By Marge Padgitt
Today’s options for heating with wood are varied and high-tech. Manufacturers have now had over 30 years to perfect their art; new appliances are much improved over their predecessor’s, offering high-efficiency and low emissions, and appliances that use much less wood to provide the same amount of heat. Using the renewable resource of wood makes modern wood-burning appliances very “Green” and earth-friendly. Homeowners now have a large selection in wood-burning heating options. Since straw bale homes are so well insulated, you’ll need an appliance with less BTU’s than a standard house would. A home with an open floor plan will work best with any type of indoor heating appliance such as a fireplace, stove, or masonry heater.
The Rumford Fireplace– Designed by Count Rumford in the 1700’s, the shallow depth, curved throat, angled side walls, and higher opening, combined with a smaller flue provide much more heat than the standard “box style” masonry fireplace. Compared to a standard fireplace, which produces –30% to +5% in efficiency (meaning most of the heat goes up the chimney), the +40% efficiency Rumford far surpasses its competitor. Recent testing shows that properly designed and built Rumford fireplaces, are very clean burning and produce low emissions. Don’t expect to heat the entire house, but a Rumford will definitely heat the room it is in and more.
Not all masons are trained properly in this method of fireplace building, so find a qualified Rumford builder at www.rumford.com, www.csia.org, or www.midwestcsc.org. Estimated 40,000 + BTU output.
Wood-burning Stoves- Gone are the days of the catalytic combustor, since the new EPA approved “non-catalytic” appliances are extremely low in emissions. Today’s wood stoves require less wood to heat the same amount of space, and that translates into savings in the cost of wood, and in your time to prep wood and load the stove. Where loading was once required every 2 –3 hours, it is now only needed every 4-10 hours. The addition of an electric built-in blower will push the warmed air through the house, but is not necessary for the stove to work.
A wood-burning stove can be installed almost anywhere, provided there is an existing chimney that can be used, or an outside wall where a Class A chimney can be installed. Masonry chimneys require the installation of a 6” – 8” insulated stainless steel chimney liner.
Wood stoves come in a variety of styles including standard matte black or a beautiful porcelain enamel finish, and are constructed of heavy steel, cast iron, or soapstone. All stoves require a non-combustible floor and clearance to combustible walls, which is different with each manufacturer. The old 36” rule no longer applies with the newer models, so more usable space is available in the room. The EPA regulates woodburning stoves so be sure to get one that is EPA approved and do not use an older model. A professional should do the installation. 55,000—85,000 or highter BTU output. Many stoves qualify for the 30% tax credit.
Pellet/Corn/Bio-fuel Stoves- Available as free-standing or as a fireplace insert, this is a stove that uses small, compressed pellets made from waste sawdust, corn, wheat, or cherry pits. Some stoves will burn two or more different fuels, and other stoves will burn only one type of fuel. A hopper contains the fuel, while an augur feeds the fuel at a specified rate into a burn pot. Electricity is needed for this stove to work, and daily and/or weekly maintenance is required by the homeowner. Annual maintenance by a chimney sweep is required. Fuel can sometimes be difficult to obtain in some areas. Low emmisions at an average of 1.2 particulate grams per hour. 7,000 – 60,000 BTU’s. Bio-fuel furnaces and boilers are also available, and produce up to 113,000 BTU’s. Pellet stoves qualify for the 30% tax credit in 2009-2010.
Wood-burning Furnace/boiler – Designed to heat an entire house or building. Woodburning furnaces may be installed inside or outside the home in a shed, or in its own covered steel shed. Most furnaces have electric fans and use ductwork to distribute the heat throughout the home, boilers use the hydronic underfloor method to distribute heat.
Either a Class A stainless steel chimney is required; or if using a masonry chimney, an approved stainless steel flue liner is necessary. It is extremely important to have a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep or approved manufacturer installer do the analysis of the installation area and the actual installation of the furnace and flue. This is not a do-it-yourselfer project, as there are many critical items that must be taken into consideration including size of flue, location of the furnace, distance of the connecting pipe run, type of materials used, clearances to combustibles, etc. Find an installer at www.csia.org, or www.nficertified.org orask the manufacturer for help in finding a qualified dealer. Do your homework when selecting a furnace or boiler as there are large differences in efficiency. The EPA currently has no restrictions on woodburning furnaces in most states (except California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado), but has plans to do so soon. There are some new boilers and furnaces that meet EPA standards for efficiency and qualify for the 2009-2010 tax credit. 80,000—300,000 BTU output.
Masonry Heaters– Arguably the best value in heating alternatives, masonry heaters are old world technology at its best, and are definately “green,” since they are built with natural masonry materials. Designed with a site-built or pre-cast heater core inside of a brick, stone, tile, stucco, or soapstone exterior, and built on site. The masonry mass will be at least 1,760 lbs. The heater has tight fitting doors that are closed during the burn cycle. It has an interior construction consisting of a firebox and heat exchange channels built from refractory components. A masonry heater has the ability to store a very large amount of heat, which means that you can rapidly burn a large amount of wood without overheating the house. The heat is stored in the masonry thermal mass, and then slowly radiates for the next 18 to 24 hours. Loading of wood is only required approximately once every 12 hours. The heater burns the wood quickly and all of the energy in the wood is used so there is no waste. The heater burns very clean, and practically no emissions are produced, so heaters environmentally friendly.
This type of heater, designed and used extensively in Europe, is now gaining popularity in the U.S. The initial cost is more than other types of heating, but due to the savings in energy bills that cost can be recuperated in as little as seven years. The heat is evenly distributed through the home without the use of ductwork or forced air. It is best to design the home around a masonry heater to get the maximum efficiency—homes that have large, open spaces and tall ceilings are well suited for this type of heating appliance.
Added features may be a pizza/bread oven, a heated bench, mantles, heated hot water, and wood storage spaces. A masonry heater should be built by a qualified heater-mason contractor. Find a builder and get more information about how masonry heaters work on the Masonry Heater Association of North America website at www.mha-net.org. 80,000—250,000 BTU output.
National Chimney Sweep Guild: www.ncsg.org
Chimney Safety Institute of America: www.csia.org
Midwest Chimney Safety Council: www.midwestcsc.org
Masonry Heater Association of North America: www.mha-net.org
National Fireplace Institute: www.nficertified.org
Rumford Fireplaces: www.rumford.com
Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association: www.hpba.org
Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri, and has 25 years experience in the chimney and hearth industry. She is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, an NFI Certified Woodburning Specialist, was on the board of directors for the Masonry Heater Association of North America, and is the Vice-President and Educational Director for the Midwest Chimney Safety Council. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-461-3665.