Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Masonry Heating--Not Just a Fireplace

Masonry heating is an ancient technology that is still in use today. A masonry heater is a beautiful architectural feature that uses a quick burning fire to heat up the thermal material of a chimney to radiate heat throughout the house. The radiant heat may last 18 to 24 hours. The thermal mass to absorb the heat is where the beauty comes in: these can be made from brick, stone, tile or stucco.

Kachel tiles are specifically made for this purpose and sometimes this type of heating may be known as a Kachel oven (kachelofen) or tile stove. Other traditional names may be used, like Russian or Finnish fireplace or Swedish stoves.

Because of their design, masonry heaters may also be called contraflow stoves. The principal of the heat transfer is to use a series of channels within the chimney to hold in heat.  A separate small chimney vent is used as a typical chimney is, as a smoke exhaust outlet.
A simplified representation of the contraflow heat channels. A masonry heat system would likely have a maze of contraflow chambers snaking through to hold the heat.

A peek at the construction of a masonry heater may help illustrate how the technology works, and what an impressive home design feature it can be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Efficient Pellet Heating

Traditional pellet stoves can look like a charming Franklin stove, but rather than burning wood they burn compact pellets. Pellet fuel can be made of wood chips, nutshells or corn kernels, offering a sustainable heat source. According to the EPA these pellets are the cleanest burning solid fuel technology.

The heat output for a pellet stove is determined by the rate of feeding pellets in from a fuel hopper.  Newer models can be controlled through a small computerized unit. The mechanical aspect consumes roughly $9 worth of electricity each month, based on typical utility rates. Pellets cost $180 to $240 per ton (they are sold in 40 lb. bags). Most households use 2 to 3 tons annually.

Installation for pellet stoves is less expensive than a fireplace. This is because they do not require a chimney to function. All that is needed is a simple vent. The exterior surface of the stove should remain cool, except for the glass door.

Pellet stoves require weekly cleaning, which can be a drawback for those who do not wish to adopt another household chore. Care must be taken to purchase appropriate pellets so that the ash output level of the pellet is compatible with the capability of the stove to handle the ash produced. Another concern is that they do tend to have complicated parts that are expensive to replace if they break, so attention to regular maintenance is important.

Pellet fuel technology is now available for operating traditional furnace and boiler systems. Although it may be less convenient than natural gas or fuel oil due to the volume taken by pellet storage, homeowners may save 40 to 60% on heating costs. Many specific questions about making the best heat stove selection can be found at The Alliance for Green Heat.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dreamy Basement Renovation Ideas

An unfinished basement means an uncharted world of possibility. In particular, it is possible to take advantage of things that might make the below level space unappealing at first thought, and turn that into the best part of your home.

The word den truly evokes a cozy ambiance. A basement often has lower ceiling height. Create the a perfect space for a retreat. Add a warm fireplace surrounded by low profile furniture to sink into. Enrich it with custom carpentry and wood paneling and that is just the right note for sipping cocoa on a winter's night. Even better, add a hidden door behind some shelves to conceal unfinished storage space in another area.

A dark basement can make an excellent area to enjoy a drink on the weekend. Think of a secluded speakeasy setting, with gorgeous salvaged wood trim to perfect the ambiance. Tin tile replica drop ceiling panels might offer practicality with a nod to the prohibition era. The basement is also perfect for a wine cave; perhaps a jewel toned wine bar to maximize enjoyment. Cheers!

Lack of light in a basement can also lend itself perfectly to a home theater room. There are many ways to do this, whether it is a traditional theater with terraced recliners for seating all oriented toward a big screen, wall sconces, and lights running along the floor. A more versatile seating arrangement with a built in entertainment center and game cabinet might do if you want to make the most of your finished square footage.

Another basement bonus is privacy. This could mean an ideal home office to keep work separate from home, while still being right at hand. It is also well suited to a guest suite. You may want to take advantage of the opportunity to keep the peace and quiet all for yourself and create an owner's suite downstairs instead!

Many people use the separation from the rest of the house to provide play space for their children, and the clutter they create so quickly. Built in cabinets and shelves help keep the space organized. Stained concrete flooring in some of the area offers a beautiful durable surface that kids can use for riding toys or skates, staying warm in the winter while getting the wiggles out.

Whatever your fancy, enjoy making your space your own