Satin in The Lower Depths had the best place to sleep
He slept on the Russian stove.
I first read the play when I was a kid and never understood what the hell that meant. Now I do.
Russian stoves are massive masonry structures designed to suck every last bit of heat from burning fuel that it possible can, store that energy in its masonry, and release it into the room over time. The heat is sent through a flue system that doesn’t just go straight up, but travels, and that flue system is covered with brick or stone. Koreans have a similar traditional heating system called an ondol. The Romans used something similar in the caldarium (though the floors would be too hot to walk on barefoot) to heat their bathhouses. The heat and smoke from a fire is sent through a series of chambers under a masonry floor to heat the house.
Modern hydronic radiant heating systems work the same way; but use fluid instead of air as the heating medium since it’s not as hot, it’s easier to control, it can be more directed, and it can use just about any fuel to heat it. The heat charges masonry, usually concrete (which the Romans also used), that releases the heat over time.
Our strawbale house is designed to both store heat and release it gradually (radiant flooring and passive solar collection using the same concrete slab), and to keep that warmth in the house (the 22” bale walls and foam-sealed roofs and cupola walls). It's all about maintaining an equilibrium of temperature and humidity. But I wanted a back-up heat source and I wanted a hearth.
For me, a house without some kind of hearth is missing something that makes it a home. I don’t even really care what kind of hearth, as long as it has one. And it should have a mantle. Anyone who thinks greenbuilding (the real kind, not the marketing kind) shouldn't take aesthetics into account is...well, dumb as a stump is the nicest thing I can say about that. A hearth is an aesthetic need as well as a practical one.
Hearths present certain challenges, especially if you want to use wood for fuel, which we will and do. We use a woodstove to heat the small house were in. What a mess. Not only ashes and soot, but the logs I haul in often have small stowaways, which led to the development of the Spider Bounty. The fab GF doesn’t mind spiders outside, but in the house, she finds them unbearable. They are too sneaky. Catch-and-release nets me $3 a spider.
I didn’t want a woodstove and I didn’t want an open fireplace. They’re very inefficient and expensive to build. So we looked at masonry heaters.
All kinds of cultures have built the equivalent of a Russian stove and you can find all kinds of designs for masonry heaters. And lots of people are interested in stone or masonry bakeovens. So it didn’t seem like it would be too hard to find models and masons. Well, that’s why you start two years before you actually do, because nothing is as easy as it appears. But it looks like we found the right guy. Timothy lives in the southern part of the state. He’s on a job in Maryland right now, but we’re going to finalize our design soon and I will be pouring concrete again. The small masonry heater we’ll build (core will be by Temp-Cast.) requires a slab at least 10 inches thick, with 6x6 rebar grid.
But first I get to dig. That’s just swell.
I left a hole in the slab and concrete pavers that is 48"x72". This void is to the right (west) of the patio door 48". The void then runs north 74". At the 48" inch corner, the bale wall stands about 102". At the 72" end of the void, the ceiling is about 120" tall. I have to run a combustion air inlet from the exterior, under the foundation, and placed specifically in the heater’s slab. That combustion air inlet must be metal and I have to sink it in concrete, too. Luckily, I placed an 8” double-walled corrugated plastic pipe under the foundation to run this inlet, but that's a lot of digging and a lot of swearing.
But it’s worth it. I have a question requiring firedoors to Timothy right now. We’ll have a bakeoven facing the kitchen and I want to know if we can have see-through firedoors. Firedoors are the doors through which you put the wood into the firebox. See-through doors are on opposite sides of the ehater, so you can see through to the next room. I know this will make the heater less efficient, but it will be pretty. We’re still deciding on the finish---we’ve come up with several workable designs, but I thought of something yesterday and am checking to see what Timothy thinks. I’m looking forward to his design ideas, too.
We were going to have heated benches, but I changed my mind. Maybe if we lived in Russia.