Living in the great outdoors can make you feel like you’re part of a survival reality TV show. But it doesn’t have to feel this way. With enough preparation, you can supply your tiny house with the right things before cold strikes.
So, how do you prepare a tiny house for winter? Smart insulation, investing in quality propane appliances, and winterizing your plumbing are crucial in making sure your tiny house remains cozy and functional throughout the season.
Keep reading to learn about tiny house living in the winter, and how to prepare yours for freezing temperatures.
It All Starts With the Build
If you want to survive through the winter, you have to build a tiny house that’s prepared for the cold. This includes choosing the most appropriate appliances for your tiny house, as well as outfitting your home’s structure with the best insulation material.
Insulation In a Tiny Home
First time builders make the mistake of thinking that you only need to insulate your walls in a tiny house. While this may be true for traditional homes, consider the fact that your tiny house is built on a metal trailer, which is a conduit for energy loss. Because of this, you have to think about insulating your floor and even your trailer, as well as the wheel well.
For temperate climates, using rock wool, cotton, or even fiberglass is already a viable insulation option. But for tiny homes parked in colder states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado, a spray foam insulation applied on the 2 x 4s plus a rigid foam board outside the studs prevents significant heat loss during winter.
Choosing the best insulation material is the first step to proper insulation. R-values determine how effective a material is in preventing heat loss. The higher the R-value, the more efficient the material.
Here are the top insulation options for a tiny house:
|R2.9 - 3.5
|R3 - 3.5
|Densely Packed Cellulose
|R 3.6 - 3.8
|R6 - 7
|R3.5 - 3.8
|Extruded Polystyrene (XPS)
|R3.7 - 6.5
|Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)
|R3.8 - 4
However, insulating your tiny house isn’t just about picking a material with a high R-value. At the end of the day, it all comes down to proper application. A material can still be conducive to heat loss when not installed properly, so insulation is something you want to install slowly and properly.
If you want to learn more about R-values, material costs, and installation practices, read our extensive insulation article: Insulating Your Tiny House: Types, Costs and Shopping Tips (A Detailed Guide)
How Important Is Tiny House Skirting?
Adding a skirt to your tiny house is a great way to further insulate your trailer, which is where most of the heat loss occurs. Adding an extra layer of protection between the outside world and your tiny house helps make sure that your home is energy efficient in winter.
Without a skirt, your tiny house is susceptible to:
- Huge energy loss from the trailer exposure
- Pipes becoming more prone to freezing
- Critters coming in and nesting under your trailer
To prepare, you can use insulation materials such as roll foam and simply wrap it around your trailer (including the wheel well) to cover up the outside of your trailer. Other people use natural materials like old cloth (particularly denim) or hay bales and stack it around the base of their tiny house.
Whatever material you use, we can’t emphasize enough how important is skirting your tiny house for winter.
Choosing Your Appliances
When you start choosing appliances to outfit your tiny house, shop for appliances that can keep you toasty through cold weather, no matter what. This is especially important for tiny house owners living off the grid and can’t rely on the city’s electricity to power up and heat their tiny house.
Tankless Water Heater
A tankless water heater is a must-have for a tiny house for winter. There are electric, propane, and even hybrid options that can run through gas or electricity.
If you’re planning to live off-grid, power outages and battery fails can prevent you from using your water heater. Ultimately, we recommend going with a propane heater that can continue running even when there are power breaks.
Our top five recommendations for a tankless water heater include:
- Rheem Heating Chamber RTEX-13
- EcoSmart ECO 27 Electric Heater
- Rinnai RL Series HE+ Tankless Heater
- Atmor AT-910-27TP ThermoPro Electric Heater
- Takagi T-KJr2-IN-LP Indoor Heater
We wrote an extensive review on each of these five water heaters in our article, “Top 5 Tankless Water Heaters for Tiny House Living”.
Space Heater: Electric or Propane?
Space heaters are another must-have for a tiny house. As with the tankless water heater, we recommend getting a propane water heater for the following reasons:
- It’s affordable. Unlike gasoline, 98% of the propane you buy is already coming from the US, which means it’s not subject to price fluctuations. A 100-gallon tank of propane costs $380 to $650, which is more than enough to supply a year’s worth of usage.
- Less energy is needed to heat up a home. Propane is more thermal efficient than electricity, so you would end up using less propane to heat up the same space in cold weather.
- Propane heaters require no set-up. If you’re living off the grid, a propane-based heating system is guaranteed to keep your tiny house warm throughout the winter. With alternative power options, you would have to invest in solar systems and batteries. With shorter and darker days, there’s no guarantee your solar system can keep things running throughout the winter.
There are further considerations when choosing propane heaters or just propane appliances in general. You would have to select vented options that you would have to install in your tiny house.
Luckily, there are small propane heaters that fit a tiny house that are easy to use and provide many features such as a built-in thermostat or a child-safe lock.
Read more: Best Vented Propane Heaters for Tiny Houses
Ventilation and Humidity
During the winter, colder days mean you won’t be opening your tiny house windows and doors that often. With this, the air quality inside your home won’t be as good, especially when you’re running propane appliances for the most part of the day.
Even with vented options, installing a carbon monoxide detector is crucial in protecting your tiny house from danger. A plug-in detector like the Kiddie Nighthawk is a popular option. It has a digital display and has a battery backup that can keep it running during power outages.
Proper ventilation and maintaining good air quality is a primary concern in cold weather. Fortunately, these can be easily solved by installing a proper ventilation system in your tiny house.
Most folks bring in a dehumidifier in their tiny house during the winter but you can fix both heat and humidity issues by going with an energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system.
Choosing between a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or an ERV system depends on where you live and what your home needs. If your house receives 60% and above relative humidity in the winter (you can use a hygrometer to measure this), an ERV would keep your home safe from mold, while keeping the air fresh. It works just as well if you are experiencing dryness in your home come winter since an ERV system can also prevent too much humidity loss.
Winterizing Your Tiny House Plumbing
Pipes can freeze overnight during winter, and it’s something that happens to tiny house owners as well. Just like in traditional housing, winterization efforts are crucial if you want to make sure your plumbing remains unaffected during winter.
Here are the common winterizing precautions in cold weather:
- Insulate your spigot. The idea of wrapping insulation foam all over your spigot seems silly but it’s completely worth it, unless you enjoy hauling water directly into your tiny house every morning.
- Invest in a heated tape or cable. In place of insulation material, you can use heated tape or cable to wrap around pipes, spigots, and other plumbing fixtures to prevent them from freezing.
- Get a heated water cable. If you’re connected to a water supply, a heated cable can prevent your water supply from freezing by ensuring that the water supply is constantly heated.
- If you must, consider getting a propane blanket. Propane tanks can also freeze especially if they’re stored outside your home. To prevent this from happening, invest in a propane blanket.
- Get a self-starting water heater. If you’re living in temperatures below freezing, a self-starting water heater will prevent your appliance from breaking down in the coldest of temperatures. This is a necessity if you’re camping out in the coldest states with limited heating capabilities, including Alaska and Vermont.
- Plan your greywater and blackwater disposal carefully. Nothing is worse than greywater or blackwater pipes freezing during the winter. Clean your grey and blackwater pipes out before storage and make sure they are elevated at least 1 to 2 inches off the ground so they stream directly into the sewage line.
Read more in our post: How to Keep Your Tiny House Water Pipes From Freezing
Free Cheat Sheet For the Winter
Give yourself one less thing to think about by streamlining your preparation process. Download our free checklist below to get a quick rundown of things you have to do before camping out in the winter. We also included an empty checklist that you can print and write on to make your preparations even easier.
Download our free cheat sheet here.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.