OUR JOURNEY


Off-Grid Heat: Small Wood Stoves

March 8, 2013 | Off-Grid | 27 comments | Author:

One of the main energy needs for the Land Yacht (especially during those cooler months) is heat. The trailer is small and heats up fairly quickly (176 square’) but is not super efficient with lots of single pane glass and old fiberglass insulation. Ultimately our goal is to make our old 1966 Airstream as off-grid and sustainable as possible!

 

The trailer was originally outfitted with a forced-air propane furnace. From what I’ve read these old units are sketchy and potentially deadly. Plus burning propane is like burning cash. So we removed the old Suburban propane furnace and began looking at small wood burning stoves.

 

WOOD STOVE vs PROPANE HEATER

Catalytic Propane Heater    3200 – 6000 btu    $2.49 per gallon
Shipmate Skippy Stove    9000 – 28000 btu    free wood scraps

How many BTU do I need? We need roughly 12,000btu

 

A virtually unlimited supply of burnable wood scraps can be secured in most locations. In places where dry wood is not available there are synthetic log options that boast long burn times. Beside being affordable, sustainable and efficient I love the chores that come with maintaining a fire…the smells, sounds and warmth of a wood stove is hard to beat! Here is our off-grid heating plan for the Airstream:

 

–WINTER – HEATING the AIRSTREAM———-

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!)

 

HEATING: OFF-GRID

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 down. We all have fluffy down sacks to burrow in if we get chilled.

 

Another off-grid option is Catalytic Propane Heaters …they are lightweight, fairly small and can be installed in a variety of locations. The downside to these heaters, in my opinion, is your dependence on propane. The cost of propane can be significant ($2.49+ per Gallon) and in some locations/scenarios it may be a challenge to source. My preference is not to be dependent on petroleum products!

 

HEATING: ON-GRID

When we have access to grid-power we can use our little space heater to warm the Land Yacht. Update: We have been using our little space heater and it functions OK keeping the extreme cold away. The little electric heater can consistently keep the trailer at 60-65f in all but the extreme cold. The Land Yacht is pretty drafty which sabotages any heat source. We could undoubtedly see better performance if we sealed up those little gaps a bit more.

 

Another electric solution we are considering that would work in both off-grid & on-grid situations is an electric mattress pad. This 12V mattress warmer is pretty efficient (60w instead of 200w on similar AC models) and could optionally run off our battery bank. It wouldn’t do much to the inside temperature but it would make sleeping more comfortable.

 

AFFORDABLE WOOD STOVES

Finding affordable small wood stoves has been a challenge. Tiny wood burners are becoming more popular with the surge of tiny houses so the demand and likewise supply is gaining some ground. Over the past few years I have searched and compiled any information I could find on small wood stoves. The majority of what is available are for marine / sailboat applications and tend to be costly.

 

There are a few options that look like they would be good solutions for our Land Yacht. I have listed them in order of cost. Based on our budget, size and weight restrictions we are leaning towards the shipmate skippy.

 

SMALL WOOD STOVE OPTIONS

Image Info Price

Fatscostoves – Pet

BTU: ?
Dimensions: ?
Weight:

Notes: Note much info on their website…need to call and learn more. Looks like a respectable stove for a reasonable price!

$361

Fatscostoves – Tiny Tot

BTU: ?
Dimensions: ?
Weight:

Notes: Note much info on their website…need to call and learn more. Looks like a respectable stove for a reasonable price.

$367

Salamader Stove – Pipsquea

BTU: ?
Dimensions: ?
Weight: ?

Notes: UK based manufacturer. Seen other US peps import them. Well made cute little stove! Import duties and shipping will definitely add to the cost.

195 Euro

Shipmate Stoves – Skippy

BTU: 9,000 – 28,000
Dimensions / Weight: 17x13x13
Weight: 45lbs

Notes: Solid little stove with a long history.

$830

Marine Stove – Sardine

BTU: 7,500 – 18,000
Dimensions: 12x12x11
Weight: 35lbs

Notes: Popular stove maker out of Seattle area. Pretty pricey and they generally have  along backlog on orders.

