Heating our Tiny House: Wood vs. Propane.
Back in March, when we interviewed Ann Holley and Darren Macca of Protohaus (pictured above), we asked them what advice they would give to someone just beginning to build their tiny house. Ann immediately had an answer, “It’s really important to have all of your utilities before you begin building,” she said, “so that you know the exact dimensions and what you’ll need to do to install them. It really helps to plan that out ahead of time.” Christopher and I looked at each other, the obvious truth of this statement dawning on us. Ohhhh. Yeah. That would have made our own construction process sooo much easier.
In case you’re new to this project, here’s some important background info:
1: Neither Christopher or I have any building experience whatsoever.
2: We did not use any plans in the building of this house. Christopher pretty much figured it out/ made it all up as he went along.
For us, this has been part of the adventure. But it has certainly come with its share of challenges. Such as that fateful summer day when we realized that all of the windows we’d bought were horizontal instead of vertical, and that yes, this matters when constructing a house.
This project has been about learning as we go, and part of that, inevitably, means making mistakes, having a sense of humor, and adjusting accordingly. Picking out a stove for our house has been no exception.
From the start, Christopher and I loved the idea of heating the tiny house with a tiny wood stove. One of the first tiny houses that we visited, near Telluride, Colorado, was arranged around an amazing reclaimed cast-iron stove called “The Magician,” that the owner had found in a junkyard. After scouring Craigslist and doing some research into new cast-iron wood stoves made for boats, we found an amazing company—full of friendly and helpful people—based out of the Northwest, called Shipmate.
Shipmate’s boat stoves are gorgeous, modeled after the antique stoves used on fishing vessels and ships at the turn of the century, crafted out of porcelain, iron, and steel. In addition to heating the house, we would also be able to cook on top of the unit, and even bake inside of it. (How cool is that?!) I had images of curling up and finally finishing my hardbacked copy of Moby Dick. Dreams of perfecting my recipe for wood-fired bread loaves. Perfect.
We also liked the idea of using wood as fuel, instead of propane. We have plenty of scrap wood from 10 months of building and using those remainders to heat our finished house seemed like a great way to dispose of the scraps. And since fracking and the politics of natural gas extraction is an issue that hits close to home in this region of Colorado, we liked the idea of avoiding propane as a fuel source.
Amazing! We high-fived and ordered our Shipmate stove. And then we started to do some research…
It turns out that because we didn’t plan to drill a huge hole in our ceiling to fit the stove pipe from the very beginning, drilling through our already-installed ceiling and corrugated roofing would be risky. On top of that, because our floor plan wasn’t designed with a wood-burning stove in mind, it would be hard to give it the amount of heat clearance that it needed without eating into our living space. In a larger house, a few inches wouldn’t have been a big deal, but in our tiny house, a few extra inches on either side meant having to jump over our couch to get from the door to the kitchen.
After much deliberation, we came to the conclusion that having a wood-burning stove in our tiny house would have been amazing, if we have planned for it correctly. Because we did not, we turned to another great tiny home heating option: the propane heating stoves made for boats by Dickinson Marine.
Dickinson’s propane stove is pretty cool piece of machinery—sleek and modern-looking, with the frames visible through a glass door (so I won’t have to completely give up my dreams of reading fireside), and a small fan that we can turn off and on, which will blows hot air through of the bottom of the unit onto the floor, keeping our feet toasty warm through those long mountain winters. We are super excited about this option, loved how easy it was to install, and will post more about it as we fire it up during the winter months up in the mountains.
When all is said and done, we have learned a lot during this process and whole-heartedly agree with Ann and Darren’s advice to research and purchase all of your utilities before beginning to build your tiny house. Now we have our Dickinson propane stove installed and ready to go, and our Shipmate wood stove sitting in its cardboard box in the garage. We are still deciding how we will use it—possibly in a future tiny building project, or as an outdoor fireplace, or something yet-to-be-dreamed.
What about you? How do you heat your tiny house, or how would you, in an ideal world?
~ Merete Mueller, 4/9/12
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