The Editors’ Quote of the Day:

“As to the present value of old technology in stoves, look for a moment at Finland. Finland is an advanced country, known for fine workmanship and good design. The Finns are international traders. Their products have to be good, especially in regard to heating because their climate is like that of Alaska. Today, [1984] Finland’s government actively encourages the construction of masonry stoves through tax policy. About two-thirds of Finland’s new houses have built-in masonry stoves. Most of the rest have wood-fired masonry baking ovens which can also be used for space heating. This government policy says a good deal about Finland’s confidence in an old technology, even in the space age. It says something as well about the country’s assessment of the energy situation.

Masonry stoves can sharply reduce wood-burning safety problems. The iron stove is frequently so hot that it will burn anyone who touches it. The masonry stove is commonly designed in Europe with benches attached, so that you can sit and lean against the stove. There is a world of difference in safety between a stove you can lean on and one that burns at the touch.” – David Lyle, The Book of Masonry Stoves — Rediscovering an Old Way of Warming




15 Comments

    1. Vastly different. An airtight just heats the air as the wood burns. And the airtight has to be continually fed for heat. The masonry heater is composed of heavy stone or rock …. the best is soapstone …. which absorbs heat from a short, hot fire. The stone then liberates heat over a twelve hour period. Usually two fires per day is all it takes to keep a place warm with radiant heat. Radiant means your walls, furniture, skin … everything … is comfortable to the touch. No creosote, no smoldering fires, warm in the morning, etc….. Believe me, there is nothing like it. Do to expense, a masonry heater is a lifetime investment. And they typically last several lifetimes.

    2. Rather than depending on a slow, smouldering fire, the masonry stove can be naturally aspirated, leading to a cleaner burn. The smoke passes through baffles in the masonry that absorb the heat (unlike a conventional fireplace). Once the fire is out, the damper can be shut, stopping the draft, thus avoiding heat loss. The warm masonry provides a lot of thermal mass (usually several tons) that radiates heat for hours after the fire is out.

      One advantage of the masonry fireplace is the quality of air inside the house. If air is exposed to the hot surface of a conventional steel stove, it tends to burn the air, creating positive ionization of the air. This is a health hazard, and requires more ventilation of the living space. But the surfaces of the masonry fireplace are much cooler, and do not burn the air nearly as much.

      A traditional American fireplace is healthful, but tends to use many times more wood than the Scandinavian/Russian style.

      The other heating system that has similar effect, is hydronic radiant floor heat, where hot water is piped through the floor. A concrete floor easily has as much thermal mass as a masonry stove.

  1. I had a Tulikivi masonry heater installed in my Alaska house. Expensive. Beautiful. Very burn efficient, comfortable and provided a radiant heat that penetrated the entire home and the human body. No hot air and dry sinuses. Never too hot. Cut firewood use by 60%.

    I had never been so comfortable in my life. Will buy another hopefully in the Redoubt.

  2. One person sees a beautiful fireplace indeed. Another also sees massive thermal mass.

    One of many great memories from Maine in the 70’s was the popularity of Russian fireplaces.

  3. I 100% agree with the concept of masonry stoves/fireplaces. A simple fireplace is extremely inefficient but with an insert is completely workable. The built in masonry stove, a bit different but same concept. The big advantage is in cutting down the amount of wood used for a given amount of heat output. Most stoves, steel, cast iron, brick lined, in cold climates are generally kept burning 24/7 during the coldest parts o the year. A masonry stove, built from masonry or rock acts as a heat sink that once heated up will heat the entire room/rooms in most cases all night long, remaining warm the next AM. And once warmed up they are easier to get warm again. If the masonry or rock is of sufficient size. Even placed in direct sunlight a masonry/rock stove, even a rock wall, will collect enough warmth to keep an insulated room warm for a good number of hrs.
    Biggest drawback is that it takes someone versed in masonry or rock work to put it all together, often an expensive proposition. But with an application of simple research and a wee bit of fortitude, I have no doubt that most readers of this site can achieve an acceptable outcome.

  4. I use several metal containers filled with water set behind the wood stove to absorb heat. It acts as a heat shield and additional thermal mass. When the stove is allowed to go out during the night, the water is always warm to the touch. This is in addition to other objects in the place that contribute the total thermal mass. The stove is indirectly heating at least 200 gallons of water and other objects within the structure.

    Several 20 gallon metal drums filled with water, might fit behind, or along side most wood stove installations. Thermal mass does go along way to stabilizing the temperature. Log homes built with large trees, do not have modern levels of insulation, yet they are more temperature stable throughout, because of the thermal mass used in it’s construction.

  5. Rocket stoves are quick burning and require fuel to be replenished rather than banked for long burn cycle. Masonry stoves once lit and banked burn till combusted allowing heat cycle of 12 hour duration.
    Rocket mass heater draws on masonry thermal storage to gain similar heating cycle as masonry stove however the amount of thermal mass is not necessarily an integral part of the structure as is the design of Russian masonry heater for example.
    Both systems provide greater btu transference and significantly diminish the amount of fuel necessary to achieve adequate heating per s.f. than wood / coal stoves or hot air gas/oil heating systems .

  6. In Cottage Grove Oregon, Uwe Mirsch at Oregon Fireside builds ‘masonry heaters’, their term for fireplaces crafted of soapstone.

    Master masons design the ‘heater’ for your space, send the specification to Finland for their team to assemble and test your ‘heater’, then it is disassembled and shipped to your home.

    Uwe and his team re-assemble your ‘heater’, and you are ready for decades of home-warming beauty.

    As part of the architecture school at the Eww in Eugene Oregon, we visited several installations… and ate fresh breads and pizza with their happy owners.

    I am impressed!

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