$1240

Marine Stoves – Little Cod

BTU 10,000 – 28,000
Dimensions: 11x18x20
Weight: 55lbs

Notes: Love this little stove with the window! Again its pretty costly and it could be a long wait to get one.

$1535

 

Here are some other tiny stoves that are not feasible for the Airstream but pretty sweet nonetheless.

 

Image Info

Price

Marines Stoves – Halibut

BTU: 25,000 – 35,000
Dimensions:
Weight:

Notes: Sweet cook stove with oven!

$2850

Shipmate Stoves – Model 211

BTU: 24,000 – 36,000
Dimensions: 22x15x20
Weight: 135lbs

Notes: Much like the Halibut this sexy cook stove also features a oven.

$2730

The Kimberly

BTU:
Dimensions:
Weight:

Notes: Looks like a great option for the Land Yacht but by far the most expensive stove. The Kimberly is a fairly new player and I am curious to see some reviews from owners.

$3500

 

 

—————

 

More Small Wood Stoves




27 COMMENTS


  • weekend reads #3 | American Family Now March 9, 2013 at 5:01 am | Reply

    [...] Nick @ LivinLightly discusses his family’s plans for installing a small woodstove in their airstream camper home. We personally chose not to use a woodstove in our camper, primarily because we did not want to remodel it any more than we had to. So we use kerosene heaters, occasionally using the propane hot air system to warm up the pipes. In case you’re wondering, the wick problem we had recently has been resolved by switching kerosene type and source – works great now. Anyway, Nick offers a different perspective with some good ideas worth considering for a small, off-grid home. [...]


  • JK April 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    I can’t discourage this idea enough. The space it would take up, the constant smell of burning wood/ash, the weight of hauling a cast iron stove …
    but mostly you have to think of the danger of fumes and carbon monoxide poisoning. These stoves are meant to be stationary and even the marine stoves would not be subject to the kind of movements of a moving trailer. Everytime you hitched up and moved, you’d risk breaking a seal fro the exhaust flue.

    I understand wanting to reduce costs, but there is a reason there are dozens of propane options and apparently no practical options for wood burning in a (mobile) airstream.
    Best.
    Jk


    1. Nick April 9, 2013 at 4:09 am | Reply

      Appreciate the feedback!

      While I have considered most of the issues you brought up (space, weight and smell) the constant movement is a point of concern.

      We just embarked on our maiden voyage from the midwest to the northwest and I am surprised by the amount of movement that happens inside the trailer. Our vintage trailer is probably due for new axles but I imagine even with fresh legs the constant jostling is significant.

      Before pursing this option more I am going to track down some of the other folks I have seen that have installed wood burning solutions into their RV’s and pick their brains.

      Whatever the heat source careful inspection, and a good CO alarm is a must!

      Cheers!


  • Lou Axt April 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply

    My wife Terry and I are also preparing to move into a vintage (1966) Airstream full time, after re-evaluating/reinventing our lifestyle. The heating and power solutions have been most interesting to investigate. We too are considering one of these tiny wood stoves and anxiously await more information on the Kimberly as it becomes more widely tested. We found the catalytic propane units we tried on previous camping trips to contribute to moisture buildup, and instead preferred to run the propane furnace when needed.

    The solar charging system and uprated battery bank we are installing should allow at least minimal use of the electric option when boondocking.

    Best of luck to you and continued success in prioritizing your lives as we believe more people should!

    Lou and Terry Axt


    1. Nick April 9, 2013 at 4:13 am | Reply

      Hey Lou & Terry,

      I would love to see pictures of your trailer!

      What is the size of your battery bank? Are you keeping it in the trailer?

      Thanks for stopping by and keep us updated on your journey!

      Cheers!

