Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Your Environment and Masonry Heaters

There is continuous debate around the world about the significance and substance behind the issue of global warming.  And although most scientists around the world who study climate agree that global warming is occurring, I am not going to enter that debate here.

Rather, it is wise to look at the overall bigger picture.  I can remember as a grade-school student learning about various kinds of pollution.  We looked at everything from noise pollution (loud, disturbing sounds) to visual pollution (too many, or obnoxious blinking signs, etc.) to the more common air pollution and litter.

Pollution of any kind is a disturbance to most healthy people.  Really, who wants to walk down a sidewalk and see trash lying around everywhere?  Who would enjoy loud boisterous music when she is wanting a quiet stroll in the park?  And who would think the smell and appearance of smog is one of the benefits of living in a big city?

A disturbance like excess noise or smog doesn’t have to cause a specific illness in order to be unhealthy.  The mere fact that it is a disturbance makes it unhealthy for a given individual.  Indeed, loud, blasting music might be a pure pleasure for the one who turned on the radio, but it could raise the blood pressure of someone who was looking forward to a quiet day or who just doesn’t like that kind of music.

Of course, it can again become debatable as to just how harmful blinking lights or loud noises can be.  But there is pretty uniform acceptance that air pollution is a threat to everyone’s health.  Recent elections resulted in widespread prohibitions on smoking in public places all over Ohio.  It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that breathing all kinds of chemicals and particles not normally part of the natural atmosphere is going to have unhealthy results.

Regardless of your overall feelings about the various kinds of pollution and their impact on health and well-being, you should be aware that a masonry heater is one of the lowest impact ways of heating in the world when it comes to any kind of pollution.

Consider sound. A masonry heater burns for a few hours a day at a time of your choosing.  The resulting “noise” is the crackling of a real wood fire.  There are no motors, fans, or blowers vibrating and running on and off all day long.

Consider the materials.  A soapstone heater is just that – thousands of pounds of soapstone, an all-natural stone simply cut to the right shapes to make a heater.  Or a kachelofen is simply fired clay - hardened earth. This means waste is an all-natural bunch of minerals.  It also means that the product has low embodied energy – the amount of energy needed to produce the stove.

Consider air pollution and CO2 emissions.  Masonry heaters are the cleanest-burning woodburners in the world, burning its fuel at combustion efficiency approaching 100%.  This means that the exhaust of a masonry heater is mainly CO2 and water.  What’s more, the quantity of CO2 emitted is no more than what results from wood rotting in the forest.

                In short, masonry heaters are low-impact ways of heating that don’t depend on foreign oil or expensive electricity.  Masonry heaters are an intelligent choice for a cleaner, healthier, energy independent America.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An American Kachelofen

This past winter I had the pleasure of constructing a unique, one-of-a-kind kachelofen here in my home state of Ohio. The beauty of constructing a masonry heater from kacheln (structural heater tiles) is that, along with unlimited design possibilities, there are virtually unlimited color possibilities as well. 

While I love soapstone and its unique and superlative masonry heater qualities, all structural soapstone of which I am aware is a gray color.  I really like it and so do a lot of other people.  And gray is neutral enough that it is compatible with many, many decorating schemes and colors.  Most people who see, in person, a soapstone masonry heater, recognize that soapstone is usually not just gray.  Like marble, it has veins of beige, white, or lighter or darker gray.  Often it will also have specks of iron in it that, when honed and aged, look gold.  Nevertheless, it is predominantly gray.

Kacheln are a complete other story.  Just like the plates and coffee cups in your kitchen cupboards, kacheln can be really any color imaginable.  This means, when someone has distinct tastes and a definite decorating theme planned for their home, they can complement that theme to whatever extent they like with tiles.

So you can have something with very bright, vibrant colors like this (original website here):

Or, you could have something more gentle like this (original website here):

In my view, the kachelofen is THE THING for those who truly want an indivudualized piece of art for their masonry heater.  And this past winter, I built such a piece of art for a couple in Ohio.

The kacheln for this kachelofen were made, by hand, by Jessica Steinhauser, of Stonehouse Pottery in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.  Jessica does wonderful kachelofen of her own, as you will see if you visit her website.  It is fantastic to work with her.

Though color is a very individual thing, when my clients are put on the spot to name the colors with which they will live for the rest of their lives, they are often at a loss.  Jessica helped a lot by sending actual samples of ceramic with a wide range of colors.  After much uncertainty, my clients chose two basic colors and the matter was settled - or so we thought.

When Ms. Steinhauser began glazing and firing glazed kacheln, she was panicked to find that there was tremendous color variation among the kacheln arising  from the kiln.  She had not used this particular type of glaze for kacheln before and she was worried that, rather than finishing the job, she was ruining it!

She sent photos that I forwarded to my client.

And they loved it!

And here is the resulting kachelofen:

A true American kachelofen combining plastered benches topped with black granite, a firebox turned 15 degrees from the otherwise rectilinear aspects, and beautiful golden kacheln.

It's a mufti-faceted masonry heater.

Granite shelves complement the black granite benches.