Living off-grid has its rewards and challenges and heating your off-grid home in the winter can be quite a challenge. A little planning can go a long way towards heating your space efficiently and safely.
Whether you are spending time in a small hunting cabin for the weekend, making an off-grid life, want to be prepared for an emergency in your on-grid home, or just want to be more efficient with your heating, check out these tips to keep your off-grid home warm in the winter.
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Smaller is Better
One advantage of tiny homes is that they are easier to heat. A small space will require much less heat and, oftentimes, tiny homes come with tiny little woodstoves that seem to easily get the job done.
If you are in the planning stages of your off-grid home, plan to keep your home smaller so that it is easier and less expensive to heat. You’ll use less wood or propane to keep your space warm.
If you live in a cold climate, you’ll want to insulate the walls and ceiling of your home in order to keep the heat in and the cold out in winter, and to keep the cold in and the heat out in the summer. There are plenty of alternatives to fiberglass insulation, though. You may want to consider more natural alternatives for your off-grid home, such as wool insulation or even insulation made from recycled denim.
If you are building your home yourself, you might consider using haybales in the walls as insulation. Insulate the walls, attic or crawlspace area, and your basement, if you have one. Don’t forget to wrap pipes if you have indoor plumbing so they are less likely to freeze in the winter.
Mobile homes often have skirting around the bottom to keep the wind from blowing underneath and cooling the home in the winter. You can mimic this effect on most homes by stacking straw bales around the exterior foundation, especially on the north and west sides. This will create a bit of a wind and snow block, keeping winter chills out and warmer air in.
Close Off Empty Rooms and Closets
If you have extra rooms you don’t need, just close the door. If you don’t need to heat it, then don’t. Or keep the room cool, at around sixty degrees, except for the times that you need to be in there. Maybe you’ll want to keep the bedrooms cool and closed off during the day, and just open and warm them for when you go to bed at night.
Seal Off Drafts
Carefully moving a lit candle near the edges of your windows and doors can help you determine where any drafts are coming from. If the flame blows out or off to the side, you’ll know there is a draft that needs to be fixed. You’ll need to use some kind of sealant or weather stripping around your windows and doors to keep the cold air out.
For larger gaps, you may need to use expanding spray foam. This works great to fill in larger gaps but be careful not to use too much. As it expands, it can move or break drywall. Once it dries, you can trim it, sand it, and paint it to match your home. Latch and lock all windows and doors so they stay tightly closed.
Remember that drafts can cool the home, or simply make you feel cool when the air hits you.
Seal Windows With Plastic
Glass can transfer cold air into the house, especially if you only have single-pane windows. You can combat this with some plastic sheeting. Using kits specially designed to insulate windows, you’ll attach a double-sided tape all the way around the window, and firmly press a plastic sheet onto the tape.
A blow dryer set on warm will help to shrink the plastic so that it is tight and you can see through it. If the plastic is installed properly, you’ll barely notice it is there. Another alternative to plastic sheeting is bubble wrap. If you don’t need to see out the windows, you can spray the window with a little water and smooth a sheet of bubble wrap over the window.
The tiny bubbles will act as insulators, keeping cold air out and warm air in. This is a great way to reuse bubble wrap.
Heavy Thermal Curtains and Rugs
Close up your heavy drapes on dark, damp days and when the sun goes down. This will keep the warmth in and the cold out. Place thick rugs on the floor to keep the cold air of the ground from seeping up through the floor of the house. This will also keep your feet warmer, which will make you feel warmer, too.
Make Good Use of Windows for Passive Solar Heating
South-facing windows (if you live in the continental United States) get the most sun. When the sun directly hits the windows, even in the middle of winter, it will help to warm the air inside your home. Make sure your curtains and blinds are wide open when the sun shines to let in the warmth for the most natural heating possible.
To make even further use of passive solar heating, consider adding some kind of thermal mass, such as a dark stone wall or even a darkly painted wall, where the sunlight hits. This will help absorb and keep more of the sun’s heat.
Create Outdoor Windbreaks
The wind blowing on the house can cause drafts but arborday.org says that planting a row of conifer trees on the north and northwest sides of the house can reduce heating costs by up to 30%. The windbreak should be no further than the distance of one to two tree-heights from the house for the best results.
Wear Warm Clothing
You don’t need to keep your house warm if you keep your body warm. My kiddos like to run around in bare feet and shorts all year round, but I wouldn’t need to keep the house as warm if they wore long pants, socks and shoes, and a wool sweater indoors.
Have An Efficient Wood Stove
A fireplace tends to be drafty, but a well-crafted woodstove is pretty efficient and can warm your space. Make sure your woodstove is big enough to heat as much of your home as you need it to. Invest in a heat-powered fan to circulate the warm air.
Make sure your wood stove is clean and in good working order and have your chimney professional cleaned regularly. Only burn hardwoods that have been well-seasoned. Avoid burning softwoods, like pine, in indoor woodstoves. Some experts recommend storing one month’s worth of wood indoors so that it can acclimate to your indoor climate and burn more efficiently.
If you have a propane stove off-grid, bake bread, or cookies, or even supper. The heat of the oven will help to take the chill out of your space. However, do not open the oven door in order to use the stove as a furnace. It isn’t safe or healthy to do so.
Use Additional Forms of Heat
If you are not feeling warm enough, or you need to plan a back heat source, try some of these other forms of heat
There are two kinds – built-in propane heaters and portable propane heaters. A good propane heater should work without electricity, however, you’ll need to make sure to take plenty of safety precautions. Portable propane heaters are great when the power is out.
You’ll need to read the directions for your specific heater because they generally require plenty of outdoor ventilation. Our propane heater works great to heat up a couple of rooms but requires an open window to vent the fumes. Portable Buddy Heaters, found here, are a popular and affordable type of propane heater.
Rocket Mass Heater
Rocket mass heaters are very efficient sources of energy. They are generally not compatible with building codes, so you may need to build your own from a barrel. The wood stove sends the heat through a masonry heater, usually shaped like a bench, which heats the room using thermal mass.
The hot gasses from the furnace heat the mass of the bench. The bench gives off warmth for much longer than a traditional woodstove.
Solar Thermal Air Heater
These DIY projects harness the heat of the sun, much like a solar cooker does. Instead of heating up food, the thermal air heater heats of the air inside of it and using convection to move the heat from the external box to the inside of your house. Check out this website for information on four different types of solar air heaters and how to make them.
Clay Pot Heater
These little heaters may not heat your entire house, but they may help you feel warmer if you sit next to them. Check out this discussion on the use of clay pot heaters. As always, be careful with open flames.
Hot Water Bottles
Use your wood stove to heat up hot water for hot water bottles to warm your feet and hands. Always be careful not to get burned!
Chemical Hand Warmers
In a pinch, you can use chemical hand warmers to help stave off a chill. While they won’t warm a house or room, they may help you feel warmer and more comfortable in your off-grid home.
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