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5 Best Eco-Friendly Ways To Heat Your Small Space

    5 eco friendly ways to heat your tiny home log burner

    Heating your tiny home or small space doesn’t have to be done at the expense of the environment.

    There are a number of eco-friendly ways to heat your home that work effectively (i.e. you’ll feel nice and warm) and efficiently (i.e. you’ll use less energy and have to pay less for fuel). Good for you and good for the environment.

    Just how often you need to use the heating, depends on where you live. In the UK, the average temperature for more than half the year is under a not-so-balmy 10oC. Not exactly shorts and t-shirt weather. In this type of climate, heating is essential on a daily basis when it’s chilly. There’s no getting away from that. It’s just a matter of how we heat our home, which is the really question for the environmentally minded.

    Owners of smaller accommodation, such as shepherd’s huts, cabins and other tiny homes, are also at an advantage when it comes to eco-friendly heating as you have less overall space to heat.

    Let’s take a look at the best eco-friendly ways to heat your small space.

    opus harmony ecodesign ready stove 2022

    The problem with modern heating methods

    Unfortunately, many modern heating options aren’t too environmentally friendly.

    Although energy providers, such as Bulb Energy and Octopus, are getting better at sourcing fuels from renewable energy forms, fossil fuels are still all too prevalent.

    We’re all pretty accustomed now to the harm that burning an inordinate amount of fossil fuels cause to the world – unnaturally fast warming, more frequent extreme climatic events, air pollution, landscape and habitat destruction, plus a whole load more. It’s not good.

    This is why it’s crucial to be aware of the eco-friendly ways you can heat your home, so we can get away from fossil fuel use, which I believe is something important to you.


    5 of the best eco-friendly ways to heat your home

    charnwood country 4 wood burning stove defra approved
    You can buy a fantastic wood burning stove like this Charnwood Country 4 over at directstoves.com.

    1. Multi-Fuel Stoves – Wood, Pellets and Biomass

    Multi-fuel stoves are an eco-friendly way to heat your tiny home. You can get separate wood burning stoves or stoves made for pellets, but I’ve grouped them together as they work on the same premise. However please note, the environmental and eco-friendly credentials of different fuel types can differ.

    As the name suggest, you can burn different materials in a multi-fuel stove. The most common type of fuel to burn in a stove is wood in the form of logs, however, a multi-fuel stove will also allow you to burn biomass pellets, wooden chips, peat bricks, turf briquettes and even coffee logs.

    The wider option of materials makes it an attractive option. It also means you’re not solely reliant on wooden logs, which are in a way depleting a resource, although this can be done in a sustainable and renewable manner.

    Biomass pellets for example, are made from recycled sources, such as sawdust, wood shavings and forms of grass. The organic matter gets crushed and compressed together to form the pellets, which also has the benefit of squeezing out any excess moisture, resulting in an efficient, clean burn when in the stove. These biomass pellets also tend to emit less pollution in comparison to wood logs. The use of wooden logs is considered a carbon-neutral source, as the carbon released during burning is roughly the same as the carbon the tree absorbs during its life.

    Many modern multi-fuel stoves are now designed and built to reach stringent environmental standards to do with smoke pollution and heat efficiency. From 2022 in the UK, all wood burning stoves manufactured will have to be Ecodesign ready in response of the 2019 Clean Air Strategy.

    Take a look at my top 10 Ecodesign wood burning stoves for 2022 here.

    Whether you opt for a multi-fuel or purely wood burning stove, they both occupy a fairly small footprint of space within your home and just need a single chimney vent going to the outside. They’re also not as expensive as you probably think with prices ranging from £500 (for an excellent stove) up to the costly end of £2,000.

    ProsCons
    Off-grid heating solutionStove isn’t attached to a thermostat (can control fire using the air flow wheel)
    Can double up as a cooking/water boiling applianceHeat isn’t initially available instantly
    Emit radiant heat from all sidesCan’t leave unattended
    Good heat efficiencyNot remote controllable
    Clean fuel choice
    Cheap to run
    Carbon neutral
    Unique fire ambience

    2. Underfloor Heating

    Underfloor radiant heating, as it’s formally known, sounds a rather luxurious way to heat your tiny home. In reality, because of your small footprint it’s actually a very effective and consistent way to heat your home.

    The premise of radiant heating is to heat up an object rather than the air. In the case of underfloor radiant heating, the technology cleverly heats a large surface, where the heat then rises and warms the whole area above the surface. It’s a good way of distributing warmth efficiently and effectively, and you won’t get any cold spots.

