Neill and Erica's Heater

Neill, my good friend and masonry assistant just finished his interim home where he and his partner Erica and their two kids, River (4) and Willow (16 months), are starting to farm. This straw-bale house will be converted into a workshop once the permanent house is constructed, so when we decided to build a heater in the house, there were a lot of considerations.

The heater needed to be elegant because it is in their home, but must not be expensive to build because in the long run it would just be in the workshop. It needed to take up as little space as possible and provide plenty of heat without being too dangerous for the inquisitive toddler.

We did a good job meeting these specifications. Since the structure was built on grade, it was simple to pour the footing and then just build the heater and chimney on top of the slab. The small Finnish contraflow heater came out about 27" by 39" which is a very small footprint for a masonry heater. We were able to do this with confidence because we knew the straw-bale walls would lose heat a lot slower than most other wall systems.

We used fieldstone from a neighboring farm to cut cost and transportation, and many of the firebrick in the core were reused from an old boiler. The materials cost for this heater was quite low. The stonework gave the heater some elegance, and makes the workshop feel like home. Last, it is relatively safe for a toddler because the only truly hot part of the heater is the door, and it is only hot for a few hours of the day as compared to a cast-iron stove that would be burning hot at all hours.

It was a satisfying project, and since the farm is off the electric grid we cut all of the bricks and drilled all of the holes with the power of two photovoltaic panels.