Thursday, January 26, 2012

A New Maonry Heater Starts Here

As built.
Original AutoCad Rendering
In my January 11, 2011 post I show photos of a recent project.  As I pointed out both in my book and in my blogs, projects like this are one-of-a-kind.  No one else on Earth has built this heater before.  There is no pre-made, pre-designed, pre-engineered kit for making this masonry heater.  Every aspect, right down to the size and configuration of the firebox as well as the spacing and size of the shelving are completely unique to this project.  You won't find this heater in some manufacturer's catalog and, chances are, this heater will never be built again.

When someone comes to me and wants a custom masonry heater, I don't just look for a different way to wrap a factory-made inner heater core (called the "inner life" in my book, Masonry Heaters: Designing, Building and Living with a Piece of the Sun) with a new combination of masonry materials.  Rather, I try to discover what it is the person really wants.  Do they want something unique, interesting, unusual?  Do they want or need something short? Tall?  Skinny? Broad?  Do they like modern or minimalist design?  Do they like rounded shapes or boxy shapes. Do they want something that looks soft and organic or hard and crisp? More importantly to me as the "salesman" of a masonry heater, do they understand that the masonry heater will become THE PLACE that they will want to be in their house during the winter?  Therefore, do they want seating areas?  If so, how much?  It is from gleaning information like this that arises designs for a truly custom masonry heater.

The next step is to translate the apparent desires of the owner-to-be into a design.  But how can the new owner know if he likes the design if he or she cannot properly visualize it?  Now, I have seen some designers, who are more artistic than myself, do pencil sketches of masonry heaters for their customers.  In mere moments they can draw a representation of what they have in mind for the masonry heater.  This enthralls and fascinates me.  I can do drawings and sketches by hand, but they never seem to reach the level of artistic expression some of these designers can attain.  But I have found a different way.

When I do a design project, I begin by drawing the concept using AutoCad professional computer design software.  This is the same software used by engineers at Fortune 500 companies to design and detail everything from soda bottles to the volume control knob on the radio of  an automobile.  It is also used by architects for designing homes and skyscrapers.  It's used by civil engineers to design bridges and roadways.  I use it to design both the inner life and the exterior appearance of masonry heaters.

As built
Original AutoCad Rendering
Using AutoCad, I first design the "container" - the outer, visible appearance of the masonry heater - in an attempt to capture what my customer wants.  Sometimes I get it largely right the first time.  Sometimes I have to try many different styles before I strike a chord with the owner-to-be.  In order for a decision to be made, my drawings must realistically portray what I intend to build.  The more realistic I can make it look, the better the customer understands what to expect.

The Illinois project described below is such an example and within this text are two preliminary views of how this heater was designed.  I think you can see from the pictures that the preliminary drawings well portrayed the way the heater would look.  We did make some subtle changes from these renderings as the project moved toward actuality, but the flavor and scope of the design stayed very true to these original AutoCad renderings.  This is the start of a custom masonry heater.

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