Hi, humans!

I’m back from a month of meditating. I’ve been moving pretty slowly, but I got my first pay-out from the Parental Bank and am planning on starting construction in less than two months, so it’s time to start making some decisions!

This brings me to the topic of HEAT. How to get it, how to keep it. And I haven’t yet moved on to how to get rid of it. 😉 You have an opinion? I want to read it. Mostly for entertainment’s sake. But you know how a lot of times we ask for peoples’ opinions on something, and find ourselves going with the opposite of what they like? I think it’s just part of a decision-making process that helps one distinguish what one really wants.

Anyway, I am faced with figuring out my heat source for this little house. I am still on the prowl for a used Dickinson Newport p-12000 with no success so far. I got a quote from Mark at Salamander Stoves for an enameled cobalt blue Pipsqueak wood stove that’s been used a few times that he offered to me for $480 including shipping from England. And I’ve been looking into electric radiant floor heating, which probably won’t be able to heat the whole house adequately, as the mats sold would probably only provide about 4,000 BTU’s while my little house requires about 6,500 in this climate. I’m just about slashing that out of the picture (as much as I love radiant floor heating) because electric is so expensive and getting the mats are just as expensive (if not more) than wood or propane.

Of these options, wood would likely be the cheapest heat source, as I can forage it or at worst buy a cord for $200-250 which would easily last a winter in a tiny house with this stove, which puts out just over 10,000 BTUs. It’s not the most even heat, but I’ve lived in several places that depended exclusively on wood heat and I enjoyed it very much. I actually enjoyed the work involved in it. This particular wood stove requires only 8″ wall clearance, so that’s no problem for the tiny house. The main downsides, as mentioned, are the messiness, constant feeding, flue maintenance, and not having heat in the middle of the night without supplementation. Also, although the stove is only $480, I would probably spend about that much in flue pipe and all the fittings.

On the other hand, the propane heater provides steady heat, little to no maintenance, and no messiness. This stove puts out a max of 9,700 BTUs. The major downside here is dependence on propane, i.e. refilling tanks every week or two. Calculated from Dickinson’s listed consumption rates, I could spend somewhere in the vicinity of $500 a year on propane for the heater, depending on propane prices (currently $15-20 to fill a 20 lb. tank), climate and how toasty I keep it inside (very). This is much more of a drag to me than the possibility of fire or explosion. 😉


Still up for debate, and quite a bit stickier a decision, is which insulation to use. Many tiny housers have now used a loose wool insulation happily, although it has yet to prove itself over a long period of time. I’m attracted to this insulation because:

1. I spoke to a gentleman at Oregon Shepherd and he was exceedingly kind, real, personable, knowledgeable, and accommodating.

2. It is of the earth, and can be returned to the earth and is friendly to install.

3. It’s a few hundred dollars cheaper in price ($900) than new rigid foam as recommended by Tumbleweed.

4. It has some desirable qualities in an insulation – namely is mold/mildew-resistant, does not compress when wet or over time, is breathable, and lofty.

However, I’m concerned about how efficient this insulation is for 2×4 framing. I am going to add 2×6 floor framing, which will help a little, but the R-value achieved in 2×4 is only 15.

As the off-the-shelf price for rigid foam from Lowe’s or Home Depot is about $1200 for this project, I was happy to come across this company up in Massachusetts which offers recycled foam for about $700 less! This is by far the cheapest option for insulation that I’ve come across, but I just wonder: If it is recycled, has the R-value and quality dropped with time?

My family has been touting the benefits of sprayed-on foam insulation due to it being popularized on HGTV, one of their favorite TV channels. I’ve assumed up until now that it would be a) prohibitively costly and b) inappropriate ventilation-wise for a tiny house, as it forms a complete air seal. But I’m intrigued by the rave reviews it gets and the dramatically lower utility bills many people report after applying it.

