In a standard size home, you’ll usually find a gigantic water heater gargling in the basement. In a Tiny Home, you have to think… well…. tinier. Today, I’m going to talk about my Tiny House water heater choice, and how I made a big mistake during winter.
My Tiny House Water Heater
My Tiny House water heater is the PrecisionTemp RV-550 NSP. There are a couple of special features to this particular instant propane water heater that makes it the best choice for Tiny Homes.
PROS of the PercisionTemp Tiny House Water Heater:
- Water Temperature Rise. The PercisionTemp has an 88° F temperature rise per gallon per minute. That’s impressive and uncommon for such a tiny unit.
- Limitless, (Almost) Instant Hot Water. The PercisionTemp is capable of heating water within 10 seconds, limitlessly. Other instant units take up to 45 seconds to heat water.
- Compact. The PercisionTemp is a small 14″ cube. It fits easily under my kitchen counter.
- Floor Vent. As with all propane units, the PercisionTemp requires exterior ventilation, but this unit actually vents through the floor! That means you don’t need to cut a hole in the side of your Tiny House (which can be unattractive).
- Anti-Freezing Protection. The PercisionTemp will detect when it’s about to freeze and start to protect itself. Keep in mind, freezing your unit is not covered under warranty (read on for how I managed to screw this up).
- Uses almost no electricity. A small amount of electricity is required to ignite the unit. This is common with propane appliances. A 12-volt battery is sufficient. I can use this unit while running on solar power, which was ideal for my situation.
CONS of the PercisionTemp Tiny House Water Heater:
- Expensive. The PercisionTemp retails at $1,150, making it one of the most expensive Tiny House water heaters on the market.
- 5-10 Seconds to Heat Up. Even though 10 seconds is not a long time to heat water, a tank water heater would be absolutely instant (though limited by the tank size). When I shower, I like to take navy showers – meaning I turn the water off as I lather up. Every time I turn the water back on, I endure 5-10 seconds of cold water before the hot water kicks in. It’s not exactly a spa shower, but it’s efficient and eco-friendly.
How I broke my Tiny House water heater from a stupid mistake!
This past winter was my first real winter in the Tiny House. I parked my Tiny House in the Colorado Rockies – one of the coldest places in the USA. Usually, I keep the house warm, but from November to December I left the house unattended as I traveled to Europe. I didn’t winterize the Tiny House, because I was hoping my Envi heater would keep it from freezing while I was away. That was a mistake.
In late November, nightly temperatures dropped to below 0°F. My Envi heater couldn’t keep up and the internal house temperature dropped to below freezing (32°F). My water heater tried to trigger itself to ignite to prevent itself from freezing but failed. The trouble was, my propane tanks were freezing as well. At the time, I didn’t protect my tanks with heat blankets so their efficiency was significantly reduced. My PercisionTemp was not receiving enough propane pressure to ignite, and eventually, the pipes inside the unit froze and burst. Water from my tank emptied through the water heater unto the ground beneath my trailer. Luckily, my house did not flood (thanks to the water heater’s floor venting).
When I returned from my trip, I found the issue and purchased a few parts from PrecisionTemp to fix the heater. The total damage was $235 (plus shipping). Ouch.
This mistake could have been prevented a number of ways:
- Occupants. Had I been around, the problem would have been noticed and rectified before the pipes froze.
- Winterizing the unit. I could have drained the unit and filled my plumbing with antifreeze.
- Propane blanket. Had I purchased a propane heat blanket before I left, the pressure would have been enough to keep the water heater from freezing. My propane efficiency increases dramatically with the help of the blanket.