Brick Veneer Insulation, Firebox Masonry Stoves and Growing Sassafras Trees

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Brick veneer will likely not increase your home's energy efficiency. We have the scoop on better options.
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Try this technique if applying brick to your home.

Is brick veneer considered appropriate for super-insulated houses? I’d like to brick my home, but I don’t want to decrease the energy efficiency of my dwelling.

Brick veneer adds significantly to the construction cost of a house but does little to increase (or decrease) the structure’s energy efficiency. In most cases, adding a brick wrap can be justified only by the resulting look. If you intend simply to cover the structure as it stands, using a whole-brick veneer, the drawing in the Image Gallery illustrates one technique that’s commonly used for ranch and split-level homes.

On the other hand, you might want to consider a product such as the exterior wall system put out by Pan-Brick, Inc. The Pan-Brick panels combine plywood sheathing, closed-cell polyurethane insulation, and a veneer of kiln-fired clay brick slices in one easy-to-install building component. In addition, the prefab panels boast an R value of 8.7 (compared with the R-1.2 of regular brick veneer) and are said to cost 20 percent less than a tier of full-dimension brick. Such a product can be especially attractive for retrofit applications in which a whole-brick wall isn’t necessary. If your local lumberyard isn’t familiar with this system, contact the folks at Pan-Brick, and they’ll put you in touch with the nearest distributor.

— Michael Scott

A Masonry Stove Insert

I’m wondering if I could use a fireplace insert as the firebox for a masonry stove. I’d build channels for convection and provide ample mass for radiant heat storage.

Yes, you could, but I have three suggestions for doing so, all of which pertain to the unit’s durability and maintenance. First, don’t place the rigid mortared masonry in direct contact with the bulk of the insert. Instead, leave space to allow for thermal expansion differences between the insert and the masonry. Second, because you may need to do maintenance work on the heater or even replace the whole unit in the future, I’d suggest designing the installation so that the insert can be removed with a minimum of masonry breakage. (You’ll achieve some of the benefits of a masonry stove just by having the heater surrounded by brick, even if the material doesn’t touch the heater and the fuel gases merely pass up through an ordinary chimney.) And, finally, select a relatively rugged and simple insert, to maximize your stove’s life expectancy and minimize maintenance troubles.

Most inserts have blowers that push the heat from the inner surfaces of the unit directly into the adjoining room, and I presume you wouldn’t dismantle this system. However, if you want to achieve the same heat storage and slow, steady heat output that are characteristic of a true masonry stove, a unit that doesn’t send as much warmth directly into the house — such as a radiant stove — may be a better choice. If you haven’t already purchased the insert, you could just use a woodstove.

A closing thought: The manufacturer’s warranty on the insert or stove will, of course, be voided in your contemplated installation.

— Jay Shelton

Growing Sassafras Trees

Help! I’ve just discovered that Rush County, Indiana, has become devoid of one of its natural resources: The red sassafras tree no longer grows here. Can you give me information concerning the techniques for propogating or transplanting this species?

Three species comprise the Sassafras genus: Two are found primarily in Asia, while Sassafras albidum, the common sassafras, is native to this country. Although I’ve never propogated sassafras, my understanding is that the trees can indeed be grown from seed. To start your own sassafras nursery, locate mature plants and collect just a few of their fruits in August or September when the elliptical berries are blue-black in color.

Separate the seeds from the pulpy flesh by rubbing the fruits over wire mesh and then washing the debris away with water. Store the clean, dry trees-to-be in an airtight container in the fridge. Then, as late in fall as possible, sow the nuggets in a shallow (a quarter to half inch) trench covered with soil and a well-rotted leaf mulch. The seedlings will emerge in the spring and may be transplanted the next season while the tiny trees are still dormant. As with other trees and shrubs, you should be careful to disturb the root systems as little as possible during transplanting. The planting site should provide light shade to full sun and have well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Avoid places that are subject to regular flooding.

Alternatively, you could consult a good propogation text for information about growing sassafras from root cuttings.

— John Quinney