Friday, December 6, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

This morning temperatures here in the desert are at freezing. Those of you who live in climates where it is cold in the winter probably are not phased by freezing temperatures, but those of us from desert climates who laugh when others complain that temperatures are in the 90's realize that freezing is unusually cold. In Arizona we wrap our plants in sheets, bring our pets in, and make sure to park our cars in the garage. Facebook is a-buzz with folks griping about having to use their heaters.

Thinking about heating a shouse makes me smile, since it is a relatively small area to actually have to heat. I thought I would do a brief post about heating options for those who may be considering living in a Shouse, tiny house, or other small home. This by no means covers all the options, but these are the layers of heat I will be using to ensure a safe and warm home on even the coldest of days.

The first consideration is fuel. If your heat source is only electric, you could put yourself in a very precarious situation. During ice storms and blizzards, power is often lost. Not just lost for an hour or so, but potentially for days. This could be fatal in some instances, so you must consider having an alternative source of heat in cases where electric may be interrupted.

I have four sources of heat for my Shouse: A cool-touch ceramic wall panel (actually 3) for radiant heating, baseboard heaters, and two styles of kerosene heaters.

Radiant Heat Panel
Radiant Heat Panels:  Fuel source: electric. These panels are awesome because they hang on the wall (spacers keep the back from resting on the wall and allows airflow around the panel), plug into a standard outlet, and can be painted to match your decor. They slowly release radiant heat, gently warming the air in a room. These are meant to run constantly and are not able to heat a cold room in a short amount of time. You would use these super efficient panels to supplement the heat in a room or to maintain temperature of an already warm room. They are reasonably priced and can be used for zone heating tasks. Safety is the best thing about these panels as they feel warm to the touch, but typically will not cause a burn.

Baseboard Heater
Baseboard Heat: Fuel: electric Baseboard heaters are a highly effective way to heat a room. They are hard-wired in and throw enough heat to warm a room in a reasonable amount of time. They are thermostatically controlled, so you can adjust just how much heat they produce and for how long. They can be a safety issue around small children because of a potential for burns. Fires can also occur if curtains or other flammable materials were to be touching the unit. These are often a primary source of heat in smaller homes and apartments and are dependable (unless the power goes out).

Vintage Perfection Heater
Modern Kerosene Heater
Kerosene Heat: Fuel: Kerosene Kerosene heaters are popular in the north east. They require refilling and, depending on efficiency and heating requirements, can run for a day or two before requiring refilling. Kerosene heaters throw off a lot of heat! They are typically used to support an inadequate heating system or to supplement heat on days that are extra cold. I have two styles of heater: One is from the early 1900's and is part of the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid) because it is just a wick and kerosene. They are small and portable. The second one is a more modern Kerosene heater with a tank and electronic ignition. It is quite a bit larger and will run longer because of the size of the tank that stores the fuel. It has a wide base and safety cage, making it a little safer than the vintage one (especially around pets and kids). Kerosene fuel is not too expensive and, even when the electric goes out, you can be toasty warm in your tiny abode. Kerosene is safe as long as you follow basic precautions, and you must keep children away from them as they can cause very serious burns. Wicks need to be replaced and maintenance considered. Refilling can be a hassle as it must be done out-of-doors.

Awesome Wood Stove
Wood Heat: Fuel: Wood I have toyed with the idea of a wood stove, but as of right now I will not be adding one. I don't want to take up floor space with something that I will only need part of the year and cannot be stored when I don't need it. I will revisit wood heat as a source once I have spent a winter in the Shouse. The picture to the left shows what I am talking about for the Shouse, but there are many, many styles of wood heaters to select from. Wood is relatively inexpensive, and the stoves throw off a lot of heat. Again, burns are a concern as well as the potential for chimney fires and other types of fires. They require maintenance and cleaning frequently. You still must fetch wood to add to and maintain the fire as well.

The cold front we are feeling the affects of is sweeping across the United States bringing some bitterly cold weather to a good portion of the states. Considering heat is best done before the cold snap hits. What type of heat would you use in a small home? Do you have a method of heating not mentioned here? Share with us in the comments below.


  1. When I livedin tiny spaces at Breitenbush Hot springs, we were blessed with a geothermal system, with steam radiators throughout camp!
    Our backup for a few homes at the end of the heat lines were small propane heaters (similar to the kerosene) or wood stoves.

    1. That would be such a great way to heat things! I hear that in Klamath Falls, OR they heat their government buildings the same way. What a great way to use natural resources to our advantage.

  2. Propane for heating, cooking, and water heating.