Tiny DIY Clay Pot Heater

Well it’s been quite a winter and I’ve been mostly quiet on the blog front, so my apologies to anyone who noticed!  I’ve had a great winter with lots of wonderful skiing, mountain biking on the snow-machine trails, and butt sledding down large mountains.  I recently started a new home-care job for a local woman, and she and her partner are great. They’ve lived a life full of adventure and we very much enjoy sitting around the living room and swapping travel stories. I’m having a lot of fun with them, though admittedly my adventures have definitely slowed down since I’m there 72 hours a week on top of my regular work schedule… Once the school year is out my other work commitments will lesson and things will even out.  I anticipate having 3 days off each week and having loads of fun adventures this summer!  I actually picked up a hitch-hiker this afternoon who gave me directions to several fabulous sounding mountain bike trail systems in the Mad River Valley – see everyone should pick up hitch-hikers, you never know what you might learn!

Between house sitting and my new job I tend to only be at home a few nights a week, if that.  In the winter, that has made keeping my house not frozen solid very challenging since I hate running my heater when I’m not home – seems like such a waste!  In the dead of winter most weeks when I was gone several days at a time I’ve just let things freeze, since I don’t have any real running water, it didn’t seem to hurt anything.  My under-the-sink 12 volt water pump did freeze a few times, but I generally remembered to drain it, and when it did freeze it was quick and easy to thaw out, and didn’t seem to be damaged by the ice at all.  I also put a little extra foam board insulation along the back wall and the floor under my sink, which has helped my water stay in a mostly liquid form even on chilly nights.  Still I think I might consider a better heater for next winter (something with better temperature control which I’d feel OK about leaving running for a few days when I’m not home), which along with my plans to use hay-bales to “Skirt” my house – should keep things un-frozen in the future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy usages lately as I’ve been playing a brilliant online game called Vermontivate.  In it towns in Vermont compete against each other and players earn points for their town by doing energy related “challenges.”  Last year, Calais came in 2nd place state wide, and so far this year we’re holding steady in second place once again.  Still hoping to push to the head and win a town-wide ice-cream party!  Vermontivate is designed to promote increased consciousness around climate change, and encourage individuals and communities to take steps towards reducing their carbon footprints.  I encourage people to check it out, and if you want to join the game, shoot me an email and I’ll send you an Invite, that way I get lots of bonus points for signing you up!  Even if you aren’t in VT, you can create a profile and check it out.

One of the projects I recently took on for a Vermontivate Challenge was creating a tiny house DIY space heater using clay pots and tea candles.  There are many blogs that have posted about this, but I first learned about the idea from this youtube video, and decided to test it out myself. Here is what I did, and what I learned.

I had two clay pots in my shed from a garden project last summer so I stopped at the local garden supply store and bought a clay base as well as a few clay flower pot feet. I then bummed some small tea candles from my moms candle collection, and got started.Image


This picture shows the base, a clay plate with 5 Tea-Candles on it.  The candles you can buy online or at any hardware store in bags of 100 or more, they cost only a few penny’s each (here’s 100 from Amazon for $10!). The base I bought for $3.99.  I lit the five candles, and then placed the small clay pot upside down over the candles and plugged the whole in the center of it with tinfoil. 

I then placed the larger clay pot upside down over the first, and left the top hole open to let heat out.  The clay feet were perfect and allowed plenty of air flow to the candles.  I’ve also seen it done by building a pile of small tiles on either side of the pot to create the same effect. The finished product:


As of now, the candles have been burning for about 3 hours and my house has gone up in temperature 8 or 10 degrees on the table not too far from the heater and 5-6 degrees across the room.. While the video I watched claimed the candles would burn 4-5 hours, mine are flickering and seem to be on their last few minutes. I’ll post in the comments exactly how long they burn!  The inner clay pot is WAY too hot to touch, and the outer clay pot is too hot to touch for more than about a second at a time.The air coming out of the hole at the top of the pot is very hot, and it definitely feels warmer when sitting next to the heater than a few feet away from it. Clearly this will not be a practical or effective way to heat my house in the dead of winter in Vermont, however perhaps I can burn it instead of my propane to take the chill out of the air in the fall and spring.  I think it would be more effective in a smaller space, perhaps something like a 8×10 shed or tiny house.  

Even though the candles only cost a penny a piece, I do question the overall environmental impact of buying and burning 5 candles once or twice (or more!) a day over the very minimal amount my propane heater needs to run to keep the chill out…. so I’m not convinced my net energy usage drops all that much.  Still it’s a fun idea and I’m glad to share it around.  Perhaps I’ll try getting a few small scented candles next time, then I’ll have a warm house that smells great too!

Until next time, happy adventuring!




One thought on “Tiny DIY Clay Pot Heater

  1. Next morning follow up: Fun Experiment, Epic Failure!

    Some experiments lead to cancer cures, fabulous inventions, and great riches. Others lead smoke filled houses, singed fingertips, and blackened clay pots. Last nights was the latter! It worked great for about three and a half hours. It clearly wouldn’t heat my house in the winter, but it certainly took the chill off better than I expected. However, three and a half hours after lighting the candles, just as I was starting to wish it would go out so I could go to bed, I noticed a thin trickle of black smoke emanating from the hole at the top of the pot. As the trickle grew into a stream, I used potholders to remove the larger pot and set it aside as a large puff of smoke rose in my face.

    The inner pot was VERY VERY hot, so I again used potholders to remove it. More Smoke! Even through the pot holders I couldn’t hold the inner pot for more than a few seconds without burning my fingers. After a brief pause to silence the smoke alarm, I investigated the candle situation. Instead of 5 individual candles burnings from their wicks, the wicks were gone and it was 5 small dishes full of burning liquid wax. It was very hot! The flames all sort of melded together into one large fire. One attempt to blow it out proved to only fan the flames. I took a butter knife and separated the candles on the clay base as far apart as they could go, in an attempt to blow them out. Unfortunately in doing so, hot burning wax spilled all over onto the clay base, and left me with an 8 inch round plate completely on fire! Glad I got one with a good tall lip! I again attempted to blow the candles out one at a time, which worked but there was enough flame everywhere that the net result was a massive cloud of smoke followed by the candle instantly relighting! (note: while it was exciting, annoying, and very very smoky, at no point did I feel it was dangerous or my house was at risk!)

    I decided to pick the whole darn thing up, carry it outside to the porch, and dump a lot of snow on it. that worked like a charm! The inside of the small clay pot is burned black in it’s entirety. Sadly by needing to have the door open and the fan on for a while I lost far more heat than I had gained by using the heater! So in the end, I am glad I tried this experiment, I’m glad I spent less than $5 on materials, and I’m glad I don’t need to rely on it to heat my house!

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