Monday, December 7, 2015

Heating My Tiny House and Water - Part I

There are, basically, four ways to heat a tiny house:
Propane / Natural Gas

 And, I considered them all….

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am NOT a professional contractor, an electrician, or a natural gas aficionado. This blog article is about the thought process behind why I chose, what I chose. If you are looking for more technical details, there are lots of tiny house design and technical and safety-related people out there that are way smarter than I am, who are happy to help and answer the questions I cannot. Every tiny house is different. Please use this article merely as a starting point for your research.


During the design phase of my tiny house, when deciding on the electrical and heating systems, I first considered where I would park my tiny house. And, I decided that my overall goal was to minimize the impact on my future hosts. And, since I assumed that not everyone would have a spare 220V plug or circuit available, I set out to design a home that can (under a worst case scenario) fully function with a small generator. Or, in other words, plug into a 110V wall outlet. After all, everyone I know has a wall outlet on the outside of their garage or deck.

In order to meet this goal, however, I would have to ensure that all heat related appliances would run on something other than electric.

A cheap heater but NOT a cheap option!
Mathematically, most household plug outlets run on a 15 AMP circuit. A small electric space heater (too small to heat even my tiny house) needs 15 AMPs. Yes, there are some out there that run on 12 AMPS or maybe even 10 AMPS, but they are sorely inadequate for a cold winter’s day and I still wouldn’t have enough power left over for even my ¾ sized refrigerator.


Like so many people, I grew up with a wood stove in my parent’s living room. In my case, the wood stove augmented the electric furnace. It was a pleasant addition to the living room and added ambiance. But, it was never more appreciated then when the electricity went out. And, that happened several times a year.

 Since my parent’s house was situated on 13 ½ acres of treed land, finding wood was never a problem. I remember wood cutting “days”. The boys cut the wood with chain saws, and then split the wood with axes, and then the girls hauled and stacked the wood. (I never much liked this division of labor, personally. The boys got to play with the fun, loud, power tools!)

Cute as a button but SOOO HOT!!
 When I considered a wood stove for my own house I, again, considered my likely host. There was simply no way I could predict how available wood might be and/or if my host would enjoy a stack of spider riddled wood stacked on their property. And, as you know, space inside of a tiny house is limited so inside storage is probably not an option. And, yes, there’s again that whole spiders-in-the-wood-pile thing.

 Now, in addition to the spider and wood storage issue, is the humidity issue. When wood burns it releases moisture. And in tiny houses, moisture management is a HUGE factor. So minimizing the moisture that is created by a wood stove would require additional vents or fans or other things that may require additional electricity. So I would be heating my house and still adding electrical demand? No thanks.

 And, also, I want to CONTROL the heat. I remember the days when my parent’s wood stove would get so hot we’d have to open all the windows in the house. All our work, literally, went out the windows!?

So, a wood stove was ruled out.


I have to admit that although I did research into solar, because it was so far askew of my comfort zone, this option hardly had a fighting chance. I went into it thinking there would have to be a VERY convincing reason for me to use it. And, honestly, I never found that reason.

First off, for me to invest in a solar array large enough to power and heat my home I would need to invest between $3,000 - $4,000 in panels and batteries. Assuming my house would run on less electricity than a toaster oven, my electric bill would be less than $25 per month. So, purchasing a solar array instead would mean my return on investment would be several YEARS! My solar array would literally be obsolete before it would be “paid off” by savings in my electric bill. And, the batteries would have to be replaced every few years as well. The whole math thing, didn’t pan out.

Yeah.  That doesn't look complicated at all!?

 And, I have to admit that I wasn’t too keen on asking my host to allow me to use an ugly solar array in their front yard or where ever it might need to be to catch the sun. And, besides, I don’t want a solar power system to dictate where I would park my home. I quite like the idea of parking it under trees.

Propane/Natural Gas

By the process of elimination I decided I would heat my house and water with propane. But, here’s the thing. I was deathly afraid of propane. It’s pretty far outside of my comfort zone and there’s the house-might-blow-up thing……

 Before proceeding with the selection of my propane powered heater I would have to admit to myself that my fear was based on an overall misunderstanding of what propane is, what it does, why it blows up or kills people in their sleep, and the fact that it was just not something I was familiar with. But, since the other 3 heating options were already ruled out I pushed onward in my quest…

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