Masonry Heaters

There is a centuries old tradition in Europe that is only beginning to be known in North America: the use of masonry heaters. For some reason Americans are entirely familiar with wood stoves and fireplaces, but have only a hazy notion of what a masonry heater is. This is unfortunate because these devises represent the epitome in home heating comfort and efficiency! The recently publicized rocket stoves are based on a similar concept on a much smaller scale.

In his exceptional book, Masonry Heaters: Designing, Building, and Living with a Piece of the Sun, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, Ken Matesz explores every aspect of these works of art. Also known as kachelofens, Russian fireplaces, Finnish fireplaces, Swedish stoves, contra-flow fireplaces, radiant fireplaces and mass-storage fireplaces, their basic functional design concepts are all similar, although their appearance can be vastly different.

Matesz calls them “a piece of the sun” because the heat that they provide is the same as that given by direct sunlight. This is radiant heat that you can feel being absorbed by your body when you are in the presence of the heater. Wood stoves and fireplaces also radiate this type of heat, but not nearly as efficiently; as soon as the fire goes out the heat quickly dims away. Not so with a masonry heater.

The whole idea with masonry heaters is to fire it only once or twice a day, building as big and hot a fire as the firebox will allow, giving it all the oxygen that it can consume, so that every bit of the fuel and the gases that are released are turned into heat. This is the cleanest, most efficient way to burn wood; there is virtually no creosote, hardly any smoke, and no fiddling with the fire over time. These heaters are often allowed in areas that have tight controls on air pollution because they burn so cleanly.

The wonderful trick of a well-designed masonry heater is that it will absorb every bit of the heat from the fire into the masonry shell of the heater itself. It does this by directing the exit flue from the firebox through a labyrinth of unseen tunnels within the heater before any cooled fumes are eventually allowed to go up the chimney and out of the house. Once the mass of the heater gets warm, it gently radiates that heat for up to twelve hours…long after the fire has gone out.

Often the heaters are designed with benches or areas where people can snuggle up to them to take advantage of the warm glow. They become like a welcome member of the family, one that people want to be near because of their radiant warmth. For this reason they are usually located at the center of the social area of the home, near the living room or dining room. Having such a prominent position in the house means that most owners want the heater to have a special presence, one that commands respect and admiration. Often the designs will lavish much attention on details and materials that speak of charm, durability and sometimes even opulence.

Another option well worth considering is the inclusion of a bake oven or even a cookstove as a part or adjunct to the heater. People say that once you try what one of these ovens can produce you will be sold on the idea.

Matesz has been designing and building masonry heaters for many years, and this book glows with his expertise. He has a scientist’s mind for analyzing all the variables that go into good design, as well as an artist’s eye for the aesthetics that these durable works of art deserve. And as an author he writes very clearly, even passionately, about what he loves. This book is assembled with all the methodical care that he obviously lavishes on his building projects.

This is one of the most beautifully illustrated books I have seen. There are color photographs on almost every page, and most of these are examples of the amazing variety that masonry heaters can embody. The book is worthwhile just for inspiration in how one might design such heaters, but there is also enough information to have a thorough understanding of all the elements that go into good physical design.

I’m sure some are wondering how much these heaters might cost to have built. There are so many variables in size, configuration, and materials that the cost can only be given as a range. Matesz usually tells people that they cost around what you might expect to pay for a car. You might be happy with a basic Hundai or you might crave a top-of-the-line Mercedes, and so this is the range that you might expect. But bear in mind that a well made masonry stove can last for many generations and even outlast many of the homes where they reside.

There are a number of kits available for either the core refractory materials and all the necessary hardware, or both this and the exterior cladding as well. Some of these kits are manufactured in Europe. Soapstone is the premier material for the exterior, since it has thermal properties that exceed all other stone, brick or stucco. The ability of soapstone to store heat is remarkable.

To my way of thinking, the very best way to heat a home is with passive solar, since it is totally free, clean, and requires little fuss to utilize. Unfortunately, in much of world the climate doesn’t cooperate in providing abundant sunlight during the cold season. Furthermore, most houses do not really take advantage of the solar opportunity, so in these situations the next best option for heating could easily be with a masonry heater.

