Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Masonry Woodstoves

Masonry woodstoves offer many distinct advantages over metal woodstoves and conventional fireplaces. Today I’ll be taking a look at this masonry combustion system.

First a firebox is built with refractory brick (high temperature brick). This firebox is then surrounded by simple red brick, which provides additional thermal mass. A gap of around 1 inch is provided between the firebox and the outer brick, to allow for thermal expansion.

The flue or venting gas is usually made to zigzag as it passes through the masonry stove. This extends the flame path within the firing space, releasing more heat in the space to be heated. This captures more heat from combustion, and is much more efficient than simply venting all that heat to the outside.

Masonry woodstoves operate at a higher temperature than a conventional metal stove or fireplace. This produces a more complete combustion of fuel, and creates less pollution.

Masonry stoves use the thermal mass of the masonry to store and release heat from burning fuel, so that the heated space is kept warm by thermal radiation long after the fire has died down.

Masonry stoves can also easily incorporate an oven for cooking, which is a very nice feature.

Typically, a masonry woodstove will operate with one large, hot fire per day. The heat from this one fire will usually keep the space warm throughout the day.

Masonry stoves operate most efficiently when air is drawn from the outside to provide oxygen for combustion. This is usually done by drawing in air through the bottom of the stove, where it is pre-heated by the firebox above it; further increasing efficiency. If air is drawn from the inside of the heated area, then heated air is sent up the chimney. This is why an open fireplace is particularly inefficient.

Finally, masonry woodstoves are attractive. The red brick outer layer provides a comforting appearance, and an oven is very inviting, especially if the house smells like fresh baked bread!

Currently I am building my own masonry stove. When it’s done I’ll do another blog entry on this and show some pictures. I used this publication for masonry stove design, and found it very helpful. Lots of good tips and design considerations here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Masonry as a Career

Today’s economy seems plagued with chronic unemployment. For many open jobs, the number of unemployed exceeds the positions available. Wages for much of today’s service economy are depressed, leaving people underemployed. Not much satisfaction in flipping burgers or serving meals.

Masons are in pretty high demand right now. The wages are fairly respectable, ranging from around $40,000 per year up to around $80,000 per year, depending largely on location. This seems like an odd circumstance to me. Remember the ”Jetsons” cartoon? By now we are supposed to have buildings made in a matter of minutes, done completely by automated robotic equipment.

Many people today tend to be critical of organized labor, or unions. The fact is that the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union (BAC) is an excellent organization that provides highly trained and skilled laborers who will do the job right. If you really want a great job done, with excellent workmanship, go with the union masons. If you are a mason, and you want to be paid well, go with the union.

Masonry as a career is not for everyone. It is hard work, requires skill and manual dexterity, and the work days are long and tough. But if you enjoy working with your hands, masonry can be very rewarding. You are building structures that should outlast other forms of construction, and can aspire to the highest forms of art and architecture.

Finally, there is a huge demand for skilled masons overseas, especially in Europe right now. It could be an exciting adventure, well paid, new surroundings and interesting work. If younger people are considering their future, masonry might be a career worth looking at. You can be making good money doing important work early in your career.

Or there are positions in the service industry. You want fries with that?