I’m also confused still about the use of vapor barriers. According to this Dept. of Energy site, vapor barriers should be applied to the inside of a house in my climate. However, a good friend who is a construction manager up in MA told me that was the old way of doing construction and it’s now recommended to only use housewrap on the outside. My tiny house plans do call for 6 mm plastic inside and housewrap. I know that some folks using the wool insulation have omitted the plastic inner layer. As you can see, there are a lot of conflicting opinions and practices here. I haven’t decided yet what to do and I’m inclined to gather a few more experienced opinions before I make a choice.

I do feel that insulation and heating/cooling are two of the most important fundamental elements in a little space that I want to last for a long time. That’s why I’m being so fastidious in my pre-build research. 🙂

Thoughts? Opinions?

Just a quick non-tiny-house note: Springtime is unfurling here and the garlic bed is inching towards the sky already. Most of my seed packets arrived today from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange out of Virginia and Seed Savers Exchange out of Iowa. These incredible organizations are keeping our food heritage strong by maintaining and proliferating heirloom, rare, unusual, and organic food/flower/herb varieties for home gardeners and small-scale farmers. Southern Exposure also specializes in offering varieties that have been adapted to this bio-region specifically. Please consider buying your seed stock from either of them – they’re quite reasonably priced and of impeccable quality and service. You can also feel exuberant and fulfilled by the wonderfully wholesome and beneficial actions of supporting these organizations, planting their seeds that have been so lovingly grown and saved, harvesting their fruits, enjoying them at your table, and maybe even saving your own seeds for next year.

Happy spring!


3 thoughts on “HEAT.

  1. Hey Pixie,

    I took a straw building workshop a few years ago and got some really good tips on heating efficiently. The most impressive sounding one came from a guy from Minnesota who installed a fire place surrounded by stone, and with a stove pipe routed around a bunch so that all the heat was absorbed into the stone. By the time the pipe met the exterior wall, while a fire was burning full blast he said he could stick his arm in the pipe and feel no heat. So all the warmth gets absorbed by the stone and releases through the day. Apparently a small fire would heat the sizable house all day long in a Minnesota winter.

    I would also recommend really designing the house well so that you get as much passive heating and cooling as possible. Another good idea I had heard was tilapia tanks at a south or west window. The water absorbs the sun heat, cooling the house during the heat, and releasing it during the cold. The same can be done with stones or any other earth mass. Think about insulated windows with awnings: adjust the position of the awnings so that in the winter the low sun shines in, while in the summer, the higher sun is blocked.

    Re insulation, be wary of organic products if you think wall condensation is an issue. Also, consider thicker walls for increased insulation space. Rigid insulation has amazing R value for its thickness, but it is certainly not natural. Fiberglass insulation is, in my opinion, a pretty conscionable option esp if you can get it made of recycled material. I don’t believe it off-gasses like other man-made materials, and there is not risk of it rotting (and less risk of rodents nesting), unlike denim, etc. Re: house wrap, every builder i’ve ever met or worked with who thinks critically about the work they do agree–the old school method of roofing felt is the best. You want a house to be able to breath. Atmospheric conditions will transfer to the inside of the walls and as the outside changes (ie it will get moist in there) and you want an easy means of egress for that humidity when the air outside becomes drier.

    Any who–sounds awesome. Cant wait to see pictures. Where will it be? BTW, did you know Im a dad?

  2. Thanks Taidgh for all of this thoughtfulness. Really, roofing felt on the outer walls instead of housewrap? This is totally new news to me! Hmmmm, I will have to investigate this further… Great ideas re: tilapia and fire stones. If this weren’t such a tiny mobile space, I would seriously consider adding those. Taking the other tips into consideration. Yes, I know you’re a daddy! You wrote to me about it when you guys got pregnant! How’s the little one? 🙂 Y’all getting enough sleep? 😉

  3. Pix
    We concur with the idea that no warm side vapor barrier is suggested with PermaLoft except perhaps in your shower area unless a power vent is provided. On your heat, why not provide radiant electric heat pads that can be used when reasonable electric service is available and outside temperatures are moderate? The stove or propane could be called into service when really needed? One problem with Tiny Houses is that just a couple openings of the main door in an evening probably will require 15 to 20 degrees of reheat of the volume of air inside during an evening.


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