(Cover photo courtesy perchandnest.com)
Winter is coming. Now’s the time to prepare your tiny home for a warm and cozy season.
The average person spends at least $3000 on heating and cooling costs per year. Living in a tiny house can drastically cut those costs, but it can still sometimes end up being more expensive than you think! Even the tiny house movement can be more energy-efficient.
Of course, proper planning for tiny house heating begins in the build phase.
This is where you choose and install insulation and your heat source.
After 4.5 years of tiny house living, my boyfriend and I are so grateful for the steps we took during our build to ensure maximum temperature coziness. For example, the spray-foam insulation we used in our walls and ceiling provided exceptional energy-efficiency and tight air-sealing.
As a result, our tiny home easily maintains heat or cool air for an extended period, even after a heater or A/C is turned off.
While optimizing your tiny house for heating does begin during the build, it can be perfected, after moving in.
Read on for tiny house heating tips.
Air Quality Concerns when heating a tiny house
Experience has shown that the maintenance and energy use of tiny homes on wheels is much more cost-effective when compared to traditional homes.
However, there can be air quality and mold issues, especially for those relying on a tiny house propane heater. This is not typically an issue for conventional homes because they are ventilated differently than tiny houses. Things can go horribly wrong if ventilation and air quality are not given proper consideration during the build.
On the positive, many professional tiny house builders are aware of these issues.
Smaller electrical heaters or a tiny house wood stove may be the best bet to avoid excess moisture and carbon monoxide.
However, if you go with some kind of furnace or propane heating for your tiny home, a smart wireless thermostat may be a worthwhile monitoring solution. It can help you regulate your home temperature and air quality levels. Thanks to technology, you can even do this right from your phone. How cool!
Smaller electrical heaters or a tiny house wood stove may be the best bet to avoid excess moisture and carbon monoxide.
This way, your tiny home can maintain its coziness and cleaner air levels wherever you are. Just make sure that your battery charger is constantly full and ensure your home is adequately insulated so that more heat is retained. Also, look into self-ventilating skylights. They can monitor tiny house heating temperature, air quality, and they have rain sensors—electric and solar-powered options are available.
Additionally, a de-humidifier works wonders for reducing moisture in the air. We use one at night; an added benefit is white noise, and helping us fall asleep. In the morning, we’re often surprised by how much water is collected.
Mind the gap when considering tiny house heating
Some of the best ways to ensure you stay warm include building your tiny home right from the start. Proper insulation is key to keeping heat and cold air inside. How good is your insulation? Are there any gaps or cracks where the warm air in your house could be escaping?
If your windows aren’t sealed properly or if your doors don’t have weather stripping along the bottom, you could be letting all of the warm air out of your house. That causes your system to work overtime, trying to keep it at the temperature you want.
Try Spray Foam
If you’re good with the insulation you have but still want to make it more efficient, spray foam might be the answer to your problems. Spray form insulation can reduce your heating and cooling bills by as much as 50%.
For the DIY types, you can buy your own spray foam kits online and take care of upgrading your insulation on your own time (and dime). Just make sure that you take the proper safety precautions before you start spraying!
The closed-cell spray foam we used in our tiny home is worth its weight in gold. It allows our tiny house to maintain a steady temperature during extreme weather, keeping it moderately cool or warm even without a heating or cooling source.
Also, it acts as an additional structural component (bonus strength, or like the glue that holds it all together). It also provides some soundproofing. Our tiny house is remarkably quiet, even in loud areas, when all our windows are closed.
Because our tiny house is so tightly sealed, we keep an upstairs window cracked in the winter, and again, we use a dehumidifier to minimize moisture in the home. It worked like a charm for us.
Use a Programmable Thermostat to track your tiny house heating
Depending on how your house was built, you might be able to use a programmable thermostat to heat and cool your tiny home.
Not only does this allow you to set the specific temperature you want your tiny house to be, but you can also set it to raise or lower the temperature depending on the time of day. When you leave for work in the winter, it can lower the temperature, saving you money. Before you come back, it can begin warming up your house again.
It’s energy-efficient and excellent for Type-A folks who want to set the temperature at precisely 72.5 degrees.
Here’s our favorite programmable thermostat – click the photo for details.
Use Solar Design for Tiny House Heating and Cooling
Did you know that some solar designs can heat your home in the winter and help to keep it cool in the summer? This way, you can use 100% renewable energy to heat and cool your house!
If you’re building your tiny house from the ground up, consider using new solar design techniques from the start. Though, you can implement it in a finished tiny home too.
Heating with radiant floors is increasingly popular; it can be powered by solar-heated water. Not only will your feet always be toasty warm, but it can also heat your entire space. Though depending on size, a supplemental heating source could be needed.
Choosing the Right Tiny House Heater
So what are other tiny house heating options when you don’t have access to a central heating system? Before you settle on any one heating method, think about your options and your individual circumstances for the winter. If you’re planning to be on-the-grid, your heating options will be greater.
Be realistic about your own tastes and habits, as well. You may like the idea of an idyllic tiny house wood burning stove on a frosty night, but does that interest you more than potential safety concerns? The upfront and long-term costs of each type of these tiny house heating methods will vary as well.
Importantly, the size of your tiny home and type of insulation used directly effects how many BTUs your space requires to condition it, with heat or cooling comfortably.
Use an online calculator to determine your BTU load. You’ll need the following pieces of information on hand: insulation R-values in your walls, floor and ceiling height dimensions, and the temperature difference between a cold day and what you want your interior temperature to be.
After calculating the appropriate BTU designation, look for a tiny house heater that can meet those requirements. I recommend erring on the side of over-doing it, but if you do, choose an option with a thermostat (built-in or exterior-mounted) to allow you to set a comfortable temperature.
