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Community and Q&A

Best heating method for a small house?

Erik Olofsson | Posted in General Questions on

we are building a small house in canada. how should we heat it? some info: 800m elevation, 5620 HDD, -31 degrees celsius outdoor design temperature, 5-10-20-40-60 insulation and airtight sheathing. there is no natural gas supplier but propane and hydro are available. 600 square feet of conditioned floor area with a 4′ conditioned crawl space beneath a conventionally framed floor. also, money IS an object… thanks again, you have all been very helpful in the past.

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Replies

  1. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #1

    Learn to chop wood or move to Fiji? You're asking for miracles, get an extra and pass it my way. Where is that poster that passed an elephant thru the eye of a needle when you need him?

  2. Erik Olofsson | | #2

    i have searched and read about ductless mini splits on this site and elsewhere but am still not sure how cost efficient they would be to install and run. i noticed the mitsubishi model said it would operate down to -25c. does this mean it just stops or freezes up? it gets to -35c for awhile every year so i guess you could throw in a couple of radiant baseboard heaters to augment the heat pump but not if it just freezes up..

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Eric,
    Have you read this article? Heating a Tight, Well-Insulated House.

    Your climate is rather cold for a ductless minisplit, although there is no reason that a Mitsubishi Mr. Slim Hyperheat wouldn't work. I agree with your assessment that, if you choose to go that route, you include some electric resistance baseboard to help you get through the coldest nights of the year.

    Since your house is small and well insulated, and since your climate is a bit too cold for a minisplit, I'd be inclined to install a propane space heater with a through-the-wall vent. Simple and inexpensive. You could also choose a Monitor heater (also with a through-the-wall vent) that burns kerosene.

  4. Doug McEvers | | #4

    I would think electric resistance heat will have the lowest initial cost and gives you some zoning flexibility. Hydro electricity tends to be quite reasonable per kWh, many of the homes in the NW are all electric.

  5. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #5

    Start with electric baseboards and add a Split later if that helps budget. I would use tstats that limit cold weather Split use if dew point is issue. What does a KWH cost?

  6. Erik Olofsson | | #6

    martin, i saw your blog post the second after i posted my question. while i like the idea of propane heating the house even when there is a power outage, something doesn't seem quite right about having a propane space heater as a new build's primary heat source. maybe they have better looking products now? years ago, i remember my bosses getting mad that the drywallers were using propane to speed up their drying times...
    do you have a make or model i could look at?
    aj, i don't have a hydro bill from this municipality in front of me but 6-7 cents (cdn) rings a bell...

  7. Erik Olofsson | | #7

    per bc hydro: Under the Residential Conservation Rate, customers pay 6.80 cents per kWh for the first 1,350 kWh they use over an average two-month billing period. Above that amount, customers pay 10.19 cents per kWh for the balance of the electricity used during the billing period. This rate structure is designed to encourage conservation and is referred to as a "stepped rate".

  8. Jerry Liebler | | #8

    If you achieve your insulation goals, do a good job of air sealing ( under 1ACH) and use good triple pane windows you'll be able to heat it with a $25 1500W (5000BTU/H) portable fan heater from a discount store! You need to run a heat loss calculation to be sure but my guess is based on the same insulation plan and my house which is 2400 sq ft with a -25 c design temp & requires 15000BTU/h. The mini-split is overkill but will be very efficient until the temperature gets down below -25c. Below about -40c the mini-split will no longer be capable of adding heat to a room at 25c so it's best to shut it off. For really cold nights and a bit of redundancy I'd splurge and get a second 1500W portable fan heater.

  9. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #9

    Erik,
    Not sure if your location is appropriate for wood-burning...
    But have you considered a good "airtight" woodstove?

    There's some nice soapstone models available from Hearthstone.

  10. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #10

    Erik, I heat my small poorly insulated house with two of these propane-fired space heaters: http://www.rinnai.us/direct-vent-wall-furnaces. They are not beautiful or silent, but better than they used to be, and are virtually maintenance free.

    At my family's lake house we have two similar units that burn kerosene. They work most of the time but require maintenance annually, are not as reliable, and require a separate pump if the unit is above the kerosene tank.

  11. Erik Olofsson | | #11

    jerry, what would make the minisplit more efficient than, say, electric baseboards?

    lucas, the client is an elderly widow...

    michael, i might be able to stomach it if there was some sort of in-wall unit. do propane heaters introduce moisture into the space?

  12. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Erik,
    Q. "What would make the minisplit more efficient than, say, electric baseboards?"

    A. Electric baseboards are 100% efficient. A minisplit should have an efficiency of 200% to 250%.

  13. Erik Olofsson | | #13

    martin, how is it able to be more than 100% efficient?

  14. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #14

    Erik,
    A ductless minisplit is a type of air-source heat pump. If you aren't familiar with heat pumps, here is an article to get your started: Heat Pumps.

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