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Our Tiny Wood Stove
Sometimes I feel like we love our stove too much. It’s kinda weird. I take pictures of it all the time like it’s my first born child. It just makes me happy because it’s a human instinct to be drawn to fire and love to watch it, poke it, cozy up by it.
A fire in a wood stove makes people want to gather ‘round and play games, eat a meal, or just sit by chatting. The stove is the thing most people comment on when they come in our bus for the first time, especially if we have a fire burning.
We researched a variety of different small wood burning stoves. There are some pretty cool ones out there but many of them are in other countries and shipping plus customs duties make them pretty unaffordable. In the US, the two most common are Tiny Wood Stove and Cubic Mini. For our size bus, the Cubic Minis were just too small plus they were made of lighter weight materials meaning less radiant heat. We chose the Tiny Wood Stove Dwarf 5kW. It’s designed to heat around 500 sq. ft. depending on climate but that is with a normally insulated building. School buses are poorly insulated, notoriously drafty, and since we left almost all the original single pane windows, we knew we were in for some serious heat loss. We probably would have been fine with their mid-size Dwarf 4kW stove but we went big and are happy to have the knowledge that we can stay in pretty cold climates and be comfortably warm. We stayed at the Grand Canyon for a few nights that were down in the single digits. This was before we made the reflectix panels for the windows and we still stayed warm! Although we did have to load the fire every 3 hours or so to keep it putting off a lot of heat.
Why We Chose Wood Heat
We chose it for the je ne sais quoi that wood fires have and for all the pros listed below. We like that if you put in a little work (finding wood, cutting wood, building tinder up nicely for an easy to start 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 a propane or electric heater.
I bake a lot of bread and I love that the wood stove keeps my bus nice and warm to help the bread rise. Baking bread in the winter can be frustrating with looooong rise times but with the wood stove, it’s easy to make sure my bread rises quickly.
Pros and Cons
Cozy ambiance. There’s no denying it.
No electricity needed.
Fuel can be free. Depending on the local laws, you can often gather firewood from downed trees and branches for free. Firewood shouldn’t be taken very far due to local bugs that can decimate areas they aren’t native to so please don’t stock up and drive it all over the place.
Dry heat: condensation and moisture is a notorious problem in vehicles like skoolies, vans, and RVs. Propane heaters make it worse by putting a lot of moisture into the air. Wood heat dries it right up.
We can cook on the top! I make toast, reheat leftovers, boil water for coffee, melt butter, and more on ours. We have the flue exiting the stove on top making our cooking surface fairly small but the stoves are designed so you can have the flue exit the back leaving you the entire top to cook on.
No moving parts to break. If there is fire you get warm. It’s not really that simple but it’s close. You do have to clean the creosote out of the pipes occasionally (for us it’s about once or twice a winter) and you have to take the ashes out when it gets full.
Safe. I don’t have to worry about propane leaks, did I turn it off?, are any weird gases escaping? Maybe that’s just me, but I am uncomfortable with gas powered appliances because I can’t see what might be going wrong with them. All the little parts make me nervous that they are just waiting to break.
Requires more work than any instant heat source. You can’t get home and push a button to start it and you can’t have a thermostat set to keep your place at the perfect temperature all the time. When you get home from a nice winter hike, it’s going to be COLD and you have to build a fire, and wait for it to get warm. It takes maybe 20 minutes to get our space nice and toasty including the fire building part.
Doesn’t last all night. Usually we can get a 5 hour burn if we load the stove up well. I’ve heard tell of an 8 hour burn by building an really tightly stacked “upside down” fire but we haven’t tried that hard yet. A longer burn requires choking down the air controls and therefore you don’t get a ton of heat off the fire when it is fully choked down.
Sometimes when we open the stove door we get a small puff of smoke into the room. If you are sensitive to smoke then that could be a con for you.
Easy for babies and toddlers to get burned on unless you install it up on a pedestal (which is what I’ve seen others do who have young children.)
You have to take the ashes out every day or so. When it’s cold and we are in the bus all day, burning fires all day and night, we take the ashes out twice a day. The good news is, they can be emptied while the fire is still burning.
I’m going to give a piece of advice to anyone building a tiny house, bus conversion, RV remodel: Install the wood stove as early as you can in the process if you’ll be building in the winter. We put ours in pretty much as soon as we got the sub-floor down and it was the nicest winter working in the bus. Every morning we would step out of our house, light a fire in the wood stove, and return half an hour later to a cozy workspace.
When you first get the stove, you are supposed to burn the first fire in it outside to allow paints and things to off-gas. We fired ours up as quick as we could get it assembled (it came with a few broken pieces from rough handling in the shipping so we had to wait on the replacements). We pretended like it was a campfire and sat around it in our backyard, so excited about the winters to come!
