Burning Questions


Question: Do I have to worry about creosote buildup and chimney fires?

Answer: No, unless you are burning really wet wood, a well-designed masonry heater reaches combustion temperatures that are high enough to burn creosote, so it is a fuel instead of a problem.


Question: Can you build a masonry heater in an existing structure?

Answer: Yes, while it can be easier to build a heater that is planned into the blueprints of a new home, it is by no means impossible to build a heater in a pre-existing home.


Question: Can you build a heater on the first floor if I have a basement?

Answer: Yes, it adds a bit of work, but it is not rocket science, and it is often worth it to have the heater in the center of your living area.


Question: Can you build a heater if I have a crawlspace?

Answer: Yes, it is a similar process to building one on the first floor above a basement.


Question: Can you build a heater if I have a slab on grade foundation?

Answer: Yes, this is typically easier than the first two scenarios, but it can save a lot of money and time if the footing for the heater is planned into the house before construction begins. These are simple things to do before construction begins, but it is still possible to retrofit in the case of an existing slab and it is still less complicated than crawlspace or basement foundations for heaters.


Question: Can I build the masonry heater in the basement?

Answer: As long as there is enough clearance to the ceiling, you can, but since the heat from a masonry heater is primarily radiant, if your basement is not well insulated, it is not worth it.


Question: What clearances do I have to worry about with a masonry heater?

Answer: With the exception of the side with the fire door, ASTM specifies no less than 4 inches of space from the heater to combustible wall materials and a minimum clearance of 8 inches from the top of the heater to the ceiling.


Question: How can I save money on a masonry heater?

Answer: Start by designing the foundation for the heater into the house if it is a new construction. You can sometimes get your own stone from your property or from a neighbor. Used brick can be free and environmentally benign, but some brick is not dense enough to hold and transfer heat as needed. Since the veneer of the heater is the battery that stores the heat, inferior brick results in an inferior heater. Another way to save money is to veneer the heater with 4 inch solid core block and stucco it. Tiles can be worked in to add interest, and it can result in an attractive heater with a considerable savings in labor over brick or stone. A veneer design that is mostly block with stucco with some brick or stone worked into it is another option that can cut down on the labor costs.


Question: Can I heat water with my heater?

Answer: Yes, both my heater and Grace Heitsch’s heater are set up to heat water as well as space. (See Heater Gallery page.)


Question: Can a masonry heater run without electricity?

Answer: The beauty of a masonry heater is in the simplicity of its design. There are no fans or pumps in masonry heaters EXCEPT when a heater heats water, but does not have a place above the heater for the water storage tank. If the storage tank is above the heater and in close proximity to it, a natural thermosyphon effect will circulate the water from the heater to the tank. In cases where you cannot install the tank above the heater, you MUST use an electric pump to circulate the water.


Question: Can I have an oven in the heater?

Answer: You can incorporate an oven in most heaters. The size and design of the heater determine how big the oven will be, and whether flue gasses travel through the oven (black oven) or not (white oven).


Question: Can I have a heated bench in the heater?

Answer: Often times it is possible to build in a heated bench, but this also takes up more space than a heater without a bench.