Timber Frames and Masonry Heaters, A Perfect Match

Timber Frame with Masonry Heater

Masonry Heater

One of the many questions we are asked is “how to heat a timber frame home?” The short answer …. “Easily.” Since your frame will likely be wrapped in Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) the building envelop will be extra tight and efficient. (Read more about Structural Insulated Panels in an upcoming article). While any type of heating system can be integrated into your timber framed home we recommend some type of radiant heat. The added comfort provided by an efficient enclosure system is easily enhanced with our favorite type of heat; radiant heat. See the “Why Radiant heat section below”

What is a Masonry Heater?

Sometimes referred to as Russian or Finnish stoves/fireplaces, masonry heaters have a long standing tradition as the favorite heat source in some of Europe’s more frigid countries. The principles behind masonry heaters are quite simple and include; high temperature combustion for increased efficiency, and large thermal mass for heat storage and continuous radiation. A small hot fire is burned once or twice a day and hot gases are directed through channels which allow the gas’s heat to be absorbed by the surrounding masonry. The masonry then radiates heat evenly and continuously for 12-24 hours into the surrounding space. With this system combustion efficiency approaches 90% resulting in drastically less pollution such as tar or creosote; this also means virtually no risk of chimney fires and means maintenance such as chimney cleaning is rarely needed. Since most of the heat is absorbed by the masonry fuel efficiency is also increased requiring far less fuel during a heating season. A recently complete project will require between 1-2 full cords of wood to fully heat a home. One popular addition to many masonry heaters, is integrating a bake oven into the heater.

Why Radiant Heat?

The reason we recommend radiant heat over forced-air has to do with one of the many reasons people choose a timber frame over other forms of construction; large open spaces. The configuration of posts, beams, ties, braces, joists (indeed all of your framing members) creates distinct spaces while maintaining an open floor plan. High ceilings and vaulted great rooms means that there is not only a lot more air to heat but also that a greater volume of air is over head. In this situtation heating the air alone does not make a lot of sense and is an inefficient way to provide heat.One of the main advantages of radiant heat is that it primarily heats objects. By heating objects instead of the air, then each object acts as storage and source of radiated heat. So besides providing strength and beauty, your timbers quite literally contribute to your sense of warmth. Just one more reason a timber frame provides greater comfort.

    Advantages of a Masonry Heater

  • High combustion temperatures results in cleaner and more efficient burning
  • Large thermal mass provides even and continuous heat
  • Wood is a renewable resource
  • Wood is a carbon neutral heat source
  • The cost of wood is stable and inexpensive
  • Brings the hearth back to the center of the home
  • Radiant heat is comfortable, healthy, and efficient
Masonry Heater with Bake Oven

Masonry Heater with Bake Oven

Why Choose a Masonry Heater

Generally when discussing issues regarding heating a home, the discussion turns almost purely to technical details such as heat loss rates, BTU’s produced, return on investment, as well as installation, maintenance and operating costs. Surely these are valid and important aspects of the discussion (indeed a masonry heater performs admirably in most of these areas) but when was the last time you had guests over and you gathered around your furnace? A masonry heater allows us to put the hearth back into the center of your home. Facing the heater with natural stone or decorative brick, brings yet another distinct material into your home. Similar to the way a timber frame enhances the unique character of your custom home, the masonry heater acts as an architectural centerpiece that harmoniously provides warmth and beauty. Visible flames and steady heat radiating from masonry that is warm, not hot, to the touch provides an atmosphere and ambience unmatched by other heating methods. Perhaps we are traditionalists by nature, but a central hearth adds yet another feature that transforms your house into a home.

Would you like to see a masonry heater in action? Our upcoming home tour features a masonry heater and provides a great opportunity to see why it is the perfect match for your timber frame home.

For more detailed information about Masonry Heaters check out The Masonry Heater Association and Heat Kit.

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