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6 Ways to Warm Your Tiny House During Winter

Winter season is here. There are no White Walkers coming after you, yet one non-human enemy will be there to haunt you; extreme cold. So How do you warm the house? It’s not just a matter of being unable to bathe in the sun for a nice tan, but a matter of survival as well, especially when stuff hits the fan.

Back to the Basics; Warming a House with a Fireplace

Nothing beats the classics. In the case of cold survival, a nice fireplace populated by the right firewood is classic way to warm the house. Although a bit inefficient, this process is relatively easy to implement, as long as you made the right preparations. The following tips will help you prepare your fireplace for winter:

1) Improve Fireplace Efficiency  

Since warm air rises, the majority of the heat generated by the fireplace will rise through the chimney. Although even if the fire is out, warm air will continuously be sucked out by the rising warm air from the chimney. As warm air is sucked out, it is replaced by cold air from above. Hence, fireplaces are not 100% efficient. In fact, even modern wood-burning masonry fireplaces are only 80% efficient (probably the best you will get). Most of these come with a glass window which allows heat gathered by the refractory brick structure to be radiated.

Glass Door

You can install a glass door so that the heat sucked by the escaping air in the chimney is reduced.  In addition, the efficiency of a fireplace is improved if the fire is confined by a glass door, even thou the radiated heat, when the door is closed, is not as warm as that of an open glass door. Furthermore, a glass door gives you the option to close the door when the fire is out, hence, preventing the escape of warm air when the fire is out.

Fireplace Fireback

Installing a fireback will also help minimize the loss of heat. A fireback is a cast iron placed against the back wall of a fireplace. Thanks to the materials of a fireback, some of the lost heat is absorbed into the fireback instead. Thus, some heat that is supposed to be lost is projected back to the room instead which helps warm the house.

Fireplace Insert

Another add-on that will help your fireplace be efficient is a fireplace insert. Although, this is a very pricey option, but it’s a good investment if you are looking forward to long-term heat and fuel efficiency. A fireplace insert can be considered as an airtight woodstove placed inserted into a masonry fireplace. It dramatically increases the efficiency and is, therefore, the best investment you can have if you want a fully functional and efficient fireplace.

Furthermore, you should only use seasoned firewood in order to maximize both heat and fuel efficiency.

2) Other Wood-Fueled Options

wood burning stove to warm the house

If you live off-grid or near the woods, wood-fueled heating systems are the best way to heat your tiny house. Furthermore, the venerable fireplace is not the only wood-fueled option you have. One such wood-fueled heating system is the wood-burning stove.

Wood Burning Stove

A wood-burning stove is an appliance capable of burning wood-based fuels to generate heat. Although, it’s not the best option you have, but if you live in a tiny house it can prove to be a decent heater.

Wood-burning stoves are capable of producing heat from wood and warm the house for winter. Unfortunately, standard wood-burning stoves will not be able warm up even a tiny house in a subzero temperature. Moreover, wood-burning stoves require maintenance, especially during very cold seasons. Most of them have to be fed with firewood every four hours or so.

In short, it is easy to think that wood-burning stove is useless. However, they’re not totally useless. A wood-burning stove can be a decent secondary heating system. During SHTF situation, it’s important that you have heating systems for multiple fuel types, hence, the use of a wood-burning stove. Moreover, a wood-burning stove can be used to supply a boiler with heat. With further modification, you can devise a sophisticated network of heating systems that combine different fuel types.

In addition, if you want to opt for a wood-burning stove, I suggest you purchase a rocket stove instead, which is a more efficient version of a wood-burning stove.

3) Grid-Connected Options

HVAC to warm the house
HVAC technician working on a capacitor part for condensing unit.

If you want to warm the house in a non-SHTF and non-off-grid situation, the most efficient and effective heating options rely on electricity. Some are efficient enough to have a negligible financial cost so the only cons they have is the expensive initial cost and their large power draws if you use them in a subzero environment. The following are the grid-connected options you have:

Radiant floor Mats

These magical mats are the coziest option you have. They take no valuable floor or wall space while providing controlled heat which are very valuable if you have a tiny house. Moreover, radiant floor mats are more efficient than traditional radiators, thanks to their low heating requirement (65-75 Celsius for traditional, up to 29 Celsius for radiant floor mats.) In fact, one may safely conclude that radiant floor mats are the best grid-connected option you have. However, they come with a high installation cost.

In the US, the cost of a square foot of Radiant floor mat can range from anything in between $10 to $20, not to mention the $200+ cost of hiring a professional electrician. A radiant floor mat can also increase the floor height by a ½ inch or more, especially if you decide to install an insulation board to maximize heating efficiency.

Ductless HVAC (Mini-split systems)

A ductless Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system is a temperature control system that can warm or cool a room depending on your need. Ductless systems are more efficient than HVAC models with a duct system. The duct alone causes 25% energy loss, therefore more savings provided by a ductless HVAC.

Ductless HVACs (especially newer models) usually have inverter driven compressors. Such compressors save energy by throttling depending on the needs of the system, contrary to traditional compressors which completely turns itself on or off instead of throttling. Since turning a compressor on draws higher current compared to throttling, the latter is more efficient.