      -NICK


  • Lou Axt April 10, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply

    Nick,
    I’ll send up pictures as the trailer progresses. The wood-burning stove question is one of the things we haven’t decided on yet. Also looking at flooring options, such as bamboo or cork. You can see the exterior(along with our tow vehicle) here: https://www.facebook.com/louaxtjr
    Just completed the pex plumbing and will be adding a second 12 volt marine battery soon, to be mounted in the rear hatch area. We went with 12 volt batteries to have the option of taking the trailer battery and using it in the truck in the event of a battery failure in the tow vehicle. The serviceability issue is a high priority for us to try try to keep expenses at a minimum, and we do not plan on adding an air conditioner.
    Also have a folding solar solution planned. Leaning toward the 130-watt economy model from CEA: http://shop.rvsolarnow.com This will allow us to stay at National Parks ( our favorite) with no hookups and lots of shade while allowing placement of the solar panels where they can get some direct sun.
    I’ll let you know when we make our stove selection.
    Blessings!
    Lou


  • Claire April 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Reply

    Love it! How high off the roof does the stack need to be, legally anyway? Can’t quite find that information anywhere. Thanks for the awesome post!


    1. Nick May 1, 2013 at 5:32 am | Reply

      Thanks! Im not exactly sure there are, “laws” for this on RV’s but I could be wrong. The trailers I have seen with wood stove have roughly a 16-18″ chimney off the roof. There is a certain amount of chimney needed to get the proper draft for you stove… We plan to make our chimney as high as needed to allow our stove to function properly then have it, “removable” for when we are on the road.

      Cheers!

      -NICK


  • Jim Peterson August 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply

    ==========
    The usual rule-of-thumb for chimney height is 24″ above anything within a 10 foot radius. That said, shorter can function better as long as your draft is sufficient and insulated double-wall pipe will make that happen. The ‘trick’ for any chimney is something that warms up quick and stays warm as long as the fire is burning with a flame.
    ==========
    sail4free (former August West Chimney Sweep)
    ==========


    1. Nick August 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply

      Thanks!


  • Daniel August 30, 2013 at 1:53 am | Reply

    I am looking into Rocket stoves. Supposedly the design is super efficient.


    1. Nick August 30, 2013 at 4:32 am | Reply

      Hey Dan!

      Let me know what you find. I love rocket stoves!

      I’ve thought about this for the Airstream and attempted to build my own during a welding class but got a little overwhelmed. I got the interior fire box + chimney portion done and tested it – worked great…burned hot, hardly any smoke seemed to work well. The welding class ended and I lost steam on the project. With stoves there are so many variables to consider!

      Love to hear if you find a suitable solution!


  • Shelby October 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Reply

    Hey Nick,

    That’s good thinking on using a small wood burning stove. You mentioned you like Rocket Stoves and would be interested in exploring them as an option as well. We have developed a great little Rocket Stove that’s made locally here in the United States. It’s extremely efficient, portable and even has a chimney in order to vent the smoke as you see fit.

    It may or may not be something you’d be interested in for your project but while you’re exploring your options I thought I’d mention it.

    Our website is:

    http://www.bobcatrocketstoves.com

    Thanks for the write-up and sharing your experience,

    Shelby


    1. Nick October 24, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply

      Thanks Shelby Ill checkout your site!


  • Buck October 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply

    You people are so lucky. All wood stoves are “Not Sold in California”. The leading state in Sustainability, Solar, Energy from Renewables “Small Wind Turbines not allowed in your neighbors back yard” kind of place, go figure. Almost all wood and real DIY energy systems are done clandestianly and by the energy underground. When traveling in Califronia make sure its a Particulate and Toxic gases burn day. Remember neighbors are incouraged to turn in neighbors if your smoke is over 20% opaceity. Comrade …


  • Shelby November 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply

    Hey Nick,

    I got your email and replied but never heard back from you?

    Buck, you’re right California does have a lot of restrictions, but depending on where you live you can install a windmill or solar panels and there is still a lot of cool stuff going on.

