Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

For the past two weeks I don't think the temperature has gotten above 0º F and its been going down to -20º most nights, roughly 25º below normal. This has been unpleasant.

My masonry heater has been working overtime, usually three firings (each time using 50+ lbs of dried oak) a day, but even with all the insulation I've put in the floor and ceiling it can't keep the temp in the house above 50º.  With this cold weather the only way I'll be able to get the whole house "habitable" is if my insulation is perfectly placed and there isn't any outside air infiltration. That's not the case right now with the farmhouse still under construction. 

For the more technically minded, the heater puts out roughly 20,000 BTUs/hour.  The question of sizing one is complicated.

Just before its time to light another fire, and lighting more than a fire every eight hours will cause the refractory mortar in the firebox to fail, the inside temp at the outer reaches of my first floor is right around 32º. Cold.  I wear a lot of layers, including a hat, and sit most of the day on the heater's bench reading online and watching soccer matches. Carl stays on the bed under the covers.

I run three little electric space heaters under the water pipes down in the basement, where the temp is staying in the upper 30s.  I bought a little hand held infrared thermometer to help me find, and plug up, the cold spots.

I'm also concerned that my septic system could freeze up. There are only about 5" of snow outside, not enough to insulate the below ground drain pipes much.  There isn't an easy way to tell if the system is plugging up, short of it coming back up through the drains, so I'm limiting how much I put down the drains. That means minimal toilet flushes and showers, as well as collecting all my dishwater in a stockpot so that I can dump it outside. If my septic tank fills up due to the outlet pipes being frozen, I've read I can call a guy to come pump it out. I'm not interested in trying to clean it out myself. That sounds like a nightmare.

Another problem caused by the cold is that the loader, the tractor that I want to use to clean the snow off of my drive so I can get my van or truck out on the road and go to town, has sprung a leak (hole?) in the cooling system, dumping antifreeze on the shed floor. I'm going to need to figure out what is wrong and, once it warms up a bit, go out and fix that.

I was hoping to get a lot of work done inside the house this winter, choosing to stay and work instead of going to Mexico. I'm not going to lie, its pretty rough here right now; a bit like camping where you can never really get clean, or warm.


(a slightly longer version of the above is here.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Putting Away Equipment for the Year

Now that the harvesting is done we clean and then put a lot of our equipment into the shed, which measures 40' x 120', so that it's protected from the elements.  We'll take it out again next spring.

After some thought, Dad and I came up with a way to pack it all in.

Take a look, before -

The two birds, a guinea and a chicken, that I zoom in on were escapees the day we slaughtered all the other birds.  I missed catching the chicken in the net and the guinea backed out of the killing cone before I could grab it's neck coming out the bottom. It then ran, fast.  It's been at least two weeks since the day we slaughtered and neither of these two birds will let me get anywhere near them. I'm not going to try catching them so they're on their own for the winter. I'm curious to see if they make it.  There's all kind of spent grain lying around, and maybe they'll eat snow.


And after -

The little bit of space left by the double sliding doors will be taken up by the Case 7140 tractor, which has been at the Case dealer in Menomonie,WI since the fuel pump went out while I was tilling this past September.  I was told it would be done in 7-10 days.  That was about 8 weeks ago.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

First Curing Fire in Masonry Heater

It will take three fires a day, starting very small, for a total of 7 days, and ending with the firebox full of firewood, to "cure" all the mortar.  The place I bought the doors and refractory slabs from, Solid Rock Masonry in Duluth, MN, gave me a helpful users guide that I'm following.

It's looking real good. There's a strong draft from the chimney; the fires just jump. The design of the firebox door has a lot to do with that. In the video I put my finger into an air intake slot, located below the glass door panel on the door frame. The door frame is hollow steel tube so the intake/combustion air goes up the sides of the frame and then across the top of the frame where it enters the firebox. Once lit, the flame goes "looking" for air and is drawn, by design, upward, giving the fire a strong reason to head up.  This design also, according to particulate/emissions tests done by Solid Rock Masonry, gives a much "cleaner" (and hotter) burn.

There's quite a distance traveled in internal channels before the smoke actually makes it to the chimney. From the firebox its five feet straight up, then seven down the sides of the firebox. Then around two corners under an eight foot bench, and finally up the chimney through the second floor and attic.

It's been a long time coming. I first heard about masonry heaters almost 30 years ago and the idea really stuck with me. I never lived in a place where I could build one. Here in NW Wisconsin is the perfect spot.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Masonry Heater is Done

My friend Andy came up from Chicago to lay the fieldstone I'd picked and prepped around the masonry heater.

Next spring I plan on applying a clear sealer to the heater so the the colors - blues, greens, yellows, reds, white, oranges, browns - of the stones "pop". You can get a sense of what that will look like by simply spraying the stones with water, which I did in the photos below.

(Click on any of the photos to make them bigger.)

The firebox side, showing the clean stone.

How the stone looks when wet.

Oven side, dry clean stone.

Oven side, wet stone.
 All these stones were handpicked from our fields. Even after pressure washing them it wasn't obvious what they'd ultimately look like. I'm really happy with how it's turned out. Thanks Andy!

There's still one big test to come - Does it work? Early signs are promising, as there's a nice draft from the chimney.

We finished about a week ago, and the mortar still needs to cure for another 10 days until I can start curing it with a series of small fires.  That'll take another week. Meaning I can't really use it to heat the house for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Masonry Heater Update #2

I've got the precast downdraft channels attached to the sides and the clay flue liner run from the base of the heater to where it starts going up to the roof.

Andy is supposed to come here in the next day or two and help me clad the whole thing with the fieldstone that I've pressure washed.

I picked up a load (~1000 lbs) of masons sand, now in the back of my truck, and, on one of his trips up here, Dad brought 10 bags of hyrated masons lime .  I'll use a soft mortar - 5 parts sand to 1 part lime - so that when the heater expands/contracts due to fires, it won't crack the mortar between the stones.

 (Click on any image to make it bigger.)

The oven is on the side of the heater away from the camera, opposite the firebox on the right. Exhaust, to the chimney flue, through the 7"x11" hole cut in the gray downdraft channel seen in the lower left corner.

Fibreglass will act as an expansion joint. Mortar from the fieldstone is laid up against it. Once fired, the heater will burn it off, leaving an 1/8" gap between the firebrick core and the fieldstone. This should minimize cracking from different expansion rates.   The concrete block supports the back edge of the limestone bench top.

You can see two of the clean outs in the 8"x12" tile. There are two more on the backside of the heater. Fieldstone will be laid up the front face of the tile and a 2" limestone cap will rest on the concrete block and the fieldstone to create the top of the heated bench.