As the Maine Plat House enters the finishing stages we see the installation of a new wood fired masonry heater. What exactly is a masonry heater? It is similar to a wood stove, but it actually performs better, and is more efficient for space heating than a conventional wood stove.
A conventional wood stove typically has an iron or steel fire box, and its operated by feeding wood in continuously through the operation period as it burns. Air flow is typically restricted to achieve a slow burn. The body of the stove radiates heat into the space, and more efficient designs include heat exchangers to take more heat out of the exhaust flow. Generally the body of stove can get very hot, but more advanced models have double walls as part of the heat exchanger and maintain safer temperatures on the outside wall.
A masonry heater by comparison uses a mass of stone or masonry to act as the heat exchanger. In operation the fire burns quickly, and hot, for the most efficient and complete combustion of the wood. The exhaust is channeled through the masonry mass which takes on the bulk of the heat produced, and then radiates that heat into the space over a period of 12-24 hours depending on the size of the mass and the quantity of the burn. So this is much easier to operate, a single burn providing heat for a span of hours, and less feeding and tending of a fire. A good review of the masonry heater basics was recently published at Green Building Advisor.
In all fairness the best contemporary wood stoves are very efficient and mirror many of these characteristics, but the fact is the work on a different premise, and a different cycle. Traditionally a masonry heater was a much more expensive proposition. It would either have to be custom designed and built, and experts in the design of these were few. There are some european pre-fab masonry stoves but they were expensive luxury products once imported into the US. Which brings us to the innovative product used here in the Maine Plat House.
The Maine Plat House Owner has used an innovative new American made modular masonry stove: EcoFirebox is a Maine based company that has created a line of masonry heaters based on their own unique modular system. Prefabbed masonry modules can combine in a range of configurations that allow you to easily configure a masonry heater to your project without all of the traditional custom design. And it also allows the creation of compact masonry heaters making them accessible to a new range of smaller more affordable projects.