In October last year, we bought a 330L Ford Transit. The start of our conversion was slow. As fall had just begun and temperatures were quickly dropping, we had difficulty making progress. But once spring came around, and Jordy quit his full-time job, things started moving quickly!
During March and April however, we suddenly started seeing big changes. We built a kitchen frame, installed solar panels and a fan, worked on a bungee wardrobe and even created a convertible sofa bed out of scaffolding tubes.
We slept very little, ate our dinner at 10pm. And oh, we raised a puppy in the meantime. Yes, it was a chaotic time to say the least!
The entire project took around eight months from start to finish. Before that though, we had already been looking at vehicles and had thought long and hard about what we wanted to include.
A wood burner was a must!
A wood burner, really?!
When scrolling through Pinterest for about the thousandth time to get inspired by other camper van builds, we came across a picture in which we saw a tiny wood burner installed in a camper van. It was just the cutest thing.
It reminded us of a question we’d heard in a YouTube video of a tiny home tour on the channel Living Big In A Tiny House – which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, as it is just amazing. The video showed a tiny home with a pizza oven built in, and the owner was asked how he had managed to do it. He bluntly responded saying: ‘Well basically, just put a pizza oven in a tiny house’.
And that is what we did with a wood burner in our camper van!
It was certainly a challenge, but once we had set our minds on installing a wood burner, there was no turning back. And by the way, if we ever manage to build a tiny house ourselves, we will definitely include a pizza oven!
But how does it fit?
We’ve often heard people mention that their van is too small for a wood burner. But it really just depends on how you approach it. Instead of figuring out how to fit a wood burner into our tiny home on wheels, we took it the other way around and looked at how we could fit everything else around the little wood stove. We simply took the wood burner as a given and went from there.
We basically approached the installation of our massive dog crate in a similar fashion. Marijke had set her mind on transporting our two lovely pups in a save way when driving. Our sofa bed was hence built around a huge aluminum dog crate.
Everyone must have a few of those items that they just have to have in their camper van or tiny home. Some people are set on a shower, and others want a fixed bed.
And the other stuff? That just has fit around it.
Isn’t it too hot?
Well that’s a bit tricky. It depends on a few factors. Most importantly, it depends on the size of your wood burner and the size of the fire you build within it. Luckily, you can control both of these factors!
We spent quite some time researching which wood stove to buy for our camper van conversion. Our search started in our homeland, the Netherlands. Sadly though, it turned out to be impossible to find a wood burner that was both small enough and affordable.
But we did not give up on our dream and widened our search. Eventually, we found our current wood burner at a small company in Devon, UK, called Windy Smithy. Their smallest wood burner, named Wendy, is made specifically for small (mobile) spaces such as camper vans, tents, or caravans. That was exactly what we desired!
The Wendy wood burner only puts out an itty bitty 2 kW and is very small in size. This makes it perfect in a camper. Its low heat output has a second, certainly non-trivial, advantage. The clearance requirements of the wood burner are very low, which leaves space for other things in the camper van design.
As long as we keep the strength of the fire in check and not burn too hot, our camper van doesn’t turn into a sauna. This depends on the temperatures outside, of course!
And here’s a tip for you folks over at other side of the ocean. During our search we also came across a great wood burner made in Canada. Cubic Mini Wood Stoves make a lovely stove called the Cub. If you’re located in the US or Canada, that one might be worth checking out!
Requiring the necessary information
When you have found the wood burner of your dreams, it’s firstly important to ask the salesman about the required clearance of the wood burner. The clearance of our Wendy stove is only 15 cm (about 6 inches) in all directions, when a heat shield is properly installed. With the stove being only 22 cm (about 9 inches) in width, the total free space we need for our wood burner is just 52 cm (about 21 inches).
The second aspect that you should inform about is the minimum flue height you’ll need in order to get a good draft. This is quite influential on the positioning of the wood burner in a camper van.
Initially, as we have two dogs, we wanted to position the wood burner on an elevated surface. The flue pipe would then however either be too short, or it would tower above our camper van.
If both factors are known, you can start sorting out the other required parts of the build.
The look of your home on wheels
A wood burner and its required components take up quite some space in your home, and can therefore be very influential on the look of your tiny house. It is hence time to make some decisions on what to buy regarding the remaining components of your wood burner.
A first major decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll go with a single- or twin-wall flue pipe. Unless you’ve got money to spare, the first usually comes in the same blackish color as a standard wood burner, whereas the latter comes in a shiny stainless steel coating. We opted for an twin-wall flue in our build.
Both options come with their (dis)advantages. For us, the pros of a twin-wall flue pipe definitely outweighed the cons.
Twin-wall flue pipes are insulated, which means that most of the heat stays on the inside. As the length of the flue in a camper van is generally on the short side, the insulation increases the heat of the smoke in the flue, which in-turn increases the draft. This is of course very important, as one does not want to get smoked out of their home!
The second important advantage for us would be the fact that the exterior material of the flue pipe stays rather cool. It gives us a safer feeling, as our wood burner is located near the entrance of our camper van.
Protecting your interior
Besides the flue pipe, the heat shield surrounding your wood burner will also be highly influential on the look of your home on wheels. More importantly however, a well installed heat shield will protect your house from burning up or from other kinds of damage caused by the heat your wood burner emits.
A heat shield is not usually a requirement in a regular house. During a camper van conversion however, every quarter of an inch is precious! Installing a proper heat shield around your wood burner allows you to keep the required clearance at a minimum, which means that you’ll have more space for other stuff!
A heat shield is usually either made from a sheet of aluminum or other types of metal, or from tiles. If you want to keep the weight down, the choice is easy: Go with a bare sheet of metal. Marijke really wanted more of a homely look in our camper van, so we opted for tiles instead.
