Heating a small house
Heating and cooling is one of the very important things when it comes to building a house. There are many small house heating options for small homes and choosing the right type of heating system is a crucial decision to make. You need to know not only your individual needs and preferences, but also possibilities available in the location of intended construction; not every place is suitable for example as a solid fuel supply or for certain renewable power sources. Other aspects important to take into consideration when it comes to a heater is the price, durability, advantages and disadvantages of particular types of heating systems, your personal preferences, environmental effects or process of installation.
It is evident that in case of a permanent residence it is highly recommended to have multiple ways of heating systems, to have a backup heat source. It is easy to use wood for small house heating. However, if you arrive home late and tired, it is helpful to have an option to warm the place up with a source of direct electrical or gas heat instead of waiting until the burning wood will make the place warm again.
There are several possibilities of heating your tiny houses. All of them offer variety of heaters with options that are of small size and practical shape, so they do not take up much space and fit nicely into the limited size of a small house. They are made of various materials. In many cases (apart from the electric heaters) you can also find ones, which do not need electricity and thus enable off grid living, are reasonably priced and come with adjustable thermostats. For example stoves built primarily for boats, usually made of cast iron and porcelain, can be also used well in small houses.
Solid fuel heating
Wood-fired heating is one of the most traditional methods and if you are based in environment with abundant wood, there is no reason to avoid it. Not only is the wood burning stove simple and easy to use without any special requirements nor dependence on electricity, but the look and smell of burning wood creates very cozy and you can also use its top to heat up water for tea or simple cooking.
Types of wood burning stoves
- Chimney and regulation level
- Stove top for heating water
- Window for adding fuel and watching the flames
- Lighting up door
- Cover metal protecting the floor from burning
It is recommended to include a covered wood storage in your tiny houses, cottages or cabins and a processing area to prepare the wood for burning, as this method is little bit messy with the ash and wood chips falling around. The wood burning stove can also be quite heavy. And it requires a respect for safety and strong compliance with the recommended distances between the wood stove and flammable wall structures or surrounding house equipment. There must as well be a base of non-flammable material – sheet material or tempered glass – between the stove and flammable floor (boards).
Electrical heating is appropriate mostly as an additional heat source, to temper the building or heat up a small space very fast, for example when you get to the house late at night and do not feel the energy to start a fire. Another advantages of electrical heaters are no complicated installation and no mess or noise when being used.
- A) Electric blower
- B) Direct heat source
- C) Electric radiator
However, it is one of the more expensive methods because of its need for electricity. You can cut the costs down by using a renewable energy sources. Photovoltaic panels are a good option in majority of cases. You can also use wind turbines, mostly in windy environments, as they are bit more expansive and not effective without wind, or small hydroelectric plants, if you live nearby a stream or river.
Gas heating is very powerful and can be conveniently used without a need to have an electricity. One of the most popular and used type of gas heating devices is a propane heater, well suitable for boats or small houses. It is designed in a way that the combustion process is isolated from the inside of the structure and built-in blower improves the heat circulation, minimalizing the possible risks. Advantages of a propane heater are easy usage, no need to prepare the wood, friendly price or clean and efficient burning. Propane fireplaces are also usually light-weight and barely need any maintenance, just keep the propane tank full. There are also propane stoves, so you may combine your cooking and heating systems.
- A) + C) Gas stoves: intended for large rooms, which are then heated quickly and easily
- B) A propane-butane pace heater: for a 2 kg gas bottle, designed to quickly increase the temperature in small rooms
However it is crucial to take care and be careful when handling any gas heaters, as gas leaks in an unventilated space can have disastrous consequences with risk of ignition, suffocating or explosion. You can also have issues with humidity or condensation and it is good to keep an eye on prices for propane as well, as these can vary depending on your location.
No matter which one of heating options for small homes you choose, there are few more things to always keep in mind. When it comes to thinking about ways of keeping our tiny houses or small cabins warm, be it with electricity or in off grid living style, we must not forget the construction itself. Firstly, proper insulation, air-sealing and energy-efficient windows and doors can have a big effect on the interior environment and thus the heating costs. Secondly, most heaters require chimney and it is very important to do this right. Especially the part where vent passes through wall and roof could cause big damages, if not installed properly. It is implemented by means of a bought part or a metalwork done very precisely in situ.
- A) Spark mesh + spark arrestor chimney cap
- B) Metalwork fitting for chimney vent through the roof
- C) Triple wall chimney
- D) Installation of chimney through the roof
- Spark arrestor
- Roof vent fitting
The safest option is a chimney with built-in insulation, so called triple wall chimneys. However there are also cheaper types without insulation, which then needs to be added in places where contact occurs between the chimney and the timber structure. It is very advisable to keep a regular inspection and cleaning of the chimney and have a properly working carbon monoxide alarm, especially if you use the wood burning stove. A fire extinguisher should be part of your equipment as well. The powder fire extinguisher does not cause as much damage to the building as water, so it is very good helper and can be used to eliminate a small fire before it spreads into a big one with serious consequences.
Timber structures guide
Are you still not sure when it comes to heater in your small house? Or are there any other types of DIY construction you would like to learn more about? We have a book for you! Our How to build a tiny house guide provides step by step manuals, detailed instructions, photos and illustrations related to small houses and timber construction. Available to order as a print version or electronic book here.