There is no denying it, the Masonry Heater is THE focal point of most homes which have one. They are BIG and ours is the small version. They must be located centrally to efficiently heat a home and they require a solid knowledge of masonry skills and safe chimney installation and this, my friends, is not easy to find. It took a long, hard, trying time to get this structure built - there are not many Masons out there anymore.
Hubbie has wanted to have a Masonry Heater ever since he learned about them. Here is the best condensed explanation of the what's and why's of the Masonry Heater.
About our Masonry Heater...
No feeding of wood all day and night...
The surprising part that was hard to get my head around is that I would not have a glowing orange fire going all day and night long. At night, I confess I love the blazing flames of a wood stove being constantly stoked with logs but I don't like having to constantly go out and get more logs to feed this fire. A masonry heater is not like a fireplace or wood stove. We have heated primarily with wood stoves until this house. The big difference here is that we burn one big fire - not a constant feeding of firewood like in the wood stoves. You load the heater with the firewood - open the damper to fully open and let the fire blaze like crazy. Once the fire is burnt down to red coals, you close the damper and let the Masonry Heater do it's thing...no feeding of more logs and on days like today, I burn a baby fire and it keeps the house warm for 24 hours.
|the fire box is lined in cinder blocks and the same kind of firebricks used in Pottery Kilns|
|The firebox is loaded with as little or as much wood as we want, the damper is fully open and fire is left to burn itself out.|
|Once there are just red coals (say 30 minutes later) we close the damper and that's it. No more fire for the day or when it gets colder, a second fire at dinner time.|
|Imagine my dismay when I realized I would not see this glowing orange for more than maybe 45 minutes - twice per day! Pull out the candles!|
How it works...
Beneath that brick and stone facade is a complicated network of chambers and channels which force the heat and smoke of the fire to remain inside that big structure for as long as possible. The smoke and heat are absorbed into the cinder blocks and firebricks and once the damper is closed they heat up more and more. We know that if the house is at 64 degrees when we close the damper, it will easily climb up to 69 or 70 and even more given time and depending on the size of the fire that we burned. All day long that structure is warm as toast and we lean on it, lay our hands on it and I have laundry near it - it dries so fast!
This entire structure is the source of radiated heat so I can't put anything that melts too easily on the mantel (I thaw stuff on the mantle in winter). This is why people build benches and beds into these structures - imagine how cozy to sit on the warm bench in winter...but we don't have the space (or the money!) for such a structure. Take a look at these beauties.
|This is the damper! It's a metal plate that blocks or opens the air access - it's pulled-out when the fire is burning and pushed-in for the rest of the time. This keeps all the heat inside the heater and it radiates the heat.|
Masonry Heaters require a learning curve...
We were utterly frustrated at first, the fire would not burn, the smoke was coming out of every crevice...Hubbie finally figured-out how to use our heater and now it purrs like a kitten. What we learned is,
- with our super-insulated house, we need to open a window (just a crack) to create an air flow
- we stack our wood like we always have (we don't agree with the kindling on the top theory) so we stack the firewood with the kindling on the bottom and with paper on the bottom too. My secret weapon which saves a stubborn 'no, I will not burn' fire is cardboard. I save cardboard all year long and I assure you that if you add some to your kindling, that fire will catch!
- we wait until there is just glowing red coals, not even a tiny little flame left otherwise if we close the damper we are smoked-in.
- in the coldest days of winter we have had to burn two consecutive fires in the AM and then 2 consecutive fires in the PM. Otherwise, two fires keep the house warm most of the winter.
- not just to do with Masonry Heaters but we have finally 'clicked' that there should be a ceiling fan running all winter long blowing that hot air back down to the floor. We used to feel like we were in the tropics in our straw bale house when all the heat flew up to the loft.
|You can imagine my situation when I tried to figure out what to use to cover this monster! It had to be visually appealing to us and suit our decor. I selected reclaimed brick.|
Growing to love our masonry heater...
We love our Masonry Heater now - it took a while but we understand it and we cannot deny it's a wonderful thing. We are not constantly gathering firewood to feed the fire and the ash is collected at the end of the season instead of my having to carefully carry a pan full of ashes outside in the winter every morning. Definitely an improvement and really, it's beautiful.
The Pizza/Bread oven...
The fires I am burning right now don't heat the oven enough but very soon I'll have plenty of heat in there and I won't bake another loaf or pizza in my electric oven for many months. I bake bread, pizza, soups and stews, root vegetables...all in that oven. So much fun and so delicious.
|The pizza/bread oven|
|Plenty of room in there for a pizza, several loaves of bread and a large soup pot.|
So there you have it, the best explanation I can provide about our primary source of heat. We have a backup propane furnace but as the propane delivery guy learned last winter, we are very stubborn about NOT using it unless we are completely out of firewood. He finally asked me to call if I ever needed propane, he was tired of backing into our curvy driveway. We never did call him...