Crackle and pop in a snap with these wood stove pro tips.
Written by: Elizabeth Paashaus, Deliberate Life Bus
Elizabeth has been heating her bus with wood since 2017 while traveling the country with her family in a self-converted 1994 Thomas Saf-T-Liner. Starting in 2018, she has been working remotely for Tiny Wood Stove helping people source and install wood stoves in their own tiny, mobile, and unconventional living spaces. The pictured stove is a Dwarf 5kw.
The stove is the thing people notice first when they come in our bus, especially if we have a fire burning. We chose wood heat for our bus conversion for the je ne sais quoi that wood fires have. A fire in a wood stove makes people want to gather ‘round and play games, eat a meal, or just sit by chatting. We like that if you put in a little work (finding wood, cutting wood, building tinder up nicely for an easy to start a fire), you can have the coziest space for very little to no money spent on fuel. And you don’t have to have any insider knowledge to figure out how to fix it if something goes wrong like you would with propane or an electric heater. Here are some tips for how to choose and install a wood stove for your bus
Get the Right Size
A properly sized stove can provide longer burns, plenty of heat for even the coldest winter days, and can even help manage the humidity in your home. Tiny Wood Stove has a BTU Calculator where you can put in the dimensions of your skoolie, how well you insulated it, and the coldest temperature you plan to stay in to get a sizing recommendation for whether you plan to use your stove as your only heat source or as a supplement.
A stove with an insulated firebox will help your fire burn hotter and more efficiently, a baffle and separate air controls to aid in secondary combustion will allow the flue gasses to burn more completely and add to the efficiency of your stove, and airtight construction of the firebox will give you longer burn time and more heat with less fuel consumption. Read more about how to compare efficiency between wood stoves.
Ah, the elusive tiny stove with an all-night burn. Longer burn times mean less work and larger wood stoves may even be able to keep a fire going all night, though selecting too large a stove for your space will overheat your bus. Some of the same features that increase a stove’s efficiency also increase it’s burn time such as separate air controls, a baffle for secondary combustion, and an airtight firebox.
Outside Air Supply
If your stove is not connected to an outside air supply, then it is using your pre-heated room air for combustion. Any air that's used from inside the room needs to be replaced with air leaking in from outside, so a wood stove can sometimes create cold drafts near leaky windows and doors. To avoid drafts, connecting your stove to its own outside air supply is a good option.
Where to Put Your Stove
In order to keep your bus cozy, you’ll want to consider where in the bus you’ll place your stove. Selecting a spot near the door is convenient for bringing in wood and sweeping out ash while a centrally located stove heats your space most evenly but doesn’t always align with your layout. If you need to place your stove further toward one end of your bus or you have walls that will make it harder to get the heat to one area, a heat-powered fan on top of the stove can make a big difference in heat dispersion.
Don’t trust pictures. People do frequently violate clearances and post the results online. Just because someone did it doesn't mean it's safe. Adequate clearances are one of the two most important safety features of any wood stove installation. (The other is proper materials.) But cheating on clearances can create a very dangerous situation. In most cases, clearance violations will not cause a fire immediately. As material is repeatedly heated, it deteriorates on a molecular level. After months or years of repeated heating, a surface that "hadn't had a problem yet" can spontaneously burst into flames. Because the actual clearance requirements for wood stoves are impractical for buses and other small spaces, most people will use a heat shield to significantly reduce the clearances. There are many ways to build a safe heat shield for clearance reduction but the most effective and most common is an air-cooled shield. That can be both simple to build and an attractive surround to your stove.
Is Wood Heat Right for Me?
Just like with any choice you make in your bus conversion, there are pros and cons of heating with wood. The questions you need to ask are: do the added work of chopping wood, lack of thermostat and mess of ashes outweigh the cozy feel of a wood fire, the dry heat that controls moisture in the bus, the simplicity of burning wood to stay warm, the ability to cook on top, and the freedom from reliance on propane?
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