Photo by Manfred Antranias Zimmer
The world is nutty. Modern systems of production, distribution, and marketing have overwhelmed us with decisions, most of which matter very little to our personal happiness but have effects that impact not only people we'll never meet in places we'll never go, but those close by that we know and love for generations.
Hucksters with huge budgets try to convince us that their product, system, or candidate can solve with a simple slogan problems that took generations to develop. When I stop to think through the impact of every dollar I spend and choice I make, it's overwhelming. Even my self image is a product sold back to me. The modern world is a very complicated place, and it is extremely difficult to make sense of it all and make good decisions.
One thing I know is that as far as energy goes, we are living on borrowed time. We have been convinced that oil and oil-dependent resources like large-scale solar and wind generation are the only answer to keeping the gravy train rolling. I wish I knew how much money Big Oil spends marketing their vision of the future to the masses, but I suspect it is very high. They want our future to seem inextricably tied to them, and to mass production of energy.
I have chosen a different mindset. The world is what it has been for a long, long time, and this is because the human heart is what it is. I choose to not believe that my family's fate is necessarily tied to the fate of “all mankind.” I have chosen to keep it simple.
Home Heating: Fuel Use in Control
Home heating is one of the biggest single users of energy in my direct control. I can't control how the schools heat, how the factories heat, or how my neighbor heats, nor do I want to — but I can control how I heat.
Masonry heaters can be large, small, efficient, and well built — or poorly built and not-so-efficient — but even the poor ones often beat out a basic woodstove. This is because they are fundamentally different in their approach. This is why the U.S. EPA has consistently refused to regulate them, and it's what I want to talk about.
Modern industrial society operates on the idea that with enough power we can make things work the way we want to. We apply horsepower to our problems instead of wisdom, and have chosen to organize our lives, cities, towns, and economy around the consumption of energy to fight natural forces rather than working with them in order to create a harmonious life. This is the mentality that solves interpersonal problems with attorneys rather than investing in relationships and creating community.
Photo by Danjo Paluska
Masonry Heaters for Sustainable Wood Heat
On the surface, a masonry heater accomplishes one humble thing: It gets the most heat out of an amount of wood. But (and this is the point) it embodies a principle that industrial society seems to have forgotten and which may hold the key to our futures: It works with the natural tendencies of the materials from which it's built, the fuel it uses, and the people who occupy the space it serves.
A masonry heater involves no complicated mechanisms and needs no electrical power. It doesn't care when the power goes out. It's just a durable material that absorbs, holds, and radiates heat laid out in a way that allows its fuel to burn as it naturally does and to hold the heat produced within the building. It uses the basic nature and attributes of the materials from which it is constructed to accomplish its end instead of accomplishing its purpose with horsepower.
Wood heat doesn't rely on political stability in far reaches of the world. It's comforting to my family to know that we have warmth regardless of what the market does.
In Maine, masonry heaters ground, center, and connect a house to their environment. That connection is more than a sticker or plastic do-dad affixed to the stove claiming itself a “partial-zero-sub-nano-non-emitting device.” Consider this: Wood fuel that is, by definition, local and responsibly harvested can improve the vitality of the ecosystem. It can come from “waste”: scraps from construction sites, pruning cut offs, branches others would throw away, or blow downs (for those interested in the extra work of finding and getting it).
Benefits Beyond Heating
And they don’t just heat. Wood-fueled masonry heaters enhance the quality of life to all who live with it. They can be a living room fireplace, a kitchen hearth, a bake oven, and a water heater all at the same time while infusing the space with a feeling of warmth that soothes and relaxes all who are blessed to experience it.
And the kicker is: The reason I'm drawn and can't get away is there is no downside. None. It rewards us aesthetically, it rewards our children and grandchildren environmentally, it makes amazing sense financially, it provides security and local employment all without destroying habitats or enslaving people in far-off countries, without polluting the air, without back-breaking labor, and it's a visible manifestation of this principle of making the best use of what we have and not trying to force things to be what we want them to be.
Eric Schroeder is a masonry heat expert who has been designing heaters since 2006, innovating around stove shape, size, firebox design, and heat exchange layouts. Connect with Eric at Eric Schroeder Stoves and on Twitter. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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