much warmer in Croatia, right now it’s a little too cold to just spend time outside. I have been spending some time at the gym, at cafes and I also went out and bought an outdoor fire place to have a fire pit at my tiny house. All of these have been great for handling this need to get up and do something. I think this will subside when I get power set up because I can then get Internet hooked up and set up my desk. That will help a lot.