Friday, February 10, 2012

Tiny House Heaters; Popular and Obscure Options

Tiny house owners face the delightful challenge of needing too little heat, far less than the output most typical house heating systems are designed for. The heating system will also need to fit in a much smaller space. Because of those factors the lineup of heating solutions for tiny houses is a little limited, but there are several good options. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular and often discussed choices.

The choice list starts with boat heaters; love their safety features we know are tested in the harshest conditions.

Newport P-9000
For its small size, efficiency, and the sight of flames through the glass window the sleek stainless steel Dickinson Marine Newport P-9000 propane fireplace, currently priced at $1118.55, gets top marks. Solid fuel heaters like the nostalgic Sardine by Marine Stove have won many hearts, even at $1090 with up to a six month delivery time. It’s gorgeous, more than a lifespan durable and now available with an optional glass door insert as well. Although I don’t see any in their product lineups with a heating capacity of less than 1000 square feet, which would be extreme overkill in a well insulated tiny house, little wood burning cabin stoves have a devoted following. The elegant Jøtul F 602 or the more modern F 370 have devotees, as well as Morsø, known for their charming squirrel embossed on the side panels of their small traditional wood stove. I can’t even find prices online for the European models, but you can find them at fireplace specialty stores. I get the hint they’re expensive from the way people talk about them.

All of these superstars have great looks in their various styles and perform well. They’re definitely valued for bringing the ambiance of fire to the tiny house experience as well as their time tested designs and legendary durability. I’ve been soaking up the info about the newer Kimberly Stove from Unforgettable Fire and have developed quite a crush on it, despite the huge price tag.

Kimberly Stove
I think the Kimberly's unique advantages are significant enough to justify the cost to someone looking to solve space constraints and fuel challenges; petite size, portable weight, one burner cook-top, fuel flexibility (wood, wood charcoal, coal, compressed {paraffin free} logs, and even saltwater driftwood), and super efficient gas re-burning action. Even better, this is an independent small business, and their invention is manufactured by craftsman in the US. I love the indie spirit in the new Kimberly Stove video so much, I’m looking for an excuse - ahem, I mean opportunity - to buy one. I want to test it and touch it!
Wave 8 RV Catalytic Safety heater

At the more utilitarian end of the spectrum you find propane catalytic heaters for RVs like the Wave 8 by Olympian. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s familiar, affordable at around $200, and it is certainly up to the task. Electric space heaters like this little Sunbeam Ceramic Small Room Heater can do the job well in a tiny package at an amazing price, around $40. We might shy away from relying on electricity for heat instinctively, yet for small well-insulated spaces electric heat can often be the simplest, most efficient choice. I personally use the Sunbeam to keep my houses in progress from getting too cold at night once they’re closed and it works perfectly at a reasonable cost. By the way, my climate is not that cold but a reviewer on Amazon (at the above link) with lots of electric heater experience who said “it heats one of my 15x15 rooms to 70 degrees when it is 15 degrees outside, and it hasn't broken, frozen-up, stalled, malfunctioned in ANY way yet!”

If you have adequate air movement through your little domicile and don’t mind heating from the bathroom outward, a combination bathroom ventilation fan, light, and heater in the ceiling may provide all the warmth needed in milder climates. They can be a little spendy, but they’re doing triple duty in one compact package, so go ahead and splurge on one with a quieter fan. Home Depot offers this NuTone Bath Fan with Light and 1500W Heater for about $200, but I’ve heard there are others with timers, which would be great. Also from the bathroom heater world, little wall mounted heaters for 100 to 200 square feet could be mounted on any exterior wall to provide ductless whole house forced air heat.

My newest discovery is a small vent free wall hung propane fireplace that looks like the flames are dancing in a deep frame. I just got one from Northern Tool but I haven’t tested it yet. It only has two settings - “on” and “off” - and it runs off a little camping stove bottle that runs out approximately every four hours of operation. We got a fitting that allows you to refill the small bottle from your bigger tanks, and that’s obviously an awesome alternative to recycling (or worse throwing away) endless little steel canisters. It produces 6,000 BTUs and proclaims 99% efficiency. If we like it after we test it for a while, we might try to figure out a way to plumb it to an LP line permanently if it can be done safely. If you’re planning to run a vent free indoor propane heater, know that water vapor is a by-product of LP combustion. Be aware of resulting higher moisture levels and make sure you provide fresh air ventilation and install a carbon monoxide alarm (always a good idea anyway). We’ll also be careful to warm the place up before bedtime, so we can sleep safely with the fireplace off. Vent free seems like a good idea with its high efficiency, and the one we got retails at about $230 - though of course there are bigger and fancier ones that cost a lot more.

99% efficient wall hung vent free fireplace by ProCom
I’ve been researching underfloor radiant heat as an option for tiny houses, but the topic is way too large to include in this quick heating hit list, so I'll just summarize my findings so far. Radiant underfloor heating is possible in a tiny house both electrically and hydronically (with recirculating water in tubes), however it will be very expensive compared to the cheaper alternatives listed above, and there will almost certainly be some disappointing feasibility and user experience issues that I will go into in a later post.

So that’s my quick round up of some of the heating options for tiny houses. Look for more on underfloor heating, coming soon. Leave a comment with any heater types I may have missed that you think are worth exploring. Share what you’ve been using and what you like or don’t like about it. Have a toasty warm winter day!