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Masonry Heaters: Warm Your Home with a Gentle Giant

These super-efficient fireplaces produce long-lasting, comfortable warmth with less wood, work, time, and worry.

| February/March 2018

  • Masonry heaters are beautiful architectural elements as well as practical climate control.
    Photo by Maren Cooke
  • A cutaway view of the Envirotech Radiant Fireplace reveals a complex flue pathway where heat exchange takes place.
    Illustration courtesy
  • A view of the inside of a masonry heater reveals the refractory bricks that make up the firebox and flue system.
    Photo by Ken Matesz
  • Complex flue paths draw heat from the exhaust of a fire, making more efficient use of a load of fuel.
    Photo by Ken Matesz
  • The custom-built Maumee takes up little more room than a typical metal woodstove.
    Photo by Ken Matesz
  • Because a masonry heater's warmth is spread throughout the structure, heated seats can be built into the sides.
    Photo by Ken Matesz
  • A simple colored-stucco heater radiates soothing warmth as it blends seamlessly in to the architecture of the home.
    Photo by Kirste Carlson
  • The Euclid masonry heater boasts sandstone and soapstone construction.
    Photo by Birgit McCall
  • Maren Cooke relaxes on the heated bench of her masonry heater which also features hidden piping for providing hot water to her home.
    Photo by Maren Cooke
  • Ken holds 35 pounds of oak — more than enough wood to heat his 900-square-foot home in Ohio for a full day in spring and fall.
    Photo by John Matesz

My mother didn’t raise no nincompoop, but she did raise one heck of a lazy man. So, when I got older and decided I was going to heat with wood instead of fossil fuels, I didn’t go the route of most homesteaders. Instead of a cast­iron woodstove that would need to be fed constantly, I installed an efficient, less labor-intensive masonry heater in my home.

Essentially, a masonry heater is an all-masonry fireplace designed to capture the heat produced by a single load of firewood that burns rapidly at high temperature. The heater then radiates the stored heat over a long period of time, often up to a full day. You may have heard of masonry heaters by different names, such as Russian fireplaces, German stoves, Finnish fireplaces, or maybe even kachelöfen. These names all refer to a version of a masonry heater.

Most of fall and spring, all I do to heat my 900-square-foot house is put a full load of wood — which for me is about 25 pounds — into the firebox of my masonry heater, get it burning with some newspaper and kindling, close the door, and then sit back and watch my mini-inferno. I don’t have to touch another stick of firewood for the rest of the day. In winter, I have to do this twice every day — one load of fuel before breakfast, and then one more in the evening before I go to bed. I can go to sleep knowing there’s no fire burning in the house, but the heat is still on — no getting out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to throw another log or two into the woodstove.

For those of you who work away from home all day, this probably sounds mighty appealing. You can heat your home with wood even if no one is around to fuel the stove, and then come home after a long day to find your home warm and comfortable.

How Does It Work?

We usually expect heat to be generated only when something is burning. So how the heck do you heat a living space for 12 hours or more without constantly stoking a fire with fuel? The short answer is “with a battery.”

We walk on a huge battery every day and call it “Earth.” The sun warms the Earth’s surface, which is where warm breezes come from. The heat storage capacity of the world is what makes living on it possible. That same capacity is built into a masonry heater. Most masonry heaters weigh between 1 and 5 tons. That’s 2,000 to 10,000 pounds of heat-storing masonry mass!

9/7/2019 2:02:31 PM

Because of this article we had our masonry fireplace converted to a masonry heater. Living in central Indiana we have very squirrely temps. The first polar vortex of 2018 put a hurt on our geothermal and it's back up, not getting the house up to barely 58. The masonry heater is located in the sorta center of our house and warmed the main living area to 72 during the second polar vortex with no backup kicking on! The chairs are warm, the couch is warm, the tables are warm, the rug is warm, the dog chose to sleep in the living room instead of with us! 9 logs per burn in a "top-down" fire, no campfire smell ih the house, and warm on your face instead of blowing cool air. We can't wait to see how are first full season goes, how often we burn, how much wood we use; with Solar panels with net metering on our garage, geo in the ground and masonry heater, we hope to be giving less money to the utilities and making a lesser mark on the world.

Casey Willson
1/18/2018 1:16:20 PM

We really enjoyed Ken's article here at Broomgrass in WV. Our house is built on a slab and a masonry stove stands between the living and dining area (with doors on both sides). For solar panel orientation and passive solar exposure, our house faces south with glass doors and appropriate overhangs facing that direction. When the sun is shining, our stove requires one good fire in the evening and its heat retention and the passive solar make things very toasty no matter what the temperature or windchill until lighting up the next evening. The efficiency and warmth of the combination of masonry stove and passive solar is astounding!

12/30/2017 2:19:57 PM

I fell in love with masonry mass stoves, long ago, after meeting the Tulikivi brand of them. Never really understood, as a child, what the fairy tails meant, when they mentioned "sleeping on top of the stove"....many years later, once understanding masonry mass, how that works! Clearly, those particular stories can from very cold climates where these stoves were the usual way to heat a home.

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