Heating cabins, tents, and tiny homes is fun! However, there are legal and safety issues that must be accounted for. It really is a complex topic because of all the different aspects involved.
Vent-free Propane Heaters
One of the simplest ways to heat a small interior space is with a small, built-in propane heater. Liquid propane is inexpensive, and relatively easy to transport when it is in the barbecue size containers (5 gallon / 20 pound cylinders). Relative to most kinds of firewood it has high energy density, and starting and operating propane heaters is easy enough for most guests.
However, there are major downsides to propane. First, it sticks out in a sustainable environment. It is obviously an off-farm product, and it costs money and time to bring it in from town. With a larger scale operation, a big tank can be installed, and with a minimum purchase in most areas a truck will come and fill it periodically. However, this exaggerated availability encourages consumption. The second big concern with propane devices is safety. Propane always consumes oxygen and sometimes releases carbon monoxide (when there are improper burn conditions). A properly working carbon monoxide detector is a must if using any type of combustion-based heater.
Most propane heaters that are designed for small spaces are not vented. However, it is worth looking at the bigger propane heaters which, although they are oversized for a small cabin, could be installed with a venting kit so that there is not danger of combustion fumes remaining inside.
Mini Wood Stoves
There are a ton of small wood stoves available right now!
This US Stove model is one of the first things that caught my eye. It is available from Home Depot for $326 right now (at least in the PNW) with shipping included. It is EPA certified so it can be permitted and professionally installed. It is, however, rated to 900 sq ft so it may be overkill for a cabin or tiny house! Also, if you read the comments you will note that the EPA regulations as of 1/2016 require a fixed burn rate and mandate a 75% efficiency. In order to really use a fixed burn rate stove effectively, you really need to integrate thermal mass properly. This stove does accommodate logs up to 23 inches in length, which is quite convenient.
It does weigh 120 lbs, so that may be a factor as far as transportation or installation into remote areas. Also, it is “not approved for modular or manufactured homes” so that may be a factor in the permitting process.
Tent-style Heat Options
For a less permanent wood stove option, the cylinder-style stoves are appealing. You can’t beat the price, they are easy to set up, and come with all sorts of features like drying racks, plenty of nested stove pipe, optional hot water tanks, and so on. They can be a little less-intuitive and user friendly however, and many users report needing to do slight modifications to the stoves to reach optimal performance. Things like adjust air intakes and making grills to keep the coals off the bottom of the stove. If you are handy and pay attention to details and to comments and reviews, these may just be the right things for you.
Amazon has a few stoves available at truly remarkable prices!
This HQ Issue stove only weighs 47 pounds and seems like a solid choice. It is an “outdoor” wood stove so it is only advertised for use in tents and outbuildings. It is small, at roughly 12″ wide, 18″ deep, and 8″ high, but it is consistently getting 5-star reviews on Amazon.
This is another cylinder-style stove, but at an unbelieveable price of $67. Actually what is unbelievable is that this stove will actually last any length of time, but the reviewers seem to say it will, if it is used inside. At that price point, it may be worth a look!
If you are on-grid, sometimes it can be a relief to provide a simple option for electric heat. In those instances, it’s a hard to beat a simple infrared or radiant heater. This one from Lowes seems like a great deal:
It is worth mentioning some of these accessories that really can make a big difference with the heating system in your cabin or tiny house. If you are having trouble controlling the air going into your wood stove, and if it is an older one, you may need to replace your rope gasket. Home Depot sells an inexpensive kit that will get you going again:
Another interesting item is the Miracle Heat Blower. I haven’t tried this model directly, but the concept of bringing more heat off of the single wall stove pipe is a good one. This model requires an electric fan, but there are other options available as well, like the Ecofan that uses heat alone to generate the electricity required to move air.