April 07, 2020

European masonry fireplaces provide gentle radiant heat

Dear Jim: When I visited Europe, our entire house was comfortably heated with just one decorative fireplace. We needed only one 30-minute fire each day. Can these fireplaces be used in the U.S.? Are they efficient? — Ken T.

Dear Ken: These are true masonry fireplaces and have been used as far back as the Roman Empire and are used to a great extent in Europe today. They provide gentle radiant warmth, like sitting in the sun, for your entire house. Various designs are applicable for mild southern to frigid northern climates.

These European-design (Finnish, Swedish, Russian etc.) fireplaces are truly beautiful works of art. The exterior is hand built from decorative tiles, brick, stone or stucco. Many have built-in shelves, storage areas, even cushioned seats for relaxing.

In recent years, true masonry fireplace kits have become available. These have tongue-and-groove blocks for simple assembly. Some of the kits literally assemble like a large Lego’s set. You can try to build it yourself and have almost any local mason decoratively finish it for you.

True masonry fireplaces operate on the principle of a short intense, high-temperature burn. At this high temperature, wood burns completely and efficiently with almost no pollution. The fire generally lasts no more than 30 minutes. You never need to have a fire going while you sleep.

Inside the masonry fireplace, hot flue gases are channeled through many feet of maze-like flues. By the time the flue gases leave the chimney, nearly all of the heat has been absorbed by the heavy masonry walls. Some designs have efficiencies of 90 percent, as high as today’s hi-tech furnaces.

The masonry fireplace slowly radiates this heat into your house. The outside never gets above a safe, comfortable 140 degrees. You can also order masonry fireplace kits with an optional baking oven (imagine the aroma of bread baking).

Your climate, the efficiency and size of your house determine the best design. A Russian design is massive and is good for cold climates. By the design of the gas paths inside, it is ideal for a room divider.

A Finnish fireplace typically uses a “contraflow” vertical flue gas flow design. It is tall and requires less floor space. A German design, Kachelofen, uses horizontal flow inside. It can be designed with light, medium or heavy construction depending on your climate.

A typical house can be heated with a surprisingly small amount of firewood per day. The wood is cut into small, easy-to-handle pieces so that it burns rapidly.

Write for or instant download (www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 966 — list of 18 manufacturers and builders of true masonry fireplaces, detailed descriptions, design types (many styles pictured) and a firewood guide. Please include a business-size SAE. Send to James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.

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