Tiny Wood Stove has a manual on installing your stove in various structures with various setups. We still had some questions and they were super helpful, answering a bunch of questions back and forth via email.
You need a heat shield to put your stove on to protect the ground from the super hot metal legs, the heat coming off the bottom of the stove, and any embers that may fall out when you open the door to load more wood in. We really wanted to create a space that felt cozy and wanted this heat shield to be like a hearth at a fireplace in a house. Adam built a frame and poured a concrete slab, complete with rebar to keep it solid even with the jolting and movement of the bus. Overkill? Yes. Awesome? Absolutely!
We probably went overboard ensuring that the 300 lb concrete slab and 150 lb. stove didn't go flying if the bus came to a sudden stop. There’s no standard for many parts of the build in a bus conversion (or at least there wasn’t when we did it). Adam drilled straight through the concrete, subfloor, insulation, and the metal floor of the bus and thru-bolted it all together with long threaded rods through each foot of the stove and through the floor and Unistrut under the bus. That thing is not going anywhere.
You also need a heat shield around your stove unless you are giving it a ton of clearance. When we went to an old landlord’s farm to look for wood, the found this great old corrugated metal roofing covering the piles of wood. It had been sitting out in the elements for who knows how many years. Some of it was super rusty with a bunch of holes but a few pieces we found had weathered just right and had this beautiful patina of red rust, and green/blue oxidation.
We mounted these sheets of metal with 1” spacers to the walls around the stove. The 1” of airspace is what makes a heat shield work. The heat from the stove heats up the metal, and the temperature difference gets the air flowing behind the shield, dissipating the heat really well.
Why do we have a zig-zag in our pipe?
An ideal flue would go straight up to keep the hot gas moving quickly but we wanted to get the pipe away from the window and combustibles, we needed to go around the roof rack, and keep the stove pipe away from potentially shading our solar panels, plus we liked the look. The good thing about Tiny Wood Stove’s Dwarf stoves is that they use 4” and 5” flue pipes so you have a little more flexibility in how you design the flue than with Cubic Mini that uses 3” pipes. The larger flues are more forgiving if you need to put a bend in them where a 3” pipe needs a perfect set up for the stove to draft well. We didn’t want to zig-zag straight out into the living space because tall people would bonk their heads so we kinda went diagonal. It’s a unique and signature look for our bus..
Ideally you’ll take the chimney cap off when you drive (if you have your stove in a moving vehicle). We have left ours on before and nothing bad happened but the material of the cap is fairly thin and probably not meant to withstand high winds. It also adds to the height of our already very tall bus so we need it to come off in case we go under a low bridge or powerline.
We were putting a trash bag on top and securing it with the pipe clamp to keep wind from blowing down the pipe and spewing our ashes everywhere but eventually upgraded to the driving cap that Tiny Wood Stove makes. It’s way easier to put on and doesn’t look so “trashy”.
Taking it on and off is an easy task and is just one of the things we do to set up or break down our bus for travel.
There are so many things we do with our wood stove that we couldn’t without it. Reheat food, make toast on top, fine tune your coffee warmth with every sip, dry our cloth napkins and kitchen towels, release the aromas of freshly picked sage…
Cozy spot for card games
During the build, you could count on finding us hanging out in the bus on the cold winter evenings. We had family game nights, celebrated New Year’s Eve, had camp-outs, and Adam used the space as his quiet writing studio.
Santa stops here!
We had our first Christmas in the bus this year. Wren was a bit skeptical that Santa would be able to fit down the 5” pipe but her older sister (who knows the secret of Santa) convinced her that if a fat guy like that had enough magic to fit down a chimney, then he could get down our stove pipe as well.
On cold days, the stove makes a central location to snuggle up with a good book or get out the laptop and make your home office. Sometimes I’ll put a pillow down in front of it and just sit there with a beer, staring into the flames.
Since a big part of our interior build was done in the winter, we needed heat to cure the concrete hearth and to help the paint dry faster on our cabinets. Wood stove to the rescue!
Barbie needs her clothes washed and sometimes needs a good shampoo. Then where do you dry all those tiny clothes and synthetic, easily melted hair? By the wood stove of course! Amazingly, there were no plastic casualties this day.
Retreat from snow
After scraping the snow and ice off your solar panels or shoveling your driveway, or building snowmen or going for a cold snow shoe hike, knowing you have a cozy space to go home to is everything. What a great morale boost when your toes are getting numb and you’re ready for some hot chocolate!
If you have any questions about our stove you are more than welcome to shoot us an email. We love this stove and are happy to help others!