To a large part, it is about energy independence. With solar you have this, and with a masonry heater all you need is a little wood (which can be odd scraps and tree parts that are not usually considered good firewood.) No matter if the electricity goes out or you run out of gas, or the price of these becomes intolerable, you can always still keep warm, without contributing to global warming. Wood is a renewable resource that reabsorbs CO2 as it grows, so there is a net zero emission.

I would advise a would-be masonry heater owner to hire expert help for designing and building the appliance, but armed with this book, you would know everything necessary ask the right questions and to make good decisions.

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Building Off-Grid Casting Notice

DIY NETWORK – BUILDING OFF THE GRID – CASTING NOTICE

  • We’re looking throughout the United States for folks who will soon start to build an off grid home and plan to complete the build before April of 2019. We cannot consider builds that are already well underway.

  • If you are selected for the show, you will receive compensation of up to $10k upon completion of filming and building.

  • **Please note, in order to be considered for the show, the home must primarily be built on rural land where it will ultimately exist (as opposed to being 100% built in a warehouse and then transported to the land)**

Please email margaret.halkin AT warmsprings.tv or call me @ 415-828-5828 if interested. I will be happy to answer all questions and fill you in on all the show details.

Here is a sneak peek link to the show:

http://www.diynetwork.com/shows/building-off-the-grid

The post Building Off-Grid Casting Notice appeared first on Natural Building Blog.

Novel Wind Turbine Concept

The O-Wind is made with vents in the exterior so that it can catch city crosswinds and spin accordingly. This means that city dwellers might be able to generate their own electricity with the typical swirling winds found in cities. You can read more about this interesting design at www.goodnewsnetwork.org

The post Novel Wind Turbine Concept appeared first on Natural Building Blog.

Rain Harvest Calculator

Darrel sent in a note on the Rain Harvest Calculator that he has developed and made available free of charge on his website.  Its a dandy.

Its a very good Rain Harvest tool that provides a lot of flexibility — you have control over all of the following:

  • Location — specify your location and the calculator looks up the average monthly rainfall.
  • Collection area
  • Collection efficiency
  • Water usage by month
  • Water storage available
  • Supplementary water available by month
  • Specify years with less or more than average rainfall
The calculator provides very nice graphic output that makes it very clear what your rain harvest and water supply situation is and makes it very easy to do what if studies on collection area, storage, usage, …
Well worth having if you are planning a rain water harvesting system.
Thanks Darrel!
Gary

David’s DIY drainback solar water heating system

David has designed and built a very nice solar water heating system for his energy efficient home. It is a drainback system that uses an EPDM lined, non-pressurized wood tank for heat storage.
Some of the highlights of Dave’s system…
  • Tank design suitable for limited height crawlspaces.
  • Nice tank frame design using half lap joints for the corners
  • Used new old-stock commercial collectors at a very good price
  • Efficient heat exchanger installation
  • Using used and recycled materials kept the cost of the system down
David with his three drainback collectors
David’s system consists of three collectors mounted vertically on the south wall of his house. The heat storage tank for the system is in the crawl space under the collectors. Its a drainback system, so for freeze protection, the water in the collectors drains back to the heat storage tank when the pump turns off.
The collectors were obtained on Craig’s list as “new old-stock” for a very good price.
The heat storage tank is a non-presurized, wood framed, insulated with polyiso rigid foam, and then lined with an EPDM liner – this is a design that has been used on quite a few Build It Solar projects, and works well.
David with heat storage tank in his 29 inch deep crawl space.
The heat exchanger uses a 300 ft coil of pex pipe that has been used successfully on several Build-It-Solar projects. The scheme that Dave used to support the pipe coil and space the coils out is very nicely done and likely provides a worthwhile gain in heat transfer efficiency. One nice thing about this style of heat exchanger is that it stores several gallons of fully preheated water right in the coil.
PEX coil heat exchanger with nice coil separation and support scheme.

See all the details here…

Gary
January 13, 2018

An Experimental Trickle Down Solar Water Heating System

Lu has designed and built a solar water heating system with several innovations.
The system includes a collector based on the the Thomason trickle down design with some new wrinkles.
Innovative features include:
  • The unique trickle down collector.
  • A storage tank with a new liner design.
  • An innovative version of a copper heat exchanger.
  • A PV powered diaphragm pump.

