Off-Grid Heat: Small Wood Stoves

Off-Grid | 33 comments | Author:

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:

 

  • 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!

 

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

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.

 

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.

 

BACKUP PLAN

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 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.

 

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.

 

DIRECT AIR

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!

 

CLEARANCES

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.

 

FLUE

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.

 

DETECTION

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.

 

SMALL STOVES ON THE MARKET

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:

 

 

Hobbit Wood Stove in Small House

The Hobbit

Price $495 + $275 Shipping

Dimensions: 12 x 11 x 18”

Weight: 110lbs

BTU: 14000 btu

 

Sardine Marine Stove

Navigator – Sardine

Price $ 1150 (Plus Shipping)

Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 11”

Weight: 35lbs

BTU: 7500 – 18000 btu

 

Little Cod Small Wood Stove

Navigator – Little Cod

Price $1460 (Plus Shipping)

Dimensions: 18 x 13 x 11”

Weight: 55lbs

BTU: 10000 – 28000 btu

 

Shipmate Skippy Marine Stove

Shipmate – Skippy

Price $830 base model (Plus Shipping)

Dimensions: 17 x 13 x 13”

Weight: 45lbs

BTU: 9000 – 28000 btu

 

Gray Stove Works Mini 12 ct

Gray Stove Works – MINI12CT

Price $970 (Free Shipping)

Dimensions: 14 x 14 x 21”

Weight: 110lbs

BTU: ?

 

kimberly small wood stove

The Kimberly

Price $3995 (Free Shipping)

Dimensions: 10” diameter x 25”

Weight: 56lbs

BTU: 45000 btu

 

*Cost does not include flue system, hearth or shipping.

 

BEST SMALL STOVE FOR TINY SPACES

 

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 Hobbit Small Wood Stove Colors
The Hobbit with Custom Colors

 

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.

 

For more info on the Hobbit Small Wood Stove see the Salamander Stove Website.

 

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!

 

CONCLUSION

 

Wood Heat is a great affordable and sustainable heat source for tiny spaces! Have any questions or comments? Leave them below!

 

NOTES

Feature Image from http://www.hornbyislandcaravans.com/ Quality Caravan Builders in BC.

 

RESOURCES

OTHER SMALL STOVES

Fatsco
 http://www.fatscostoves.com/

Stack Wood Stoves http://www.stackstoves.com/

Northern Tool http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200394664_200394664

Windy Smithy Wood Stove http://www.windysmithy.co.uk/our-woodburners-hand-made-devon

Elmstoves http://www.vermontironstove.com/parts.html



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33 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


  • Scott August 19, 2014 at 3:28 am | Reply

    Hey, just discovered your blog and I am already hooked on it. But what I was wondering, in your search about synthetic logs, did you happen upon coffee or Java logs? Or even making your own briquettes from discarded biomass? Both of these technologies would potentially solve your problems of burn times and the coffee has somewhere in the ball park of 3 times the potential energy of a hardwood log of similar size. If you’re interested, I can send you links to what I have discovered. Cheers!


    1. Nick August 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Reply

      Would love to learn more…sounds like a great option!


  • Ditte October 10, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply

    With great interest I read your blog, because me too am looking for a good heat source (’88 Excella 32 ft Airstream). And couldn’t decide propane or wood. After reading the posts here, wood’s the winner.
    Wood heat is so superior, I’m willing to make extra effort on seams, caulking, etc, also, the trailer is basically stationary except for moving.
    Great suggestions from everyone.
    My question is: where can I find reviews about the woodstoves? (from actual people using them). Anyone have links to websites or personal experience?
    Appreciate your information.
    Best wishes-
    Ditte


    1. Nick November 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Reply

      Good question!

      I have another website I made based on the interest to this article called: tinywoodstove.com. I hope to track down some folks using the various stoves and give their input.

      From what I have read there are too many…I have seen the Navigator stoves in small spaces the most. Kimberly has some reviews but it seems mostly from people that are trying to sell them.

      I hope to get some good honest reviews and make them available. Once we get and install our stove Ill be sure to update our experience with it.

      Cheers!

      -NICK


  • Larry November 16, 2014 at 2:15 am | Reply

    Hi, love the site! My wife and I live in our 40′ Eagle bus/conversion and recently moved to the mountains of northern NM at 7400′ elevation to live off-grid. The first thing we did was to install a morso 1410 “squirrel” wood stove in our bus and made the stack easily removable for when we are traveling. Temperatures are down in the 20s and below nightly but the little stove is keeping us warm and cozy without having to insulate the windows. The only thing that isn’t really great is that because we have only soft wood to choose from for firewood, our burn times are only a couple hours, but we expected that and are still very happy with our choice of the stove.


    1. Nick November 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Reply

      Thanks Larry!

      Glad to hear its keeping you guys warm! I would love to hear (and see) more about your flue setup!

      I’ve seen both the Morso & Jotul small wood stoves. I didn’t consider these because they are significantly larger (15″x17″x27″) and heavier (215lbs) than the stoves mentioned above. Also considering the space we needed to heat they seemed overkill.

      They are priced a little better than the Tiny Navigator Stoves (Morso $1000) so these may a better option for a bit larger spaces – like your large bus!

      Cheers!

      -NICK



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