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Heating a Tiny House Overnight.. Leave it on or Turn it off?

Today’s topic is on heating in a tiny house overnight.. Do you leave the heat on or turn it off while you sleep? Since I was born and raised in Florida, I’ve hardly ever had to use heat.. So I wanted to direct this issue to the community (you). The question came up thanks to a reader, Kim. She brought it to my attention after one of our webinars.

Below is a photo of Christopher Smith, of Tiny: the Movie, installing his heater. He has an interesting post, too, on propane versus wood for heating tiny houses. I wonder… Does he turn it off before bed or just trust it?

Heating a Tiny House

Photo Credit Tiny-themovie.com

I encourage you to read our thoughts and then add your own below:

Hi Alex,

Just wanted to say thanks for another great and informative Webinar. Loved getting to raise my hand just like school :~)

Also, if you have the time, I thought of a question that I wish I had ask.

With the issue of fire brought up and also talking about heating a tiny house, as I was going through my notes I remembered a comment I think made by Dee Williams in one of her youtube vids that she did not heat her house at night while sleeping.

So I was wondering if most tiny house dwellers felt comfortable (safe) heating with the Dickinson heater through the night?

Have you had any feedback on this?

Thanks Alex, you are investing your talent and ability in educating the tiny house community and we sure appreciate everything you do!

Warm regards,

Kim S.

My first instinct was to reach out to Gregory Johnson, of the Small House Society, who lived in a tiny house with a propane Dickinson heater. Here’s what he had to say:

Yes, I used the Dickinson. As long as the system is installed properly, I think it’s perfectly safe. As with any home, I’d recommend having a high quality smoke detector (in the $70+ price range) because they use a different more responsive technology than the cheaper ones. Also, having a carbon monoxide detector is essential in any home, but more important in a smaller space that presumably has even less air exchange than older larger homes. The Dickinson heater I used had two settings: low and high. I found it was so efficient that I needed to turn it below the lower setting and have a barely visible flame. That was enough to keep my house warm. ~ Gregory Johnson, Small House Society

Greg made a great point. Be sure to install it correctly and have a quality carbon monoxide and smoke detector installed in your home. Here’s a well known and widely used combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector that you can use.

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What are your thoughts on leaving a propane-based heater on all night while you sleep in a tiny house? Is this dangerous or are we over-thinking it? What would you or do you do currently?

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Wayneburg
    September 9, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Consider a separate smoke detector and separate carbon monoxide detector. If the battery runs out on a combination smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector, then you are out both forms of detection. It’s less likely you will run out of batteries for both individual units at the same time. In a case like that it’s better to have at least one form of detection until you replace the battery in the other unit.

  • Adolf
    September 9, 2012, 9:35 pm

    If you live in a climate like mine, where winter temps go to -45 F you would not have to ask this question :).

    • September 10, 2012, 2:50 pm

      Lol, thanks Adolf!

    • Susie
      April 11, 2013, 1:34 am

      and so “Three Dog Night” was born… seriously tho’ how come no one is using under floor heating? It could be electric or pex tubing filled with water or silicone, run on a portable PV panel. Closer and closer to off the grid my friends…

  • Tiana
    September 10, 2012, 4:56 pm

    We use a propane heater in our truck shell, which we used to travel from alaska to illinois to oregon and back to alaska. In february. We onlu used the heater at night. It has a black pipe chimeny through the roof, and we have a co1 detector that not only has an alarm, but a ppm meter. It is a sail boat heater like the Dickensen but older. You must remember that boats are essentially a bucket in the water, airtight of course, and up here, the water is 40-55*f and cools the boat. The heaters are used nonstop. Our boat also has a solar fan in the deck, and for the truck we have a computer cooler fan linked in to the extra 12v battery (charged by the truck) that we have for lights.

  • Jim
    September 15, 2012, 9:28 am

    When it comes to heating, would a small 110v electric base heater work just as well. A co2 detector would not be required. A 220v electric could possibly be used.

  • LaMar
    September 15, 2012, 9:38 am

    I use both wood and propane heat in my solar cabin and ALL homes should have a CM, CO.2, Smoke detector installed regardless of the heat source.

    Proper ventilation is key in reducing toxic gas buildup and a passive roof vent or power fan vent is recommended.

    Most newer propane ventless heaters are 99.9% efficient and as long as you have a small vent there is little danger.

    Wood stoves need proper outside air for combustion which can be installed as a separate floor vent.

  • Tish
    September 15, 2012, 9:52 am

    Having it properly installed with the monitors is, of course, correct. But ‘yes’ as you inquired – I do think you might be ‘overthinking the issue’. I sleep soundly every night in a regular house with propane furnaces. It never occurred to me, or thousands of other people, to wonder if this was ‘safe’. Yes I do have both a powered and a battery operated carbon monoxide monitor Why am I so aware? Because of a bad experience (in a full sized house) of having an improperly installed furnace with inadequate vent stack give me terrible headaches until a friend brought his carbon monoxide monitor and showed me I was being slowly poisoned. The issue is the quality of the heating unit and its install and its monitoring system — not whether heating with propane is safe.

  • September 16, 2012, 12:30 am

    If it is safe enough to use on a boat in the middle of the ocean I’ll use it in my home too.

  • AnthonyRizzo
    October 9, 2012, 11:08 am

    The obvious answer for me is to turn it off. The body rests better in a cool room anyway so why risk burning down your home or suffocating from inhaling propane fumes? If more warmth is what you desire consider buying a wool blanket and another comforter. Layering works well with clothing to conserve heat so why not with your sheets and blankets as well and if all else fails find a spooning partner 🙂

  • Jim
    October 10, 2012, 10:22 am

    Using a electric blanket works well when you want the heat level you control thoughout the night. No fumes or mess. Completely safe.

  • October 16, 2012, 11:02 pm

    Well, I sleep better in the cold.

    However, the CO detector is essential… it may not go off for years.. but it will protect you against a malfunctioning or broken heater. Night or day.

    Install your heater as the manufacturer advises. Best is a heater that not only vents to the outside, but takes its air from the outside as well. The Dickinson does not have an external intake. Not to say it is a bad heater… just something to know about.

    So, make darn sure you have a properly sized passive vent open at all times. I recommend passive, because some fan driven vents (and kitchen hoods) can cause draft problems with propane or wood heat. This negative effect on the draft can cause incomplete combustion, and rapid CO buildup.

    These vent and pressure problems are much more likely in a tiny house than a larger space. It is so easy to make the house airtight!

    Abel Zyl Zimmerman

    • November 18, 2014, 11:12 am

      Update: the newer Dickinsons ive seen DO have an external air intake… Via concentric stainless chimney. Very nice!

  • Alan
    December 30, 2012, 1:06 am

    I’m in the process of designing my tiny house. Looking at Schafer sized Fencl. I’m in a quandary as to what heater to put in. Does anyone have experience with the Dickinson heaters in cold (-5) climates. Is there another propane style heater that would work as well or better. I want to be warm when it gets that cold and not have to wear my parka indoors.


  • catherine
    November 18, 2014, 10:38 am

    We use a small red heat lamp hanging in the bathroom overnight in our school bus.
    all the tile and porcelain sucks up any heat in the house so we treat it sort of like thermal mass; heat it and keep it from sucking the heat out of the rest o the place. plus…warm tooshie!

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