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Small Cabin Heaters: What Are Your Options?

Need some suggestions for heating your cabin when it gets cold? Here are some tips for choosing the right small cabin heaters for your lifestyle.

modular cabin

I need some suggestions on a small cabin heater. We just purchased a 500-square-foot cabin on Devil’s Lake, Wis. Our cabin has a liquid-propane heater, an old 1960s’ model. When we had our inspection, I got a headache from the fumes it emitted! The previous owners said it was inspected recently, but I can’t bring my family there with that smell! So do I get it inspected again? Rip it out and put in electric? All suggestions welcome.

–Greg Jeseritz, via Facebook

 One way to go is to simply replace the LP gas system you have. (Liquefied petroleum gas or liquid petroleum gas is also known as LPG or LP gas and is also commonly referred to as propane or butane.) “They still make room heaters like that, freestanding or wall-mounted versions, and the replacement would probably be quite a bit more efficient today,” says Mike Luongo at Caldwell, N.J.-based Total Home Supply. “That’s a viable option and not an expensive option.”

As you note, though, there are alternatives to consider as long as you’re replacing the old heater. Wood stoves can do well heating small cabins, but in an area where you need to keep pipes from freezing and bursting, it’s not ideal because wood stoves must be regularly stoked. There are also now multizone LP systems that can heat more areas of the home than the one you have now and that don’t require the ductwork that traditional multizone heating systems do.

See also Heating and Cooling Your Cabin

Finally, there are those   hotel-style packaged terminal air conditioning units (PTACs) that are installed in walls to heat and cool large rooms.

Your choice depends on how the cabin is configured. If you have a lot of closed-off spaces, the multizone units may not work as well. Whatever the technology, electric-powered heaters are your most expensive option, by far, in the long run. A simple replacement of your LP unit will be 10 times more efficient than electric heat, according to Luongo.

Whatever you decide, though, it does sound like replacing the 1960s’ model you have now will allow you to breathe easier – by sparing you those fumes, and by saving you some money on fuel costs, too.