Living off Grid – Our Wood Burning Masonry Stove

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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I’ve mentioned this appliance in other articles and shown a couple of pictures but the more use we get out of it the more I become enamored with it and it’s time we put this appliance on the “highly recommended” list of low energy desirable appliances. I’m talking about our custom built wood burning masonry kitchen stove.

At the time Laurie and I were making our move from city to country life I owned a commercial masonry construction company. In talking to a product salesman one day (a former mason himself) he told me I should check into Masonry Heaters as a heat source for our new home. I had heard of them before but didn’t really know anything about them.

I read everything I could about masonry heaters and in that discovery process I noticed that some of the custom designed ones had kitchen stoves and ovens attached to them. That is what this article is about, our wood burning kitchen stove.

We use our stove for cooking, canning, and heating our home. This stove was always intended as an alternative stove to our primary cooking source, the propane stove and oven.
Who knew at the time we built what the price of propane would be in a few years? It bounces up and down with the price of oil and I didn’t like the idea of being stuck and at the mercy of the big oil and propane companies so we decided to have a backup stove. I’ve never regretted that decision since.

When we aren’t using the stove its 42″ cast iron cook top serves nicely as counter space. It sits right next to our propane stove. It has two top round plates that are designed to distribute the heat evenly in the entire round space but the whole top is obviously heated as well.

The wood burner is in the upper left corner with an ash cleanout directly underneath. You can burn any kind of wood from kindling size up to about 3″ round. To the right of the burner is the 10″ oven. We have cooked bread, roasted whole chicken, and even a few pies in the oven. The only trick we had to learn was to rotate the food dish occasionally in order to get it to cook evenly. Even with the masonry mass heated up from a long term fire before baking it is best in this design to rotate the oven dish.

Starting from zero in the morning you can have bacon frying in about 10 minutes and coffee boiling in twenty minutes.

I’ve got a 6″ fresh air PVC pipe that runs from outside the house, under the slab and up next to the firebox. That air is then taken out through the adjoining Masonry Heater mass via an air chamber built into it and then on up and out through a standard double wall stainless steel pipe and vented through the roof just like a wood stove.

We use this stove in the spring and fall (when the temperatures are only mildly cold) to heat the house because we don’t really need a lot of heat at that time of year. We also use it a few times during the winter to supplement or “add to” our masonry heater when the temperatures are nearing zero degrees Fahrenheit and our masonry heater struggles to keep up. We heat a little over 1400 square feet. It only takes two small armfuls of wood per day to heat the house or supplement the other Heater. Whenever that happens we automatically use it to cook with. In the fall when it gets cool it comes in handy to do pressure canning and heat the house and cook dinner all the same day!

The one drawback to this heater is that here in the mountains we have inversions frequently the year ’round. If the temperature is over 40 degrees and we have an inversion this stove won’t draw. The inversion shoves all the smoke right back down the chimney and into the house. We’ve tried everything. The reason is that in this design the air flow is “indirect”. It goes by the fire and “pulls it up the chimney. In our Masonry Heater design the fresh air comes in directly under the fire and pushes it out the chimney. That design works every time. The indirect design works most of the time. It is unfortunately a design issue and there is nothing we can do about it without tearing things apart.

Laurie and I both highly recommend wood burning kitchen stoves to anyone that can burn wood where they live. It doesn’t matter whether it is a custom built masonry stove like ours or a manufactured stove. These appliances are very diverse and will give you a real sense of self sufficiency. How many people in your neighborhood wake up to the smell of bacon and coffee in a nice warm house when the power goes out?

If you are considering a custom built stove, check out the Masonry Heater Association Of North America on line. There are only a few masons qualified to design and build custom stoves and you will need to do your homework. This is a great place to start and to get ideas.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and