Considering an Alternative Heating Source
for Your Log Cabin
An alternative heating source for your cabin can be very cost
and pleasurable if done right...or a huge headache if not thought out
Here is a list of the most common alternative heating fuels and
methods. I recommend studying the ones that appeal to you thoroughly
and choosing only after careful consideration.
A log cabin fireplace was what I originally intended to use as an
alternative heat source in my Michigan cabin. Along the way, I explored
other options. You can read below about how and why I ultimately chose
a wood stove.
Believe it or not, traditional fireplace efficiency ranges from
+10% to -10%. The negative efficiency results from the fire sucking
heated air from inside the home to fuel combustion. This air is then
vented up the chimney, which pulls cold outside air into the home
through the small cracks around windows and doors. Fireplace inserts
are a more efficient option.
Alternative Heating Methods
- Traditional Fireplace
- Wood Burning Cookstove
- Other Wood Stoves (Parlor, Barrel, Box, etc.)
- Corn and Pellet Stoves
- Hydropower or Wind Power for Electric Heat
- Hydronic (Floor) Heat
- Masonry Heaters/Fireplace
- Solar Heat
- Geothermal Heat
- Radiant Heat
- Space Heater
- Soapstone Stove
- Outdoor Wood Stove
- Coal Stove
You can find out more about alternative heating fuels and systems at
There are probably other alternative heating systems I haven't even
heard of yet. Please contact me if you have successfully used any of
these or another and share what you know.
My Alternative Heating Source Choice
When you build your own log cabin the heat source is vital. With over
hundred acres of woods surrounding my cabin, wood heat was the
I really wanted to hand build a big cabin fireplace. I found all the
stone and thought out several designs. After a full summer of building
the cabin I began to move ahead mentally the task of the fireplace.
I realized I would have to cut out a big section of logs at the south
wall where I had imagined the hearth. I talked with several stone
masons to get advice and learned many things including the amount
of time and materials required just for the base foundation.
This would need to be a serious pad of cement and rebar.
The time factor began changing my mind as I realized it would take a
novice like me all fall to build the fireplace.
Very close to the time of decision my family went to stay at a lake
cottage for the weekend. It got unusually cold and damp. The cottage
had a fireplace.
I thought, “Great! I will get this puppy burning and we will all be
toasty.” Boy was I wrong. That place never did get comfortable. It was
then I decided to start looking at woodstoves.
We have heated with woodstoves in the past and really enjoyed them. We
had an old parlor stove that was not all that efficient. It could burn
through a full load in 3 or 4 hours. That was a bummer to wake up to,
but when it got going, the heat was good. If it got too hot we just
opened the windows! A friend of mine has a new air tight stove that
will burn for 10 hours. I always wished for that kind of performance
with the looks of my old stove.
As I considered a wood stove, I had to decide what it would be used
for. I really wanted to be able to cook for groups of friends as well
as get heat for the cabin.
A good friend gave me a big old Kalamazoo cook stove. It’s black with
nickel trim and these aren’t cheap. Everything was there and worked. I
was thrilled until I realized how small the firebox was. This was meant
for cooking, not heating a cabin!
I considered buying another parlor stove, having a weakness for these
beauties. They have all that nickel plated scrolling and finials.
Sadly, this style is wonderful for general heating but the small top is
only good for one pan or pot.
In the end, my compromise was a box stove. These have a rectangular
size with a two burner top. They hold a decent amount of wood and have
a big cooking surface. Box stoves are not as desirable as the other old
stoves so prices are quit a bit lower. I have even seen some efficient
modern castings of old styles that are acceptable.
While I’m thinking of it, I’ll tell you about a neat accessory for wood
stoves I ran across. This is a cast iron shelf that connects around the
stove pipe and sets up over the stove. This gives a nice area for
keeping things hot while cooking a third pot on the stove.
The most important thing to consider is safety (and local codes if they
apply). Woodstoves have certain minimum clearances from combustible
surfaces. You can find out a lot by talking to a firefighter, no matter
what alternative heating source you choose. The fire codes are not for
Decide what you will do if you have children or frequent young guests.
We trained our little babies to stay away from the stoves. They were
not even allowed to touch the hearth. We had to keep an eagle eye on
any young friends, though. Some folks just put up a railing.
Be safe and do it right!