Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thoughts on Heating the Cabin

Tiny Housers have a real dilemma when it comes to heating. I don't particularly want propane as my main heating source. Being such a small space, it wouldn't take long to burn the oxygen out of the room. You have to keep windows cracked if not open. It's not necessarily cheap to burn either and it puts off a small amount of carbon monoxide. Anyway, not my favorite choice if I have others. Electric can be expensive to run also but at least it's very clean inside the house. We won't even get into how the idiots here in Texas produce it, electricity that is. Right now, since we're still using a generator for our power, we can only run one space heater at a time. Barely adequate when it gets below freezing. I have an abundance of free wood available but wood burning stoves all seem to be a compromise right now. I can't seem to find anything that fits just what we want.

Wish List for Wood Burning Stove:

1. Size. It has to fit in a relatively small space. I don't want to give up my entire living area for the stove. Typically for the size of house that we're seeing on the tiny market, narrow would be better than wide. Part of this is also dependent on how close you can mount it in relation to furniture and walls. It will need heat shields on the sides and back at minimum. A shield on the bottom would be nice but not critical since most will be mounted on slate, bricks or something similar. It doesn't do any good to get a small stove if it has to have 3' of clearance all the way around.

2. Heating Power. Looking for something that has a wide range of heat output, maybe 5K-20K. I want to be able to dial it down when I need. I see lots of testimony from Tiny House owners talking about their wood stove putting off too much heat. They end up opening lots of windows when it 20° because it's just too hot. I also want to be able to get a reasonable amount of heat when I need. Not often, but sometimes, it gets into the teens here in North Texas and we pretend it's REALLY cold! :) Our relatives in Maine would disagree but then they have a very different definition of hot also.

3. Burn Time. I would like to be able to get a full 7-8 hours of burn time off of a load of wood. I'm not expecting this when the stove's running full out, but I don't want to have to get out of bed 2-3 times a night to feed it either. I don't mind sleeping when it's cool. I just want the fire to keep it reasonable through the night. I'd like to be able to just throw a log on in the morning to get it going again instead of starting from scratch every time.

4. Cooking area. I would really like a stove top cooking area to take advantage of the fire when I do burn one. I'm not talking about heating a kettle of tea. I want to put a skillet on the stove and cook supper. I don't need a huge area but big enough for a cast iron skillet would be nice.

5. Glass door. Part of the draw of a wood stove is getting to watch the fire. Think about those cold mornings when you stoke the fire and throw on a few extra logs so that you can hang out in the house and watch the flames dance, drink a cup of coffee and plan the day's activities with your sweetie. This is a must!

6. Direct vent. I don't want to worry about oxygen levels in such a small space. I remember last year, there was an piece in the news about a couple that asphyxiated in the cab of their semi by lighting a candle before the went to bed. I want a fresh air draw so that I don't have to think about it.

7. Water heating capacity. The option to pipe a constant source of water through the stove while it's burning would increase it's functionality a great deal. Water for dishes, bathing, an outside hot tub, secondary heating though a radiator - lots of options here.

8. Forced Air Fan. This can effectively double the BTU output of a stove. Needs to be quiet though as it's in a tiny room. Variable speed would be really nice, too.

9. Ash Tray. This is such a handy feature on a wood stove. Just pull the tray out, dump the ashes and slide it back in. No shoveling, no vacuuming. Very convenient. The only draw back is that you can't have bricks lining the bottom of the firebox. At least I haven't seen one that offered bricks with slots between them for the ash to fall to a collection area.

10. Burn Box. One of the drawbacks of a little stove is the little burn box. Some of these I've looked at require a very short log, some as little as 9"-10". That's too much cutting for me. I would like to put a reasonable 15"-16" log in it. I cut my own so it's not a matter of having to pay for it to be cut and then having to cut it again. This also directly effects the burn time we talked about earlier. How much wood can you pile in before you go to bed?

11. Price. It shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Funny how the larger stoves are the least expensive. Try to find one for a Tiny House, and you'll drop $1,000 to start with and go up from there. My budget is not in range of the Dickerson Stoves either. Stylish as they are, $3K-$4K for a stove is not happening in my house.

12. Waste Oil Burning. No, this isn't a feature you find on commercial stoves but we're talking about MY wish list. Maybe this is the answer to long burn times. You could have a nice pretty roaring fire during the day and drip in some oil to burn through the night. Either way, this would be a nice feature as long as you can maintain enough heat to burn it cleanly without overheating the house. Most of the time, you can find a source of waist oil (restaurants, food supply, etc) that will gladly give you their spent oil. They typically have to pay someone to come and remove it on a regular basis. Basically the same stuff that you're looking for if you're making bio-diesel. you just don't have to be quite so picky about the initial quality. BTU potential for oil is huge also. 7 lbs of dried fire wood = about 56K BTU. The same weight of waste oil is 125K BTU (the same as gasoline) and it fits in a much smaller container and just happens to be free. Waste oil works best with some kind of material to act as a wick. I've seen this be as simple as a handful of straw in a stainless steel bowl.

13. Baking Oven. I've given up on the reality of a baking oven in an affordable stove but I'll list it here since I'm dreaming. :) These bad boys start at about $3K. Oh, but wouldn't it be wonderful to watch and smell a loaf of bread baking in your little stove as you shared a bottle of wine and prepared your dinner. :)

Thus, I am working on designing a stove that I can build myself. After all, I need a hobby. Welding is a very valuable skill to possess, especially if you're living on a Tiny House budget. Nice to be able to build and fix things on your own. You might actually get good enough to earn a little cash on the side. I'm also in no immediate hurry. I can probably piece the parts together over time for very little cash and work on construction as I get the chance.

I'll work on putting together a review of stoves I've looked at so far. Why I considered them and how they measured up to my expectations! In the mean time, we'll keep running our generator and electric heater and hope we don't get any really cold weather.


  1. Read your dilemma about choosing a wood stove. Riley makes tin stoves that might suit your purpose. According to their literature their Trail Boss model will hold the heat for 8 hours. All the best with following your dreams.

  2. Thanks Dan! I'll check them out tonight after work.

  3. You've probably already checked this out, but I just found it today: http://tinyhousebiglife.com/ella-jenkins-kimberly-wood-stove/