Remember, some of the essential factors to consider include cost, safety, energy-efficiency, and convenience of use. When it comes to choosing the right heating source for your home, a great way to narrow your search is to start by prioritizing these things and setting a budget.
Top Energy-Efficient Tiny House Heating Options
Electric Radiator Heaters
One of the obvious perks of having a tiny house is that it doesn’t take much energy to heat it. That’s why you can get away with using an electric space heater to keep warm! And it is one of the most popular options for heating a tiny house for good reason.
You can choose the size of your electric radiator heater and don’t need to worry about a complicated installation. Just go to the store, pick the one you want, and plug it in. Easy as pie.
This is what we use in our tiny home. It easily heats our entire space, though it can be slow to warm up. But once it’s cranking, we almost always turn it down to the lowest setting. Otherwise, we can wake up sweating! Keep in mind that our tiny house is only 130 square feet.
The pros of an electric heater are many, but there are a few downsides. To start, you will be thrilled with how inexpensive they can be to purchase. You’ll find options that range from $35-$150.
This is an option for those planning to stay on the grid during the fall and winter months. You’ll need a power source to run a radiator heater.
- Thermostat controlled and highly energy-efficient options
- You can whip them out when you need them and store them away when the weather warms up
- Effective at heating your entire space
- Very inexpensive to purchase and can be bought almost anywhere, from department stores to hardware stores
- BTU sizes vary so you can choose the right one for your space
- No installation required
- Whisper quiet
- They take up space inside your tiny home
- If you’re entirely off the grid, you’re out of luck; power source required
- If one of the less efficient models, this can translate significant spikes in your electricity bills during the winter
Mini Split Tiny House Heaters
Every tiny house dweller loves multifunctional design. That’s what makes mini-splits so handy. They’re an excellent heating and air conditioning solution for year-round weather changes.
Mini-split systems are highly energy efficient in controlling the temperature and comfort level of your tiny home.
A mini-split tiny house heater requires little installation and no ductwork at all. There are two components: a small, low-profile air handling unit that is mounted on the wall, which is connected to an exterior-mounted compressor (installed typically on trailer tongue).
While they can be a more costly investment, mini-splits provide efficient cooling and heating for a tiny house without the need for propane. Though if you live in an extremely cold climate, with negative temperatures, these heaters can struggle.
Additionally, it is possible to run this type of tiny house heater off a solar power system. Though to run a mini-split without interruption, it will require extra solar panels and battery storage capacity. So plan for even more expensive upfront costs.
- Thermostat controlled with remote control
- Multifunctional: heater, A/C and dehumidifier
- Super quiet
- Upfront cost is on the high-end, $2,500-5,000
- Has a track record for requiring maintenance and repair costs
- Requires sizable amount of interior and exterior space
Top Off-Grid Tiny House Heating Options
Tiny House Wood Burning Stoves
If you’re a tiny house homeowner, odds are you already consider yourself a bit of an idealist. Something about being able to live on little and pick up and leave whenever you please is thrilling. And, most importantly, the feeling of self-sufficiency.
In this case, you might be most happy with a tiny house wood burning stove to warm your little space. A tiny house fireplace looks aesthetically-pleasing, and while the upfront cost is on the pricey end, fueling them is less costly. You’re looking at spending somewhere between $800-$4,000 for a proper wood stove installation.
Additionally, you may want to consider a back-up heat source for cold early mornings or if your woodpile runs low.
- More environmentally friendly
- Multi-functioning, they can be used to heat and cook
- Once installed, fueling them is generally cheaper than other heating methods
- They’re charming and fun to watch
- They put off a pleasant dry heat that minimizes moisture build-up, a top concern for a tiny home in the winter
- Useful if you lose power or have no access to electricity
- It’s challenging to find a wood stove small enough for a tiny home, allowing enough clearance room for safety
- Having a stove the wrong size can leave you burning up
- They’re a lot of work: finding wood, chopping it, hauling it, storing it, cleaning up after a fire, preventing ashes from getting all over
- They’re messy, be prepared to sweep up around them all the time and potentially wipe soot off the floor and wall
Check out tiny house wood burning stove options here:
Tiny House Propane Heaters
A tiny house propane heater is quite a bit less expensive at the start in comparison with a tiny house wood burning stove. Hitting anywhere from around $75-$1,500, you can choose one that works for your wallet.
Perhaps the best off-grid option, to cover all your bases, is to use a propane heater in conjunction with a wood stove.
- Has a clean burn, no mess
- You can control it via a thermostat
- Refilling propane tanks is inexpensive
- Refilling tanks is easy; you can find fuel almost anywhere
- Some models don’t come with a thermostat
- Runs on non-environmentally-friendly fossil fuels
- Depending on the model, they give off a slight propane scent
- Creates water vapor which then condenses on the cooler surfaces, like windows; can lead to mold
- Some models don’t give off as much heat as other heating methods
Tiny House Heating for a Cozy Winter
While tiny house heating needs are minimal compared to more traditional-sized homes, the need for comfort still remains.
Never skimp on safety in exchange for a cheap option.
Regardless of which method you decide, it is worth your time and effort, review all these options first. Doing your due diligence will ensure you’re not caught off guard as the first frost in many states begins to sweeps in.
Love tiny homes? Check out these related posts:
- 12 amazing prefab tiny homes for sale
- 12 tiny house communities you can live in
- Man builds $1,500 tiny house and forages for food
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Alexis and her partner, Christian are nomadic tiny house dwellers. Together they’ve been traveling for four years for their documentary and community education project, Tiny House Expedition—over 54,000 miles, across 38 states and 30+ tiny house communities. Their documentary work includes the educational series, Living Tiny Legally. Alexis serves on the board of the Tiny Home Industry Association and the American Tiny House Association.