Both options work well, so the choice is yours.
One last thing regarding the heat shield we have to mention is the air gap. There has to be a small air gap of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) between the heat shield and the walls or furniture next to the wood burner. This air gap has to be open on all sides so that the air can flow through allowing the heat to escape. We think that the air gap is especially important when using a metal heat shield, as metal is a great conductor of heat.
Besides protecting the sides and back of the wood burner, it is also advised to protect the floor beneath it. Not necessarily to protect it from the warmth, but mainly against hot ashes and sparks falling out of your wood burner. This is often done by installing a metal or glass shield which can be bought specifically for this purpose. Some people also use a large beautiful natural stone for this purpose, or floor tiles, like we did.
Our wood burner frame
So for our heat shield, we opted for tiles. It does add quite some weight, but we have to say, it just looks amazing!
As we share our home on wheels with two dogs, we did want our wood burner to be slightly elevated from the floor. Therefore we made a small wooden structure upon which we installed our burner. The structure exists of four beams attached to another other by the use of a supporting piece of metal with a 90 degree angle. On top of these beams, we then attached a small sheet of 18 mm (3/4 inch) thick plywood.
The sides of our wood burner frame are made from gypsum fiber board. This stuff weighs quite a lot. But it not only functions as insulation, it is also fire- and water proof. We screwed these sides into place on our floor structure. To add a bit of extra support, we’ve used a small aluminum corner strip at each corner, which we put in place by use of some adhesive.
The structure is quite simple, but does its job well! It also created a good surface area for us to glue our wall and floor tiles to. We simply glued these down with flexible tile powder glue thatch be used for temperatures up to 120 degrees C. It is advised to use flexible glue as it has to be able to withstand quite some vibrations when driving. Ours is still perfectly intact, even after some off-road adventures!
And don’t forget about the tile joints. We’ve filled these with the use of flexible powder grout. Want to see us tile our wood burner frame? Click here!
We had actually never tiled something before, but it was surprisingly easy and turned out quite well. With the exception of our slightly skewed frame though, haha!
Fixing down the wood burner
Because we made a little frame below the wood burner, we did not have to drill holes in our van in order to fix down our tiny wood burner. We were able to simply bolt it down to our frame and in-turn screw the frame to our wooden floor.
Our Wendy wood burner is specifically made for use in mobile homes. It hence comes with the possibility to bolt it down. Two opposite legs have a small hole through which we put a hook that had screw thread on the other side. This allowed us to secure our wood burner quite easily.
We would advise to put some small pieces of rubber or something similar beneath the metal legs to prevent the stove from wiggling and damaging the floor.
Getting the right parts
Installing the flue pipe itself was actually quite easy to do. Finding the right pieces that fit well into each other on the other hand was not. We ordered the parts for our flue pipe online and hoped that we had everything we’d need. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case.
Our rain hood did not fit on our flue pipe, and neither did the flue pipe fit onto the attachment piece that we had bought to attach our wood burner to the flue pipe. We would certainly advise to stop by a wood burner specialty store to select your set of parts together with a professional to be sure all parts fit safely into each other.
If your van has a ridged roof, just like our Ford Transit, we would certainly advise to go for a flexible heatproof silicone flashing. This one really worked like a charm for us.
The parts we used for our system are:
- twin-wall flue pipe of 100 cm
- adjustable twin-wall flue pipe of 49 – 88 cm (to make it easy to adjust the final height)
- wood burner adapter (to connect the flue pipe to the wood burner)
- ceiling support (to keep the flue pipe in place and prevent it from touching our ceiling and the roof of the van)
- flexible heatproof silicone flashing
- storm shield
- rain cap
Installing the flue
The flue was installed quite quickly and easily once we had the correct parts available to us. Here is a short step by step outline of how we did it:
- Determine the location of the hole in the roof of your camper;
- Draw a circle slightly bigger than the flue pipe so it will easily go through the hole and does not touch the edge once properly installed;
- Stick some tape on the roof where you will cut, to prevent any damage to the paint;
- Drill a hole near the edge using a drill bit;
- Saw the hole using a jigsaw, or possibly a nibbler. We have no experience with a nibbler but some people have advised us to use this;
- Apply some anticorrosion paint on the freshly cut metal;
- Attach the connector and the first part of flue to the wood stove by use of some special wood stove sealant;
- Adjust the second flue pipe to the according height;
- Attach the second flue pipe to the first one by use of the included clamp ring. It should seal it off well enough;
- Draw an outline of the flexible heatproof silicone flashing on the roof of your fan;
- Apply a thick layer of sealant on the roof of the van inside the outline where the flashing will touch the van;
- Fix the flashing to the roof by use of the sealant;
- Slide the storm shield on the flue pipe and tighten the upper edge just above the flashing. It should function as a rain shield for your flashing, helping you keep the rain out of your flue and roof;
- Attach the rain cap to the top of your flue pipe by use of some sealant and the included clamp ring.
And that’s it! It sounds like a quite lot, but it is certainly doable in just a day’s work.
After all the researching, sorting out, and hard work to install your lovely wood burner, it would be a shame to cheap out on the safety measures. Although a wood burner is generally safe, when dealing with fire there is always a chance that something goes wrong.
As safety measures, we’ve installed a CO and smoke detector, a fire blanket, and a fire extinguisher. You can never be to safe.
Installing your own?
Do you have a wood burner in your tiny home on wheels? Or have you opted for a different heating method? We’d definitely recommend trying to fit a wood burner in your camper van if you’re still in doubt.
We’re happy we pulled through and stuck to our dream.
And guess what? We are still as in love with our little wood burner as we were on the day we first saw one in somebody else’s camper van!