A masonry heater — also known as a Russian stove or a Russian fireplace — is a wood-burning stove designed to use a very small amount of wood. Masonry heaters date back many centuries and were used throughout Russia, Scandinavia, and parts of Eastern Europe. They are becoming popular again because of their efficiency and cozy feel.
Taking advantage of the fact that brick and stone are prime materials for storing heat which is then slowly radiated out, keeping the immediate area warm for hours. Masonry heaters are generally very large and only burn a small amount of wood. This made the heaters very handy throughout history when wood supplies were limited. They are also valued now that many people are concerned about particulate matter in the air.
The firebox in a masonry heater is enclosed, and contains a sort of labyrinth of air channels. Cool combustion air is vented from outside, causing the fire to burn at a very high temperature and vent the heated gases with little particulate emission. The extremely hot combustion gases travel through the maze of channels, losing their heat to the stone or brick, and venting cool smoke out of the flue.
Some masonry heaters also include an oven for baking, since the heat tends to be even and high for a long period of time due to the superheated gases heating the masonry materials. Some masonry heaters include benches for people who want to sit by the heat source to warm themselves.
Brick is the most common material used for the construction of masonry heaters nowadays. This is because brick is inexpensive and stores and radiates heat well. In addition, bricks are extremely versatile and can be laid out in a variety of ways, creating attractive curves and arches, and other patterns.
Other materials for masonry heater construction are also popular. Soapstone is very smooth, has an attractive blue-gray color, and retains and emits heat well. Masonry heaters made of soapstone have a very different look than those made of brick, as they are made of slabs of soapstone. Specialty concrete blocks with colored glasses or textured surfaces are also popular for a more rustic look.
Modern masonry heaters might be made of brick, stone, or concrete. Those wanting a masonry heater built should look for masons who are certified as experts from the Masonry Heater Association. These masons have learned to construct intricate masonry heaters, and are trained as engineers and artisans, as well as masons. It is important to construct these heaters correctly, since they cannot be repaired once their are built.
Written by Bronwyn Harris