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Masonry heater perspective.

I enjoyed John Gulland's well-researched article "When to Choose Wood Heat" (February/March 2013) and agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of using wood for heat. I was disappointed, however, that Mr. Gulland didn't mention masonry heaters in his discussion of the efficiency and emissions of woodstoves. Masonry heaters are safer and more efficient, and they produce fewer emissions than even the newest woodstoves.

Masonry heaters are fantastic works of art that involve placing 6,000 to 12,000 pounds of brick or rock around a woodburning firebox. Situated in the middle of a house like a woodstove (not as part of a wall like a traditional fireplace), masonry heaters radiate heat from a single fire for 12 to 24 hours. The heat produced by the fire travels through an intricate series of channels throughout the massive heater before exiting the house through the chimney. Nearly all the heat of the burned wood is absorbed by the thermal mass of the heater. This stored heat is then radiated into the house continuously, keeping it at a fairly constant temperature without the need to feed the fire every few hours.

An added bonus of masonry heaters is the extras that can be incorporated. Ours has a heated bench (a favorite spot for the cats) and a bake oven, which works much like a brick oven. Some people use their masonry heaters as their hot water energy source, shaving even more off of their energy bill.

Because of their weight, masonry heaters are difficult to add to existing houses. They are much better suited to new construction, where the appropriate concrete support and an open house plan can be more easily incorporated into the home design. Also, not just anyone can build a masonry heater, because the channels that direct the gasses are so complex.

Your best bet is to hire a mason who is a certified masonry heater builder. We were able to save some money by adding the outer layer of rock ourselves--using rocks from our creek--after the mason had built the basic heater.

For more information on masonry heaters and pictures of some beautiful models--no two are alike!--visit the Masonry Heater Association of North America website at www.

Annalisa Switzer

Ashmore, Illinois

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Title Annotation:Dear Mother
Author:Switzer, Annalisa
Publication:Mother Earth News
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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