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Heating the Off-Grid Cabin

We’re finishing up our second winter in our off-grid cabin. Living in Wyoming we often have rapid and frequent changes between mild and cold spells. This year we seemed to have more mild days until the last couple of weeks when it was quite chilly. Last winter was cold for a good six weeks, with temps rarely going above zero. I did much prefer this winter. 🙂

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We were also better prepared for the cold this year with more insulation added. Good insulation is important to keep the heat inside during the winter and the keep it cooler during the summer. Joe insulated the crawl-space under the house and is insulating the ceiling. We hope to have it fully completed before the dog days of summer hit.

For any house, insulation is a cost effective way to make your home more energy efficient and help prevent wasting resources. There are many choices for insulation. We originally explored Polyurethane Foam but the cost and process were prohibitive. Then we looked at cellulose next but dismissed it. Finally we ended up going with a formaldehyde-free insulation. It’s easy to work with, reasonably priced but doesn’t have as much off-gassing regular insulation has. I’ll admit, I would have rather gone with a “greener” choice but this was a good alternative for our needs and budget.

Wood Stove

Our main heat source is our wood stove. We do not have central heat. Heating (and cooling) both require a considerable amount of energy. More energy than our small solar system can provide.

We purchased our wood stove used off of Craig’s List. We researched the brand quite a bit before purchasing and discovered it was a good one. It’s environmentally efficient, with emissions as low as 1.6 g/hour (in medium-high) combustion mode. The new retail is around $2500, buying a couple of years old (still with the excellent efficiency of the new model) saved us $2000. We’ve been very pleased with it. At times it works so well we are almost too warm! On those days we’re well below zero it’s very welcome.

For super cold mornings we have a wall mounted propane heater. We use this to take the chill of while the wood stove is getting up to temp. It’s nice for backup heat but would not work as our main heat source.

Heat from the Sun

One thing we are super happy with is the way we positioned our home and the extra windows to capture passive solar heat. In passive solar building design, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. While we would have loved to do full passive solar design just positioning the windows for passive solar heat made a big difference.

Heating the Off-Grid Cabin

The south facing windows are amazing for heating up our house during the daytime. The picture above is from early in construction. We now have energy efficient blinds over the windows.

Just by opening up the blinds on a sunshine day, the sunshine heats up the house quite well. We added west facing windows in the bedrooms to capture the heat from the setting sun (a suggestion from Geoff Lawton in his permaculture design course) to help heat the bedrooms before bed. Closing the energy blinds helps trap the passive solar heat we’ve collected during the day and keeps the cold out at night.

We’re discussing adding a small sun room off the house to capture more heat from the winter sun and pipe this heat into the main house. This is only in the talking stages so I’m not sure we’ll progress with it but it is an interesting idea.


Because of our lack of central heating there are still days that are chilly and nights can downright be frosty without the heat from the sun and the fire dying out. During the day we dress for warmth. While we don’t usually wear snow pants and parkas (I will admit to wearing these a few times last winter when the outside temps dropped down to 40 below with the windchill figured in) we do wear sweaters, socks and sometimes long johns. It’s easy to take layers off as the day warms up.

At night we have plenty of warm blankets. I’m often reminded of the Little House on the Prairie stories where Laura talks about being under the blankets at night time and staying toasty warm but waking up to a skiff of snow on top of the covers. We don’t have the snow coming in through the roof at least. 😉

What tips do you use to keep warm in winter?

Millie Copper (Homespun Oasis) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking

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