However, the main drawback of a ductless HVAC is the wall space it uses up. Even a tiny wall space can be very valuable for a tiny house, so this drawback is significant.

Plug-in Heaters

There are various types of small-scale plug-in heaters such as wall panels, baseboards and radiant heaters. However, this category is too broad to cover in this article, so you will have to do research on individual types if you need to somehow use them.

4) Room Efficiency

What is the use of the heat you generate if it will only escape outside? When SHTF, there is no use using every room in your home. You can conserve much more fuel if you choose one room where you and your family will sleep. This way, you don’t have to heat up the entire house, therefore saving fuel and increasing the efficiency of the room you chose.

You should choose a room according to two criteria:

  1. The room should be as small as possible.
  2. The room should have no outside walls.

A Small Room

A room that is small enough will require less heat maintenance. In addition, it multiplies the significance of the human heat you generate. If you sleep together through the night while wearing proper clothing and sleeping accessories to combat the cold, the natural heat you and your family release will contribute to warming the room up.

In addition to sleeping with your family together in one small room, you can also seal the room so that little heat will escape. The best way you can do this is by sealing the doors and windows with duct tape. Moreover, you can also tape a thermal blanket into the windows and doors, allowing even less heat to escape.  

Maximize the heat your body generates by using cold weather sleeping gears such as sleeping bags, thermal blankets and heavy clothes. While the heat you will generate will not contribute to the build-up of heat in the room, it will allow you to be comfortable despite cold temperature.

If you do not like the idea of camping inside a small room or your source of heat is in a large exterior room, then just seal the windows and doors with duct tapes, rugs, cloths, thermal blanket or whatever material you can use to insulate those entryways.

5) Using Space Heaters

Heater to warm the house

Centralized heaters like a furnace may not be necessary if you live in a tiny house. You are better off using various space heaters, especially during SHTF conditions to help warm the house.

Rocket Heaters

A rocket heater, whether it’s a do-it-yourself project or an industry grade devise purchased somewhere, is an efficient way of generating heat. It can generate enough heat to warm up an entire medium sized room. During a wintry SHTF day, a rocket heater is a much more efficient to warm the house than a fireplace without a fire insert. It’s an optimal way to warm the house

Technically, a rocket heater is still a wood-burning stove, albeit a much more efficient one.

Kerosene Heaters

If you live in a highly urbanized area with little to no access to firewood, then kerosene heaters are better than rocket heaters, fireplaces and other heaters that rely on firewood.

Similar to a rocket heater, a kerosene heater is ideal for warming up a single room, with an added advantage of portability.  The main disadvantage of kerosene heaters (and rocket heaters, for that matter) is their inefficiency in lighting up large rooms.

There are several other types of space heaters, but most of them consume electricity, which you won’t likely have when stuff hits the fan. In addition, medium-scale space heaters like heat pumps are decent choices if you are only looking forward to heating your home in a non-SHTF situation.

6) Adding Insulation to Your House

insulator to warm the house

This one is not optional to warm the house if it’s tiny. Insulating your home will reduce escaping  heat and will shield it from the cold temperature outside (to a certain extent) or vice versa. Insulations do this by slowing reducing the conduction and convection between the wall, outside elements and your house’s interior.

Choosing the right insulation is quite a complex decision, though you can always hire an expert to find out which insulation is the best for your home. Without doing so, you will have to decide on what type of insulation will be installed, what material and what R-rating you should choose or is required by the respective authority.

Types of Insulation

Insulations have varying types that have their own sets of advantage and feasibility. For instance, a “bats and rolls” type of insulation can only be installed in unfinished walls, floors and celings. Another example is the insulating concrete forms which can only be installed in unfinished walls. Each of these types has their own advantages. Consider those when choosing.

R-value

The R-rating of an insulation represents how resistant the material is, hence how effective it is in terms of avoiding the transfer of heat. Unless you live in an area with a warm climate, you should opt for the highest R-value.

Insulation Material

Last but not least, you should consider what material the insulation layer should be made of. There is a plethora of available option, and each of them has their own set of quirk, advantage and corresponding insulation types they are compatible with. Some types of insulation include fiberglass, rock wool, cellulose insulation, natural fiber (hemp, sheep’s wool, straw), polystyrene and many others.

Conclusion

This article gives you a broad view of what you must do and what you can do to warm the house.  I won’t personally recommend which options are the best for you since you are the one who is more familiar with your local environment and your own taste, but keep in mind that you should take the time in considering these options. Remember, we are talking about 4-5 digit numbers here. Don’t be that guy who regrets buying that woodstove because his neighbor recommends it but did not mention that he has to fuel it every now and then!

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Written by Jake Obguia

I love the outdoor life! I grew up in a city and never went out that much. When I was 13 years old, we moved to the countryside. Right then, I found a lifestyle that I loved. I made friends with country boys and they taught me how to fish, raise livestock, pick fruits and plants without the aid of technology. I now enjoy exploring mountains, looking for majestic lakes or river to swim, and camping out.

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