Is Your Tiny Home Ready for Winter?

Uh Oh! Winter can sneak up on you here in Canada!

 

Have you wondered what it would be like to live tiny through a Canadian winter? I lived in my 8 x 24 foot tiny home, nicknamed “Woody,” for five winters. In this post, originally written in 2020, I will share my lessons learned about winter living so you can get a sense of whether winter tiny living is for you, and how best to prepare yourself for it.

 

Clothing

Many of my preparations for winter follow the preparations of other Canadians, with a tiny twist. For example, I have summer clothing I need to pack up and I have winter clothing I need to get out. My tiny twist is that my entire summer wardrobe fits in two boxes about the size of milk crates. And my winter wardrobe isn’t much larger. I have found that minimalism has been key to my success. I had to ask myself:  How many pairs of winter boots do I really, really, really need to own? How many coats? Coats are particularly bulky, so I have pared down my fairly large coat collection (easily 10 or more) to a modest few that I have space to hang on hooks on my wall. 

If you live in a regular house, you might just move your out-of-season clothing to your basement, or to another room. I don’t have the space for that in my tiny home, so I just move it to storage.

This is an important point: don’t be afraid to use storage strategically when living in a tiny home! Tiny living is not a contest to stuff everything you own in a small space. If it’s winter, I don’t need my bicycle helmet and gear hanging around taking up precious space, so I get it out of the tiny house. Winter clothing is much more bulky, so I add a collapsible bamboo basket up in my loft for those bulky winter sweaters and outdoor gear.

 What to do with all those hats and mitts and scarves that we Canadians need to get through our winters when I don’t have a single closet? I came up with a great idea to use some available wall space way up near my ceiling: I installed two hooks high on my wall and hung a shoe organizer bought at a thrift store on them. I stuff my mitts, hats and scarves into the clear pockets. Everything is out of the way, yet in its place and I can easily see what I need. 

Home Interior

During winter, the interior of my tiny home remains basically the same. I do bring out a few cozy additions from storage, though. I have a range of warmer bedding (a fleece blanket, a summer duvet, a goose down duvet, flannel sheets) that I keep handy so that I can layer on the perfect amount of warmth for sleeping. At night, the house is generally pretty cool….I turn the thermostat down to about 15 degrees Celsius at night, so cozy bedding is important. Like the pioneers, I also wear a hat while I sleep. While this practice is unheard of in modern times, it was commonplace when homes were heated by fireplaces.   

Finally, I get out a series of insulated mats from storage for my tiny home floors, which help manage the snow at my entranceway and keep my feet warm while doing the dishes. In the winter, I’m never without my comfortable clogs, which I wear all the time inside. The floor of my tiny house is too cold to walk around on even in slippers, even though there is some insulation underneath it. 

Heating

Heating is one of the most important preparations to make for our Canadian winter. My small RV furnace, 18,000 BTUs, runs on propane. Last winter, I did not have a completed driveway on my new lot that would allow large delivery trucks to get close to the house. I thought that I couldn’t get propane delivery to my house for that reason. Instead, I relied on a more distant supplier to pick up and fill and drop off my 100 pound tanks. This definitely added to my heating costs, as I paid $20 for delivery on top of the regular propane cost. 

Unfortunately, the supplier’s route was inflexible and infrequent and I was often left without a tank when I needed one. To fill this gap, I had to ask friends to help me out, paying even higher rates for the local propane in our small town. After getting through a difficult winter, I resolved to improve my propane situation somehow.

After approaching two propane suppliers, I was able to make an agreement with one supplier that I wouldn’t need to clear the snow to the house, as long as they can get their truck in my entranceway. Their truck has quite a long hose designed for situations like mine. Working with my new propane contractor, I have arranged for monthly deliveries to my two tanks, which are now tied together with a pigtail so my furnace can access all 200 pounds at once.

In average winter temperatures, I can last about a month on a 100 pound propane tank, which costs about $75. Not bad! However, we had a run of very cold minus 30 degree days two winters ago and a tank only lasted about 18 days. This means that I only need to be concerned about ordering an additional delivery if we have quite a long cold snap.

 How does my use of propane compare to regular house owners? My tiny house is about 200 square feet, and my average monthly propane expense is about $75, or about 38 cents per square foot. My aunt owns a 2000 square foot that she heats for about $420 a month on average, or about 21 cents per square foot. My cousins own a 1400 square foot ranch, which they heat for $320 a month, or about 23 cents per square foot.  

Why is my house so much more expensive to heat per square foot, you might be asking? Here are a few of my best guesses: it has a high, vaulted ceiling (11 feet) without a ceiling fan, my small RV furnace is possibly less efficient than larger units, my tiny house is poorly insulated, due to corners cut by my unethical builder. Even though my efficiency is lower, I am still using a fraction of the propane per person that regular home owners do to heat their homes.

 

When I build my off-grid cabin, my woodstove will be my main source of heat and propane will only be my back up heat. I look forward to that day! It is a continual evolution towards my goal.

 

This column comes courtesy of one of my readers, who was interested in tiny living in winter. Feel free to suggest topics of interest to you by leaving comments on the blog. Soon, I will be posting on my preparations for winter that are related to living completely off the grid.