the heat is on – keeping warm off the grid

20 Sep

This question is a good one “how do you keep warm living off grid?”.

I have a few options.

Electric. Propane. The RV Engine, DIY heater, Candles, Insulation, Clothing, fan, A/C, Location, Clothing. Depending on the type of housing, you have a variety of choices.

insulate and seal

Just like in a home, it’s important to insulate and seal all the weak points. On a budget this is not as hard or daunting as it may seem. Any good Canadian will tell you “Red Green is genius!” Translation – use duct tape. The wind and cold gets in from several places in an RV, the vents, windows, and underneath.

Here’s what I’ve done.

I could have put a barrier or lining around the vehicle to prevent the cold from getting up underneath but have decided against it this year. I grabbed a tube of weather proof silicon and sealed up the cracks inside and out, especially around the windows and opening.

The vents were a concern for me since the wind and cold simply came in. Using the free fabric cuttings I recycled from a local upholstery company, I covered the vents and drafty corners. I than grabbed clear plastic drop sheets, window sealers and recycled bubble wrap (air is a good insulator) and lined all the windows. The duct tape came in handy here and it’s waterproof too.

The homemade curtains I made for free, also with the upholstery shop’s donated cut offs keep the cold out of the weak point – the windows. They look good too and I even made the curtain rods with sticks from the forest. A nice rustic look – sharp, artsy, pragmatic and free.

clothing and blankets

This should really be a no brainer. When it gets colder, put on the right clothing and bring out the winter blankets. There’s nothing like a thicker pair of socks, thermal under garments and a good sweater. You can even put a hat on, where 90% of your body heat gets lost. I have a selection of blankets, duvets and a sleeping bag. The sleeping bag keeps all the heat in and I often find myself pulling it off coz I’m so toasty. Padding the underside of my bed adds a bit of insulation and comfort too. Do this gradually, and as it gets colder, add another blanket.

If you have a water bottle, you can heat your bed before you go to sleep. If your power situation is steady and you have enough charge in your batteries, consider an electric blanket.

candles and natural heat

There are a multitude of ways to bring the temperature up using natural heat. If you can harness the sun with your windows during the day, it will bring the internal temperature up. I’ve tried to get some sunlight on my RV but remember, I live in forest, so I’m limited in that manner.

I can bring the temperature up a couple degrees using candles and terracotta pots. I put a lid over the candles, leaving a space and create a bit of convection. The pots heat up and create a bit of extra heat.

There are many other forms of ingenious devices, such as vegetable oil heaters. I will experiment with some of these next year.

fireplaces and wood stoves

This option isn’t available for me this year in my RV but when I build my tiny home structure (or multiple) next year it is likely I will design a rocket stove heater. This device is ancient form of hyper efficient wood burning stoves. There are even designs which incorporate a water heater. The design and size options are limitless.

There are also traditional wood stoves, fireplaces, passive heat and cooling using stone and even ice fishing hut stoves. With a little research and resourcefulness you can have a cheap and safe option built in a matter of days.

buy a heater (or find used)

I’ve borrowed a propane heater, Mr Buddy Portable. It gives me 10,000 BTU of heat using propane. The tank sits outside and I run a hose to the heater inside. There are also refill fittings you can get for the big tank to fill up the little 1Ib portable canisters, we have one on order so I will be using it shortly. I run it for about 20 minutes a time to get my tiny 100 square feet nicely heated. At present that seems to be about a half dozen times a day or a couple hours.

Not the most eco friendly choice but I’m warm and able to function.

As options become available, I’ll be able to reduce my footprint and if I lived in a traditional home with a large space, I’d be using a much larger amount of propane. I haven’t gone through much fuel in the last few days and am hoping it lasts for several weeks, so at $20 a fill for a 15ib tank, my heating cost is well under control. If I was here in the winter it would probably be about $20 a week, a price I’m willing to pay to keep warm.

There are electric heaters if you have a good solar or alternative power system with a lot of batteries. You could also run it while you run your generator.

A fan will help to circulate the air, but this too requires power, unless you find a great solar fan.

Generally, I’m happy with my solution and quite comfortable at the moment. No more cold nights or days during the rain. All is well.

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2 Responses to the heat is on – keeping warm off the grid



September 21st, 2012 at 8:24 pm

For the record, my Coleman BlackCat heater is 3,00 BTU.


simply stephen

September 26th, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Ah…with the Mr. Propane portable buddy putting out 10,000 it’s more suitable to heat the space in your trailer. I’m usually toastie quite quickly. Long term, I’ll be looking towards passive solar and efficient stoves with dual functions like cooking and water heating too.

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