Many of your are reading this article because you’re interested in wood heat for your your tiny space – whether it’s a small cabin, bus, RV, travel trailer, tiny house, sailboat, yurt tipi or some other small space. We were too! Our little family of four lives, works and travels in our Vintage Airstream. Our ultimate goal is to make the Airstream as off-grid and sustainable as possible and wood heat is a great off-grid solution!
Like us you probably have questions like:
- Is wood better than propane?
- Is wood heat a feasible heat source for small spaces?
- Are wood stoves legal for Tiny Spaces in the USA?
- Is a wood stove safe for Tiny (portable) spaces?
- What Stoves are available on the market and which are the best?
- Is there an affordable Small Stove option for my Tiny Space?
- How do I safely install a small wood stove in my Tiny Space?
We looked at each of these considerations before deciding on a heat source for our Airstream. After months of shopping, researching and asking questions we have ordered a stove and preparing for installation! Update: we have installed and used a stove for supplemental heat.
Read on to see our thoughts on each of these considerations, what we have learned and what stove we recommend.
PROPANE vs SMALL WOOD STOVE
Most RV’s are outfitted with forced-air propane furnaces or catalytic type heaters. When we bought our trailer it had an original Suburban forced-air propane furnace. There seemed to be some components missing and from what I’ve read these old units are sketchy and potentially deadly. So we removed the furnace and began looking at different heat sources.
For most people and 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 these benefits 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.
On the flip side wood stoves cost less to operate and are not dependent on non-renewable resources. Plus with propane you can have issues with humidity and condensation. For some reason if the cost of propane doubles or is not available I can still easily keep my family warm with salvaged wood scraps. The cost of propane can be significant:
PROPANE vs WOOD COST
Catalytic Propane Heater 3200 – 6000 btu $2.49 per gallon
Pipsqueak Stove 8000 – 10000 btu free / low cost wood scraps
How many BTU’s do I need? For our 176sq’ of inefficient interior space we need roughly 12,000btu.
A medium Catalytic Heater can generate roughly 6000btu. To heat our Airstream comfortably we would need two of these heaters ($600) plus they consume roughly 1/4lb of propane per hour, which if left on 24hrs would last 3 days on a 20lb tank. To heat the trailer 12hrs per day would cost about $120+ per month in propane. From strictly a cost perspective a Wood Stove make lots more sense in the long term! Add in the fact that you can scrounge for scrap wood in most locations and a Wood Burning Stove is a no-brainer for us.
Here is a good article on Wood vs Propane Heat with a few more points not mentioned above.
OUR OFF-GRID HEATING PLAN
With our current travel plans we will be in warmer climates during the coldest winter months. That said we will still need a sustainable heat source to keep us comfortable on the shoulder seasons and if we decide to brave the winter. (Like this couple that lives in their Silver Streak Travel Trailer in Alaska!)
The main source of off-grid heat will be a wood burning stove. We can carry a limited supply of wood in our garage (the back of our truck) and most places we travel we will be able to source local dead, down and detached scraps of wood. (I am a firm believer in Leave No Trace!) To keep us from waking every 1-2hrs stoking the fire all-night I have read of people that use synthetic logs that will burn for 4-6hrs. So we plan to try out the presto logs for overnight use and when we don’t have access to dry wood.
The backup heat source for boon-docking is goose down. We all have fluffy down sacks to burrow in if we get chilled. Plus a simple in bed heater is a water bottle filled with hot water then covered in a wool sock makes for toasty toes.
Another interesting backup option we are considering that would work in both off-grid & on-grid situations is an electric mattress pad. There are 12V mattress warmers that are pretty efficient (60w instead of 200w on similar AC models) and could optionally run off a solar powered battery bank. It wouldn’t do much to the inside temperature but it would make sleeping more comfortable!
SMALL WOOD STOVE QUESTIONS
SMALL WOOD STOVE LEGALITY?
Are wood stoves legal in Tiny Spaces? Great question! I’m not sure…this is a question that my wife was more concerned about than me. Building codes and other regulations currently do not apply for RV’s in most locations and it seems the EPA laws and regulations only apply to residential structures – but I’m no lawyer. For example you can install an non-epa certified stove in your shop or garage. Tiny spaces fall into a vast gray area and it’s best to check your local regulations to be safe. Tiny Spaces are becoming more common and more regulations will likely follow. But for right now it’s the wild west! For us in our Airstream we are not too worried about codes, EPA certifications and other regulations. I am more concerned about safely installing and using a wood stove.
