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Community and Q&A

Energy Efficient Options for Small Outbuilding…

GBA Editor | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

I’m looking for energy efficient options for heating a yurt and an adjoining separate small structure (an approximately 100 square foot bathroom–a composting toilet and tub). LP and electricity will be available. I have a propane “wood stove” available for the yurt but I doubt that it will be efficient….but then, not much will be efficient in a minimally insulated yurt. The adjoining bathroom building needs a small heat source.

We live in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains…a moderate climate with 5600 heating days. We need heat for about four months every year.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    1. Wood stove. Of course it requires a chimney.
    2. Propane space heater. I guess you already have one of those. Be sure to use a vented model. Some vent through the wall, and some through the roof.
    3. Electric resistance heater. Expensive to run.

  2. Riversong | | #2


    I agree with Martin's list of options, though first I would move the Yaks indoors to take advantage of their body heat ;-)

    I've known several people who've lived year 'round in yurts (and teepees) here in northern New England with just a small woodstove. I hope you have the double-wall with radiant barrier insulation option. Because it's a relatively small space, it's easy to warm it but it will not retain heat long unless you incorporate some thermal mass around the stove - the more the better.

    I would use an electric resistance heater in the bathroom or a small direct-vent propane heater.


    This is going to seem strange, and I'm sort of embarassed to admit that I've done this but here it is.

    For a while I've been doing these little mini radiant heat systems we call "virtual woodstoves", just a small "rug" in the middle of the floor that has hot water in it. If it's a tile floor we'll staple 3/8" PEX to the subfloor and then cut strips of tile backer board to go between them to allowus to tile over it. Even a twenty gallon under counter water is strong enough to run one of these systems in a very small space such as a craft room or master bath. I even have one under the hearthstone in front of my fireplace in my living room so I can stand on it in my bare feet when I come in from work as I'm building up my fire in the evening. The biggest system we ever did like this was in a remodeled horse stable that we converted to a art studio. 20X24 with foam in walls and roof but heats fine off a 20 gallon tank heater. Still sort of stunned by that, both that I would stoop to using resistance electric and that it would work so well. The cost of putting in a propane heater for that with the tank piping was prohibitive. Hopefully someday soon they will outlaw mountain top removal and the cost of coal fired electric will jump through the roof and we can all get real about solar hot water systems but until then these little mini radiant systems are pretty effective.

  4. Ed Welch | | #4

    Thanks guys....I will likely opt for a propane space heater....Thermal mass to hold the heat....yes, seems like a good idea but not sure what to use???.....sounds intriguing Michael....hmmm.....doubt that I will go there.....yes, outlaw mountain top removal today!......some people say coal is cheap energy.....wonder how they determine the value of a mountain

  5. Riversong | | #5

    Thermal mass around the propane "woodstove" will work only if there is significant radiant heat from the stove. If it's primarily a convective stove, then it won't heat the mass.

    Any dense masonry is goof for thermal mass, or keep a large pot of hot water on the stove both for humidifying and for heat storage (water holds 5x the btu/lb and more than double the btu/cf of masonry).

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