Stephen Cahill, of Greenfield, MA, has been a mason for the past 13 years. In the past few years, he became increasingly interested in masonry stoves. Recent customers, Nathan and Carol Foote, of Shelburne, MA helped describe the benefits of their new masonry stove. Nathan Foote, who built his own home, said he decided to have Cahill create a masonry stove because his father often spoke of them. “For some reason I always had it in my head, he said. “I like the idea. The big thing is they burn a really efficient, really hot fire. You start up your fire in the morning and you are warm all day.”
Cahill said that masonry stoves can come in a variety of styles and expense, depending on the customer. “The most basic stripped-down model will cost about eight to nine thousand,” said Cahill. The more elaborate the customer wants to go, including an oven, ledges, stone or tile facing etc. can run as high as $40,000 Cahill said, but most are far less than that. “We’re communicating with the mason during the process about what kind of time and money we have left,” said Carol Foote.
Cahill said that it would take roughly four weeks of 40-hour days to complete a masonry stove. “Building one of these stoves tests all of my masonry skills,” said Cahill.
Masonry stoves are essentially built out of fire brick, concrete blocks, and mortar. Nathan Foote said that the only part of the structure that gets hot is the door. “So it’s safer for kids and pets,” he said. The family also has fans to push the heat around their home and have propane heating “just for back-up,” he said.
Cahill said that he had heard of masonry stoves and as he became more interested in building them, he found out about the Masonry Heater Association in North Carolina that specializes in teaching how to build them. “I went to the annual meeting last spring. There were builders from all over the world,” said Cahill. Cahill spent six days building several styles of masonry stove. “You’re out there with the masters, whose grandfathers taught their grandfathers,” said Cahill.
The idea for masonry stoves grew out of the lack of firewood on the Russian tundra. “You really needed to make every last stick burn as hot as possible,” said Cahill. The fire in a masonry stove burns from the top down. The fire burns so hot that even the gases generated by the burning wood are burned, the benefit of which there is virtually no creation of creosote. So, you have less chimney problems, less chance of a house fire, and there is very little pollution created. “You have maximum heat energy for minimum (wood) fuel. You get every possible BTU from every stick in there,” said Cahill.
Nathan Foote said that the stove heats his 2,100 square foot home with about a half of a cord of wood a month.
Cahill said that with a new stove, the first dozen fires are built slowly for less heat to “cure” and dry any moisture remaining in the masonry. “That way you won’t get steam cracks,” he said.
The heat from masonry stoves is different than the heat from a typical wood or pellet stove. “It warms the room, not the air,” said Cahill. “You could open doors and windows for some fresh air and when you close them up the room would be back up to temperature within five minutes,” he added. “It’s a radiant heat, sort of like the warmth from a sun-warmed rock,” said Nathan Foote.
Depending on the style chosen, Carol Foote said that, like theirs, the stove can be built with an oven and sitting ledges. “It just warms the body and soul. It’s a great conversation area,” she said. “Each one (masonry stove) is unique. It serves the needs of the person who wants it built,” she added. Carol Foote also described a small niche on the back side of the stove that is a “boot warmer.” “We call it the boot deposit,” she said with a laugh. The front of the stove has an oven that she also bakes bread in.
In addition, Cahill built a water heater coil into the stove, allowing for water in the Foote’s home to be preheated. The pre-heated water is stored in a holding tank. Less propane is then needed to heat the water for normal use.
Maintenance for a masonry stove is also fairly minimal. Small doors built into the structure are used to clean out any ash.
“Really, if you are going to spend five to seven thousand on a fire place and chimney, something like this gives you more bang for your buck,” said Nathan Foote.