the generic name for tile stoves, kachelofens, heat-storing fireplaces, ceramic stoves, grundofens, Russian or Finnish fireplaces, and fireplace furnaces. Non-polluting, safe and cost-effective, they use less fuel wood per heating season than your ordinary stove or fireplace. The surface is never too hot to touch, the warmth they radiate has been likened to sunshine, and they originated in “the old country.”
For many centuries, the peasants and princes of Europe warmed up hut and palace alike with massive masonry and tile stoves. These ranged from the simplest of whitewashed clay stoves to the ornate, tile-clad masterpieces of the wealthy.
Stove masons of the day spent many years learning and perfecting their skills. Theirs was a craft whose secrets were’ carefully guarded, often handed down from father to son for generations.
The basic designs for most of the masonry heaters in use today were developed during Europe’s “Little Ice Age” from 1500 to 1800, when wood was in extremely short supply and fossil fuel not yet widely available.
They are still the heating system of choice for many people in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Russia. Introduced into North America in late 70’s, they have gained a strong foothold in both the U.S. and Canada.
Masonry heaters rely on wood’s capacity to give off tremendous heat quickly and the ability of masonry materials to soak up that heat and release it slowly over a 12-to-24 hour period. One hot fire a day is often all that’s needed.
I know one stove mason who built a concrete-block house, insulated the exterior and laid up a masonry heater at its center. He and his wife can leave for two days in the dead of winter and return to a still-warm house.
Masonry heaters require a footer and a suitable chimney. They work best in a house with an open floor plan.
In those early years of their introduction in the U.S. and Canada, workshops held in Maine, New Mexico, Washington and elsewhere acquainted a number of masons with this age-old technology. A small corps of converts formed the Masonry Heater Association (MHA).
Many of these masons have become fine craftsmen who build masonry heaters,-on site for their customers. Several have designed modular heater kits with components a skilled mason can set up, finishing with the tile, stone or brick of the customer’s choice.
As the demand for masonry heaters grows, core kits may become the norm, as there are too few stove masons. So, just order the kit and hire a local mason to build it with instructions and technical support from the kit manufacturer. There are also factory-made heaters available for delivery and set-up. Heater building is an exacting discipline, with much to learn concerning expansion joints, wood-heat technology, venting dynamics, thermal stress … and more. Craftsmen learn from each other, from the “old-country” stove masons, and through MHA work- shops and seminars.
MHA sponsors testing of the basic heater designs to document their exceptionally clean burn. In 1998 they put in place a rigorous heater-mason certification program.
To learn more, you can log onto www.mha-net.org. Or call 802-728- 5896. Excellent books on the subject are David Lyle’s The Book of Masonry Stoves and Albie Barden’s Finnish Fireplaces, Heart of the Home. -Jay Hensley
Reprinted, with permission, from the October 1999 issue of SNEWS, The Chimney Sweep’s Newsmagazine, an independent trade magazine for chimney service professionals, 3737 Pine Grove Road, Klamath Falls, OR 97603 USA; 541-882-5196. Jim Gillam, editor/ publisher.