Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Tiny homes are much easier to build off-grid than full-sized houses. Without this electricity, you are wondering how to heat a tiny home. This post gathers up-to-date research from around the web to thoroughly answer your question.
To heat a tiny home without electricity - consider the following options. Below, we consider both electricity-free and off-grid options requiring high-end batteries.
- Electricity Free
- A Fireplace or Woodstove
- Solar Air Heater
- 12V Pellet Stoves
- Propane Heat
- Diesel Heater
Keep reading the rest of this post for more details on each of the above bullet points. This guide functions as a complete primer on how to heat your tiny house off-grid and will help you choose your heating method. To conclude, we answer several related questions.
How To Heat A Tiny House Without Electricity
Heating any home without electricity is relatively difficult. In fact, of the methods recommended above, only a fireplace/woodstove and solar air heaters are truly electricity-free.
The other methods above require small amounts of electricity. However, the electricity required for these other methods is possible off-grid with large batteries and a power generation option such as generators or solar panels.
A Fireplace or Woodstove
Fireplaces or wood stoves are probably the most popular way to heat tiny homes without electricity. These methods make heat through the combustion of wood, and rarely coal or other fuel.
Fireplaces are generally in a wall and include a large hearth area. Woodstoves are located in the center of a room. Of these two, wood stoves are more efficient.
Every wood stove and fireplace is rated for a specific square footage. It is essential to match the stove to the size of your tiny home.
An oversized wood-burning appliance will put out an uncomfortable amount of heat and will burn through wood much faster than necessary. An undersized appliance may fail to fully heat the space no matter how much fuel you burn.
Pros of Fireplaces or Woodstoves
Wood burning creates dry heat and is truly off-grid. Further, collecting wood for free on public lands is often possible.
Cons of Fireplaces or Woodstoves
The major cons include the need to constantly feed the fire, which means the tiny home may get very cold at night or if you leave for any amount of time. Further, these appliances take up a lot of space because of their main body, chimneys, clearance requirements, and bulky fuels.
Also, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the smoke put out from wood stoves can be very harmful to anyone who breathes it in.
Solar Air Heaters
Solar air heaters are installed on south-facing roofs and capture the sun's heat and blow it into the living space. These units are self-contained and require no electricity hook-up whatsoever.
Pros of Solar Air Heaters
Pros of these options include their ease of installation and passive operation. There is no need to monitor them or feed them like a fire. They do run on small fans but include solar panels to power them. Also, solar air heaters put off no harmful exhaust.
Cons of Solar Air Heaters
The primary con of this type of heat is that it requires sun exposure. This means for the shade or cloudy days; you will expect far less heat output. Given how unpredictable the weather is, especially in the cold winter, these heaters are generally only appropriate when paired with other heat sources.
Low Electricity Heating Options
As mentioned above, the following options all require some electricity to function. However, they do not require significant volts or amps, so they can be run off of high-end battery banks. These batteries can then be charged off of solar power, gas-powered generators, or another power source.
All these options do include the con of needing to purchase the electrical system and to wire everything together. In each section, we discuss additional pros and cons of that specific heat source type.
12V Pellet Stoves
First of all, we will discuss the pellet stove. These appliances are similar to wood stoves but run on pre-pressed energy-dense wood pellets. They have a large electricity-powered corkscrew that slowly feeds the pellets into the combustion chamber. Pellet stoves are also rated for a specific square footage.
Most pellet stoves are designed to be hooked up to grid power, and only specific 12V pellet stoves are likely appropriate for your off-grid application.
Pros of Pellet Stoves
Compared to purchasing wood, pellets are relatively affordable and require less space. Further, pellet stoves often function on a thermostat that tells the corkscrew to feed pellets automatically.
Cons of Pellet Stoves
The main cons of pellet stoves are their large space requirements and their relatively high electricity requirements, and the fact that you can only get this fuel at retail establishments. Also, you do need to occasionally refill the pellet hopper to keep these stoves running.
Propane heaters use the energy-dense fuel of liquid propane. They mount on the walls and are usually vented directly out in that location. Propane heat is the most popular and likely the most efficient of all the methods to heat a tiny home that requires an off-grid battery system.
Like wood stoves and pellet stoves, it is important to size your propane heater appropriately for the space you have available. Further, be sure you get a direct vented version, or you risk carbon monoxide buildup in your living space.
Pros of Propane Heat
Propane tanks are relatively easy and cheap to purchase and produce a surprising amount of heat per gallon of fuel. Further, while these heaters do require electricity, they need very few amp-hours to run for an extended period of time.
Also, propane heaters are usually connected to a thermostat. So there is no need to ever get up at night like with wood or pellets.
Cons of Propane Heat
Installing a propane system requires technical know-how to ensure that there are no leaks in the system. If installed improperly, the leaks can lead to expensive propane bills and even fire. Further, it can be a hassle to keep your propane tank filled.
Finally, propane heat creates a significant amount of condensation, which can lead to moisture issues inside your house. Some propane heaters have special condensation outlets to deal with this problem. Generally, opening windows or using house fans is enough to solve this issue.
Home diesel heaters are very similar to propane heaters, except they run on diesel fuel instead of propane. Once again, if you go this route, be sure to get a properly sized heater.
Pros of Diesel Heaters
Diesel is generally easier to come by than propane and does not require a pressurized storage tank. Further, the line installation is simpler than with propane because of the liquid nature of the fuel. These furnaces can also easily be hooked to a thermostat.
Cons of Diesel Heaters
Diesel can be smelly, but this is not an issue unless you spill the liquid or improperly install the exhaust system. Further, this technology is relatively new for tiny homes, so fewer options are on the market.
How do you winterize a tiny house?
Winterizing a tiny home means taking special steps to help the space hold heat in the winter. Hopefully, you have effectively insulated and air-sealed the space already. In addition, you can cover windows and more fully insulate your pipes as winterization steps.
For more information on insulating windows, read this great HVAC Seer article: How To Insulate Single-Pane Windows [4 Methods To Try]. Take note while this article is for single-pane windows specifically, the techniques will work on almost any window.
How do you keep pipes from freezing in a tiny house?
The most important step you can take to keep your pipes from freezing is to wrap those pipes in insulation. Also, if you keep your home well-heated, that heat will spill off to your pipes, thus keeping them warmer and less freeze-prone.
To learn more about pipe insulation, read this great HVAC Seer article: What Is The Best Insulation For Pipes?
Is there a heater that works without electricity?
As mentioned above, the solar heater and wood-fired appliances are the only common heaters that work without any electricity. Wood is the most common and easiest electricity-free way of heating any living space.
How much propane does it take to heat a tiny house?
The amount of propane it takes to heat a tiny home depends on the size of the house, the size of the heater, the efficiency of the heater, the outside temperature, and the efficiency of the home.
Because of these many factors, it is impossible to say exactly how much propane you will need to heat your tiny home.
That being said, propane is very energy dense and will heat a small space with relatively few gallons of total used propane. For example, a 30,000 BTU propane heater will use 1/3 of a gallon of propane per hour of continuous use.
In this post, we answered the question of how to heat a tiny home without electricity. We include both electricity-free options and a few that use a small amount of off-grid electricity. To conclude, we answer several related questions. Good luck!