We’re well into week #3 of gray weather. To avoid falling into hate-Ithaca-weather-talk, I’m going to focus on a positive during this time of the year: the masonry stove.
The masonry stove is that big, brick thing that absorbs heat from the fire and slowly radiates it for hours. Because of its mass, the stove takes a while to heat up so you don’t feel the full heat until 6-8 hours later, but that heat also lasts for a very long time. The bricks are still warm to the touch 24 hours later.
What do we like about our masonry stove and why would we recommend it for new construction [hint hint]? In no particular order:
1. Less wood. It takes less wood to heat the whole house than a typical steel, woodburning stove. We don’t have the exact math and won’t until winter is over, but we are going through our wood pile more slowly than when we heated with a common stove. Granted, that stove was in a 80-year-old house that didn’t have 6-inch walls with modern insulation and didn’t get a passive solar boost, but we are definitely burning less wood. For starters, we light a single fire in the morning and that’s it. The fire uses a bit more wood than what fit in our old stove, but we aren’t constantly feeding the masonry stove. Instead, you light a fire, let it burn, and wait. In addition, before using the stove, we thought we would probably need two fires a day in the dead of winter. That would mean more wood, of course. But we’ve already had some pretty cold days–and nights–and we haven’t built two fires yet. One fire does it and if we get any passive solar heating, it really does it. In fact, it’s hard for us to imagine burning two fires a day. If we had “highs” in the teens and lows around or below zero for multiple days in a row, we might need it. But the stove is working so well with just one fire, that would be the rare exception, not the rule.
2. Less fiddling. With a usual stove in the dead of winter, you need to feed it all day–and sometimes during the night, too. This means more wood (see above), but also more futzing and fiddling–adding wood, stirring coals, adjusting the logs so they burn better, and so on. With a single fire a day, it’s basically burn, baby, burn–and that’s it.
3. Less mess. One of the things that drove me crazy about our old stove was the mess: not just more bits of bark and wood that fell everywhere given the higher wood consumption, but more insidiously, the ash–oh, the ash! There’s no easy clean-out with regular steel stoves so you’d have to scoop the ashes into a bucket and take them outside. All that scooping sent some of the ash in the air–and onto everything in the surrounding area. I still have books with ash on the top part. More dusting, more vacuuming, more cleaning–and perpetually from fall through spring. And even with all that cleaning, the house never got fully clean.
4. Sustainable heating. We also appreciate the masonry stove because it allows us to heat sustainably. Granted, we partly heated our old house with the typical woodburning stove, but we also ran the natural gas boiler from time to time–and had to. In the new house, wood and passive solar are our primary heat sources. We do have electric baseboard heaters as backup, but we barely use them. As in, we put one baseboard heater in the family room in the basement on low while we’re watching a movie. We installed a number of baseboard heaters throughout the house, but doubt we’ll use most of them–except if we go out of town in winter.
5. Cat heaven. Yes, the cats love the stove and it’s hard not to like something that makes kitties so happy.
Overall, we’re completely pleased with the masonry stove. We were a bit worried about the cost, but it came under the mason’s estimate. In addition, when you compare it with the cost of a regular furnace plus air ducts, etc., it’s really not that expensive. It’s hard, if not impossible, to retrofit most existing houses with a masonry stove, but it’s quite easy to design it into new construction and we would certainly recommend it.