Innovative, Energy Efficient, Solar Heated, Cost Effective Home in Montana

I recently got the chance to see a very innovative solar home being built near Bridger Montana by Andrew Ray of Rational Design/Build.
Andrew (and his frequent conspirator Clint Wicks of CW2 Construction) have been building homes for fifteen years, with Andrew getting his start with Steve Loken in Missoula.  But, this time its a really special home in that its for his own family. He is a very innovative builder and careful planner, and on this home he has taken out all the stops and included all of the best energy efficiency, solar, and material saving features he has used and studied over the years. Its a fascinating home.

Low Thermal Mass Sunspace (LTMS) — provides high solar fraction solar space heating with better control and more efficiency that conventional passive solar heating.

The Low Thermal Mass Sunspace provides 213 sqft of glazing optimized for solar space heating.


Inside-out Mooney Wall — provides an R34 with near zero thermal bridging. A low cost, high performance wall.  The walls are also very efficiently framed with continuous top of wall header and with metal bracing in lieu of sheathing.

The inside-out Mooney Wall with metal bracing instead of sheathing, and continuous top header.

Crawl Space Plenum — serves as a well sealed plenum to distribute the heat from the Low Thermal Mass Sunspace and the wood burner to the house.  It is constructed from Insulated Concrete Forms with a unique integrated footer design that requires no forms.  

Sealed crawl space that serves as plenum to distribute solar heat from LTMS


The house uses many innovative techniques to minimize material use and labor.  There are only eight sheets of OSB used in the entire home!

Note the minimal framing that reduces material use and thermal bridging.


While the home has about half the heat loss of an conventional construction home, the cost is no greater than conventional construction.  

All the details on this solar efficient home…


A lot to be learned from this house.

Gary


Ian Woofenden’s Renewable Energy Workshops

I just want to give people a heads up on some excellent DIY renewable energy workshops provided by Ian Woofenden.  

These workshops cover practical, standalone systems on solar electric, solar thermal, wind power, small hydro power and energy efficiency.

Ian’s workshops are known for a practical and realistic approach to DIY renewable energy — they are based on Ian’s decades of real experience in designing, building and consulting on actual systems. Expect to leave one of Ian’s workshops with actual hands on knowledge and experience that will get you ready to build a practical system of your own.  Just as important, the workshops will provide you with the knowledge and tools to determine if a renewable energy system is a good choice for your situation.

Ian is also a senior editor and author for Home Power Magazine — search their archives for his many hands on, practical and honest renewable energy project articles.

Ian’s next workshop will be in Costa Rica and will be on Solar Electricity for the Developing World. This is the overview for the up coming workshop:

Learn about solar electricity for the developing world in the developing world! This workshop provides an introduction to stand-alone solar-electric (PV) system design and installation, with a focus on small, rural systems. The workshop combines classroom sessions with a strong emphasis on real-world projects in the community, along with hands-on labs. You will have the opportunity to understand, design, and install lighting and cell-phone-charging systems that can dramatically improve the living conditions of the local people. This is an experiential program, with a real-world focus. Come and learn the basics of simple, stand-alone solar-electic systems for rural people by doing, sharing, and experiencing on projects in the developing world.”

You can find out more about this and his past and planned workshops at his website Renewable Reality.



Thanks to Ian for providing these excellent workshops.

Gary

A 35 mpg RV Setup

Mike and Nancy have come up with this unique and very efficient camping arrangement.  They pull a tear drop trailer behind their Honda Insight hybrid.  They achieve an amazing 35 mpg and have full sleeping and cooking facilities — they even have a shower!

Honda Insight and Little Guy teardrop trailer.

The Honda Insight is a standard 2001 with the addition of a custom trailer hitch made by Mike.  A transmission cooler has also been added.

The teardrop trailer is a “Little Guy” that provides a full sized bed for two and a small kitchen accessed via the back hatch on the trailer as is usual for teardrop trailers.  The Little Guy weighs only about 500 lbs.

They have even added a solar heated shower enclosure they can set up to take hot showers.

Shower enclosure with pressure tank water system.

Without the trailer attached, the Insight gets 50+ mpg and with the teardrop trailer attached and going the full speed limit plus it gets 35 mpg — pretty amazing for a full function RV.

The Little Guy teardrop and added Air Cond and Heating unit.

While Honda does not advise towing with the Insight, Mike says it works well and has not seen any adverse effects.

More here…

Its great to see teardrop trailers becoming popular again.

Gary
June 27, 2016