ARE WOOD STOVES SAFE IN SMALL SPACES?
There are many safety implications with Wood Stoves. Fire due to improper installation or operation and carbon monoxide poisoning are serious concerns! We are a young family and have two little kids so safety is a TOP priority! With proper installation and detection devices wood stoves in small spaces is no more a concern than using one in a traditional space.
A Wood Stove has to be installed with proper clearances from combustibles. If not it can be a fire hazard! This is a challenge for small spaces because the space and location for stove installation is much less. Before buying and installing a stove check the manufacturer’s recommended clearances. If the stove cannot be installed following these guidelines it’s best to find either a different location or a different heat source. Heat shields (a fireproof material like metal installed with a 1” air gap behind) can greatly decrease these clearances.
The flue (chimney pipe) in a wood stove is crucial. You can’t put a hot pipe through your roof and expect not to have problems. Flue systems are engineered to keep your structure safe from the heat of the stove and from the elements coming in the opening. There may be ways to make or rig a flue that functions but it’s much safer to get one specifically designed for that application. Alongside a properly installed flue regular inspection and cleaning is vital to ensure no creosote buildups and causes a fire.
A carbon monoxide alarm is essential while using a wood stove! Check batteries and test periodically to ensure proper functioning. If you’re regularly moving your space (bus, RV or travel trailer) you will want to do a pre-burn inspection of your stove after you have moved. With all the movement beating down the road you will want to inspect the pipe fitting to ensure a secure and airtight connection. We have two detectors in our Airstream to be redundant.
THE STOVE FOR THE AIRSTREAM
We initially installed the Hobbit small wood stove in our Airstream. We used it for 2 winters and while its a great little stove we choose to move to a smaller, lighter stove. The Hobbit has the capacity to heat up to 500sq’ and for our small 176sq’ it was overkill. With a decent load in the firebox the interior temp of the Airstream would easily soar over 85degrees (with a 20degree outside temp).
Besides heat output the Hobbit is also pretty heavy (110lbs + pipe, fittings, heat shields & chest of drawers) and considering we move a lot we didn’t want to put undo stress on our trailer. All things considered we decided to transition to the Pipsqueak small wood stove.
$595 $500 (free shipping)
Stove: H18″ x W8″ x D7″
Hearth: W12.25″ x D15″
3″ Flue Rear Flue Outlet
BTU: 8-10,000 btu
Thoughts: The Pipsqueak is a charming little cast iron stove that’s a perfect for spaces less than 300sq’. Burning wood or coal the Pipsqueak utilizes solid cast iron construction which handles heat well and will last for years. The stove flue exits out the back allowing the entire top to be used as a cooking surface. The Pip is the little brother to the popular Hobbit small wood stove made by Salamander out of the UK.
The Pipsqueak has a sufficient output to comfortably heat the trailer, its light weight and could easily be removed when not in use freeing up precious interior space.
BEST SMALL STOVE FOR TINY SPACES
- The best stove for your tiny space depends on many different factors:
- What’s your budget?
- How quick do you need a stove?
- How efficient is your space?
- Is aesthetics or the look important?
- Is it going to be your primary heat source? Does it need to burn overnight?
- Is off-grid functionality like a cooktop & baking oven important?
Wood Heat is a great affordable and sustainable heat source for tiny spaces! With the growing trend of small space dwellings small wood stoves for tiny spaces is becoming more popular, prominent and there are more stove options than ever! To learn more about wood heat for tiny spaces visit our website: TINYWOODSTOVES.com! We created this site from what we learned in researching a stove for our Airstream. We are now offering select stoves for sale!
SMALL STOVES ON THE MARKET: Here’s a growing list of stoves currently on the market.
TINYWOODSTOVE.COM We created this website to share what we learned in researching wood heat for our tiny space. Lots of information! UPDATE 1/11/16 We are currently offering the Pipsqueak for $95off + free shipping! Learn more here!
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Feature Image from Horby Island Caravans – Quality Caravan Builders in BC.