    There are two main types of underfloor heating: water-based or electric. A water-based system works through underfloor pipes, whereas an electric-based system heats underfloor wire loops. Both systems can work in conjunction with a variety of flooring material, including wood, laminate, vinyl, tile and carpet, and both can be powered by solar or another off-grid method.

    ProsCons
    Easy to runInstallation cost
    Doesn’t take up any living spaceMay need a qualified electrician to install
    Works with all flooring types
    Safe to use
    Energy efficient
    Easy to control temperature (can be used with a Smart Thermostat)
    Requires no maintenance
    Won’t leave any cold spots where installed

    3. Solar Heating

    Image: Solar panels on a tiny home. Source – tinyhousetalk.com

    If there’s one consistent source of energy in the world, it’s solar.

    The sun is always emitting a tremendous amount of energy and light that can be harnessed during daylight hours. Solar energy is probably the ultimate renewable in that it’s free, constant and extremely eco-friendly.

    We can’t always see the sun in the UK, but you’ll be glad to know that it’s not an absolute necessity for your solar heating system to work, although bad weather will reduce efficiency.

    There are three main options for solar heating:

    1. Solar air heaters
    2. Solar water heaters
    3. Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

    All three require separate systems and can be quite expensive to install. Solar air heaters and solar water heaters can heat your home directly, but solar PV panels first and foremost produce electricity. This electricity can then be used to power systems within your home, including for example an efficiency electric heater.

    Although they do require a fairly hefty initial investment (which you can get grants for), solar heating offers a lifetime of renewable, free energy that’s as clean as a whistle. All three systems can offer a completely off-grid lifestyle for your heating needs, but if you are planning to, or do, live off-grid then it’ll be wise to invest in a solar storage battery so that you have a constant source of energy when it’s dark outside.

    ProsCons
    Little to no maintenance costsHigh initial investment costs
    Free energy from the sunMay need a qualified professional to install
    Provide very clean green energySpace may be an issue during installation to roof or outside wall
    Safe to useBad weather will lower efficiency
    Solar energy storage batteries can be expensive (may be needed if you’re completely off-grid)

    4. Electric Heaters

    Electric heaters are a very popular way to heat a tiny home, and for a couple of good reasons. The main benefit is that you have heat at the click of a button, they don’t have to be installed and they are inexpensive to buy. They are a good option if your tiny home is connected to the grid and the energy available is abundant.  

    If your tiny home operates off-grid however, they might not be the best option as your primary source of heat. This is because they do require connection to a power source and they are known to guzzle energy, meaning they’re likely to drain your solar energy fairly quickly. They’re also not the most attractive of options and can be quite bulky and take up precious indoor living space.

    ProsCons
    Very inexpensive to buyEnergy intensive to run (if you use off-grid solar power, they might not be the best option)
    No installation or maintenance costsLikely to leave cold spots within your home
    Can be thermostat controlledBulky, take up space
    Immediate heat availableLikely to require mains power

    5. Green Energy Supplier

    If it’s not possible for you to live off-grid or if you’re already attached to the grid and not wanting to come off it just yet, you’re next best thing is to switch supplier to a Green Energy provider.

    Gone are the days when everyone had to choose from one of the ‘Big 6’ energy providers that fueled all homes with a combination of fossil fuels. We’re now in a much better situation to be able to choose an environmentally conscious energy provider. Green suppliers in the UK, such as Bulb Energy and Octopus Energy, provide electricity from 100% renewable sources, harnessing energy from solar, wind and water.

    Rather than many confusing tariffs, these green suppliers tend to offer fixed rates or a small number of options. However all are usually very affordable and competitive, more often than not cheaper than fossil fuel-based energy suppliers.

    Because they tend to be a bit more new-school in their approach, everything is done online, seamlessly and without hassle – no more waiting on the phone for 30 minutes before getting through to an unhelpful advisor, only to find out you have to write a letter or something. Customer service is top priority and because of this, they offer highly tuned digital systems for all their communications, including switching providers which is incredibly easy and no hassle at all on your part.

    ProsCons
    100% renewable electricity (reduced carbon footprint)Still a type of mains energy
    Affordable, cheap, non-confusing tariffsNot compatible with off-grid living
    ‘On tap’ energy, no disruption to servicePotential geographic limitation
    Easy to switch to green provider

    The benefit of heating a small space or tiny home

    red sky shepherds hut with timber cladding
    It’s much easier and more efficient to heat a small space such as shepherd’s hut like this one from Red Sky Shepherd’s Huts

    A major benefit of living in a tiny home is that you don’t have much space to heat. A traditional two-story three bed home here in the UK may cover around 1400 square feet. A tiny home on the other hand will cover less than 400 sq ft.

