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 or tiny house. 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:
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!
Read on to see our thoughts on each of these considerations, what we have learned and what stove we recommend:
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:
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
Hobbit Wood Stove 6000 – 12000 btu free / low cost wood scraps
How many BTU’s do I need? For our 176sq’ of 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.
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!
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 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 its 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 its 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.
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.
When considering a Small Wood Stove a direct air option piped to an outside air source is essential! You don’t want your stove to use and burn all the air from inside your living space. Depending on how sealed your space is this may or may not be a concern. And you can always crack a window or vent but the best and safest solution is a outside direct air source for the primary and secondary (if applicable) combustion. Note: As we have shopped for stoves not all small wood stoves have this option so buyer beware!
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 its best to find either a different location or a different heat source.
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.
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.
There are lots of great options for Small Wood Stoves on the market. Here are the stove that we considered and our thoughts on each:
Price $495E ($745) + $275 Shipping
Dimensions: 12 x 11 x 18”
BTU: 14000 btu
Thoughts: A bit larger and heavier than smaller stoves but a good size for most small to medium spaces. Larger fire box for longer burn times than the smaller competitors. Lots of great features like direct air and custom colors.
Price $ 1150 (Plus Shipping)
Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 11”
BTU: 7500 – 18000 btu
Very small footprint and minimal weight with decent output. Beautiful custom colors. Pretty pricey and you have to wait a LONG time to get one.
Price $1460 (Plus Shipping)
Dimensions: 18 x 13 x 11”
BTU: 10000 – 28000 btu
I’ve seen this stove the most in the USA. Looks to be a great option. Small footprint and weight with great output. Beautiful custom colors. Pretty pricey and you have to wait a LONG time to get one.
Price $830 base model (Plus Shipping)
Dimensions: 17 x 13 x 13”
BTU: 9000 – 28000 btu
Similar to Navigator stove without the viewing window. Custom colors available.
Price $970 (Free Shipping)
Dimensions: 14 x 14 x 21”
Price $3995 (Free Shipping)
Dimensions: 10” diameter x 25”
BTU: 45000 btu
*Cost does not include flue system, hearth or shipping.
We have spent months and months pouring over different Small Stove options that would work good in Tiny Spaces. Most of the options are geared towards the Marine industry (sailboats & fishing boats) and all of the options cost as much or more than traditional sized stoves. For us we wanted a quality yet affordable stove that fit in our limited space, did not weigh a ton, had a direct air option and a decent sized fire box for less tending.
The stove that fit our needs the best is the Hobbit from Salamander for the reasons below:
It’s Affordable. With the Hobbit you get a lot of bang for your buck! The total cost for the stove + shipping (USA the lower 48) is $770 (even with $275 shipping from the UK) . After flue components the total investment will probably be around $1000. You can see the different prices for other small stove in the chart above.
It’s a good size and weight. The Hobbits compact size 11”x12”x18” allows for flexible placement yet it’s not so small that you have very short burn times. It is a bit heavier (110lbs) than other small stoves yet the added weight adds some thermal mass to help retain some heat without being too heavy.
It’s made of quality materials and has robust features. Made from quality Cast Iron The Hobbit is built to last. It also has a direct air intake option which is a must for our Airstream. Plus it has other nice add-on options like a stainless boiler for use with a radiator for better heat distribution, sea-rails, coal grate and brass fittings.
It’s a beautiful looking stove! I love the traditional look and feel of the Hobbit. It’s a great addition to a small space and they have custom stove bright colors to add your personal touch.
Note if you choose to buy a stove from this link I will make a small commission. This does not affect my opinion of the stove. If you do decide the Hobbit is right for you congrats & thanks for using the link!
We’ve ordered our stove and are eagerly awaiting its arrival!
Wood Heat is a great affordable and sustainable heat source for tiny spaces! Have any questions or comments? Leave them below!
Feature Image from http://www.hornbyislandcaravans.com/ Quality Caravan Builders in BC.
OTHER SMALL STOVES