    Thanks,

    Shelby


  • Liam November 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Reply

    There is nothing wrong with a wood stove in a camper. Lots of people will tell you not to do it. That is because they themselves are not competent to build a system that will work. This does not mean that you can’t do it. A wood stove makes a lot of sense. The heat is warm and satisfying. You can’t use it while mobile, or if located somewhere where you might have to move in a hurry, but other than that there is not reason not to use wood heat. If you can heat a boat or a house with wood, a camper is no different. The fuel is abundant and often free. Concerns like draft can be managed with adequate cap designs. CO detectors, and dedicated outside air source for the stove are important but easy to provide for. I’m planning on putting one in my pickup camper, and also using it to heat a water tank as a thermosiphon reservoir to store heat. I’m buying a plain Sardine stove (no porcelain finish) with a glass face.


    1. Nick November 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Reply

      Thanks for your input Liam!

      Goodluck with your camper project. Update us when you get your Sardine installed!

      Cheers!


  • Ross December 27, 2013 at 2:05 am | Reply

    Hi, Just had to send you a possible stove that you would like to check out for your Airstream. The web site is Simple-fire.com which displays a rocket stove that is small and not expensive for what it does. I don’t have any connection with the fellow that is selling the units but think the product is great.
    Sincerely, RM


    1. Nick December 27, 2013 at 3:14 am | Reply

      Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll check it out!


  • Mark Lawrence January 13, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Reply

    Here is my little Hobbit stove. You can cook on the top in addition to being able to gaze at the fire. It is amazing how relaxing watching a stove going can be!
    http://www.salamanderstoves.com/docs/64/the_hobbit_stove/
    Here is a link to the Hobbit if you need more information about it.
    Below is a link all about cooking on a woodstove.
    http://woodburnercooking.blogspot.co.uk/
    I cannot wait to have a good look at the veggiemeal site. Both my girls are vegetarian, as was I for 16 years. I then decided to keep a couple of pigs and have subsequently been a bacon and sausage geek!
    I have put on weight as a result and think reverting to a veggie diet now would be sensible for both body and mind.
    I hope the sun is glinting of your airstream today.
    Mark


  • Sara Ballard February 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Reply

    I need someone experienced enough with wood stoves to put up my flue on the wood stove I have in my mobile home. I have all the parts. My husband died before he could get that done and we are having electric power problems now and then. This has been a strange winter and I want to know that I can survive if the power is out for a long period of time as my home is all electric.

    Thank you


    1. Nick February 17, 2014 at 4:03 am | Reply

      Hey Sara,

      Sorry about your husband! I would do a local search for a wood stove dealer…they could probabbly direct you to someone local to install your stove.

      Wood heat is a great option for these, “unpredictable” times! Along with proper installation be sure to get a quality dual-powered detector.

      Wish you the best!

      -NICK


  • Shannon Lee Gilmour February 17, 2014 at 3:45 am | Reply

    I have been looking into the possibility of small wood stoves for the 1952 Royal Spartanette I am refurbishing. Thank you for your informative list. There is a new stove that has just become available. It is called the Mini 12 CT:
    http://graystoveworks.com/


    1. Nick February 17, 2014 at 4:00 am | Reply

      Hey Shannon,

      Thanks for the comment. I am aware of the Mini 12…it wasn’t included in my original list because it was still a prototype. (their old link is in the resources section of the article)

      Looks to be a great little stove! Ill update my list, thanks for the feedback!

      Your Spartan sounds sweet, good luck with your reno!

      -NICK


  • Denys February 25, 2014 at 3:30 am | Reply

    hello thanks for sharing, I didn’t read all the way down, did you manage to get wood heat to work? I will be living in a camper yearround, a 32ft with slide outs so there will be room for a stove, do u reckon I should use an actual chimney? do they stay cold on the outside of the pipe? I will be living in northern bc where it can easily get minus 30 degrees celcius, and I only want to use propane as backup when im at work


    1. Nick February 27, 2014 at 4:15 am | Reply

      Hey Denys,

      We have picked a stove we are just waiting for it to arrive. We went with a Salamander, “Hobbit” stove from the UK.

      Stayed tuned for installation updates where we will address chimney, venting, precautions, etc.

      Cheers!

      -NICK



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