    Less space means a tiny home can be heated very efficiently and effectively. The more efficient your heating is, the less energy you’ll use and the less you’ll have to pay. Excellent.

    You might not need as much energy as you think. It’s always a useful exercise to calculate your energy usage with an online calculator, so you can then match this to your eco-friendly heating system of choice to make sure your covered.

    The downside of an environmentally friendly heating source is that they do generally require an initial investment, which can sometimes be quite steep, but not always. To put into perspective however, it’s only the same as if you wanted to upgrade your boiler or mains-powered heating system. These will also require an upfront cost, plus they’ll also need regular maintenance, which as we’ll see, many eco-friendly heating options don’t.

    A green energy system will deliver a significant reduction in heating costs throughout the year and eventually pay itself back in anywhere from a couple to eight years at the extreme. After this time however, you’ll then be living the green energy dream of zero bills.

    On-grid vs off-grid heating systems

    From a top level approach, your tiny home has two main energy streams it can utilise:

    1. On-grid power
    2. Off-grid power

    If you opt for an on-grid heating system, you’ll be reliant on mains energy. This means you won’t just be able to up sticks and move your tiny home (if it’s of the mobile variety), meaning it’ll be more or less permanently placed.

    With an off-grid heating system, you’ll be able to take your source of energy and heat anywhere you go without worrying about plugging into the grid. If you’re a tiny home owner or just sustainability-focussed, the idea of being self-sufficient is a very appealing one.

    On the whole, cutting reliance on mains energy will have a positive environmental impact. For some people living in tiny homes, this is absolutely possible, whereas others still may be reliant on mains power. Living ‘off-grid’ provides much more scope to be eco-friendly, however, there are still methods and strategies you can put into play if your home is on-grid reliant.

    Other environmentally friendly heating options

    > What about geothermal heating?

    When you’re doing your research for eco-friendly ways to heat your home, one option you might regularly see is geothermal heating or ground source heating. This type of system draws heat from the ground underneath your home, which is more constant than air temperature. It is a very environmentally friendly according to Energy Star but it’s also extremely expensive – between £10,000-£20,000 – plus yearly servicing costs into the £100s.

    It also means your tiny home would no longer be mobile, which may not be the case anyway. Installing ground source heating requires a whole load of underground pipework that transfers heat to a heat pump and then circulates it around your home.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice idea but just not very practical for a tiny home owner.

    > What about propane heaters?

    Propane heaters are an off-grid option that can be controlled by a thermostat, but as an eco-friendly heating option they are a non-starter.

    Propane gas is a by-product that comes from crude oil during the refining process and also extracted from natural gas. It’s therefore a non-renewable source of energy and not environmentally friendly.


    Additional ways to help your eco-friendly heating

    The best way to make any home more efficient from a heating point of view, is to ensure that it’s fully insulated. Top-notch, eco-friendly insulation will reduce your energy usage, reduce bills and lower your carbon footprint. If your tiny home insulation is not up to scratch, make sure you upgrade it as a priority. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t have any draughts allowing your warm air to escape to the outside.

    Smart thermostats – such as those from Nest and Hive – are a great way to regulate indoor temperatures efficiently, effectively and easily. Being more efficient with your energy of course saves you money and the unnecessary use of a resource.

    Another little tip is to just adjust your thermostat a little bit lower. Even reducing the desired temperature by 1oC can save a large amount of energy over the year and I bet you barely notice the difference to your warmth and comfort.

    Related Post: 13 Ways To Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly


    Considering your environmentally friendly heating options

    There’s a lot to consider when it comes to eco-friendly heating options. Up-front costs can be off-putting for some, but just remember they will payback, and when they do, you (and the environment) will be laughing off free, renewable energy. If you can afford the initial investment, it’s a no-brainer.

    You’ll also need to consider whether your tiny home will be entirely off-grid, off-grid for some of the time, or reliant on main on-grid energy. Creating your own off-grid energy is the most eco-friendly way to heat your home, but if you can cover your heating costs with a combination of off-grid and on-grid approaches, you’re on to a winner too.

    If your tiny home is connected to the grid on a more permanent basis, then your best bet is to make sure you are utilising a green energy supplier who can provide 100% renewable electricity.

    Living in an eco-friendly manner, as many tiny home enthusiasts do, is all about doing what you as an individual possibly can to reduce your own environmental footprint. If it’s not possible to go completely off-grid just yet, or if you never end up going off-grid, this is fine. You can only control what’s in your proverbial circle and making more eco-friendly choices when and where you can that work best for you and your lifestyle is an admirable way forward.  


    Read more on eco-friendly living…

    * Header photo by Michael Shannon on Unsplash