Monday, March 28, 2016

Approval for heaters in USA, Europe and Canada

We had a lovely, brief email exchange this past winter with Pat Amos, who was gearing up for his W.E.T.T. inspection in BC, Canada.
He passed!
Owner-built masonry stove in Canada
His home-built heater is based on a Vortex stove.  Not a rocket as such, but a DIY-friendly, smaller masonry heater design, set into a non-combustible brick enclosure (from a previous fireplace or stove, I believe) and finished with a lovely earthen plaster.
The original design was discussed here: 
and Pat's variant here:

The Batch-Box and Sidewinder rocket designers are turning out some interesting bells, benches, and cooktop masonry cubes, as I showed toward the end of the October 2015 post, "Pyronauts in Montana."

We know of a handful of classic rocket mass heaters (J-style firebox, barrel and all) passing inspection, and plenty of other DIY masonry heaters as well - reports filtering in from Oregon, Georgia, New York, Michigan, BC, Ontario, Vermont... the precedent is mounting.

For the present, however, the vast majority of DIY builders are choosing the path of least resistance, and not asking permission.  That's a risky path for people who have a mortgage, and may be obliged to maintain home insurance.  Some will build in an outbuilding or greenhouse instead of the main house, losing much of the people-warming efficiency that we're after.

Let's encourage each other with success stories.
If your DIY masonry heater was approved, please tell! 
If you've had a productive conversation with local officials, that stopped short of official approval, or led to a different design choice, we'd like to hear about that too.
(We've had at least 4 after-the-fact inspectors give an unofficial response of, "Cool.  I have no problem with this," and no further action taken, even if they weren't quite clear on the legal process for official approval.)

Let's address any obstacles together, above and beyond the clearance and code info that's already in our Builder's Guide.

Builder's Guide Update (order your copy now!):

April Fools!  The North American first edition of our new book is going to print this weekend, the first of April, a full week before the Kickstarter actually closes.  Please pre-order your copy on Kickstarter ASAP!  (Click here.)

We would love to sell 1000 copies by April 1, and get our per-book costs way down for this first edition printing.

We are looking forward to signing and hand-delivering these first-edition books to our backers in the Pacific Northwest, and around the world.

If you're interested in helping us, please spread the word.  Consider signing up as a booster to receive a referral bonus with every pledge you send our way.  We did the math; the per-book cost makes a bigger difference to our budget than the referral incentive - so please sell books and claim the bounty!

Calling EU, Commonwealth, and International Builders

Adiel Shnior came from Israel to study with us,
then took the skills back to his local team,
with great results.
We have an opportunity to write an EU appendix for our book - but it needs to be turned around FAST!

Physics works the same across most of the world, but building materials and local regulations can be very different.

If you are a builder or future builder from the UK, Europe, Australia, or New Zealand (or anywhere outside North America),

please take a moment this week to tell us about your experiences.

Portrait of a heater completed using Bonny 8" plans
If you purchased our plans and previous books, have they been easy to use? 

What else should we know about? 

Any obstacles to overcome?
Moroccan project
with improvised perlite-adobe bricks
(local low- fired brick
proved unsuitable for the hot, clean firebox conditions.)

Thanks again for everyone's support for our Kickstarter for the new book.
Please keep sharing it with your friends - we appreciate every new pledge, in any amount.

Permanent Press says we may have preliminary cost data for distribution in the UK, EU, Australia, and New Zealand, by the end of this week.

Erica and Ernie Wisner

More brainstorming questions below.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Cleaning (wood-lot finesse and wood-shed style)

This is the time to check your wood shed.

Most of you, I'm sure, are checking your garden seeds, and frolicking in whatever flowers you can find.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not quite time to forget winter yet.

While you're waiting for the right day to garden without compacting the earth, don't forget that next winter's chores need to be done NOW, too.
This is the last season for responsible wood-burners to lay up the full supply of fuel for next winter.  Depending on climate, you may already be running a bit late.

As we've discussed before, dry wood is the only wood that can be burned efficiently, and dry wood is not generally found in nature (especially not during mid-winter storms). It takes planning ahead.

A pretty decent woodshed
for very cheap (almost free). 
Think of your wood shed as a similar structure to a food dehydrator.  It has openings above and below the wood, keeps rain off while letting sun and wind have access to the stack.
The more effectively it circulates air around the wood, the more wood you can dry efficiently, and the less wood you'll need to burn. 

Wood over 6” to 8” diameter, in wildfire trainings, is considered “thousand hour fuels” or longer - meaning that it takes months for the moisture level to change significantly.

If you do need to “emergency dry” some fuel for the end of winter, chop it down to about 2” across will help it dry faster (weeks, as opposed to months).
You could chop it smaller yet (pencil-sized fuels dry within hours), but running an ordinary woodstove on nothing but kindling-wood is an easy way to over-fire and void your warranty.

It's much better to put up seasoned, dry wood, well in advance. Gathering it can be part of your winter cleanup and garden prep. 

Our current woodshed (December weather)
If you don't have a good wood shed yet, this might be a great time to pick up a few extra pallets from the home-and-garden supply or nursery, and get cracking.

There are a number of good designs that are simple to build; the following are just a few ideas.

It's hard to beat the basic, time-tested woodshed design:

- a nice big weather-proof roof, with overhang to protect slat sides.

- space for at least 1 year supply (preferably 2 years, if you cure your own wood rather than buying it cured).

- racks or poles to allow air flow under the wood
- ventilated sides or air holes top and bottom (if the shed has solid sides, racks or spacers can help encourage air flow along the sides too).

You can get all fancy and re-invent the concept, adding a clear roof for solar dehydrator effect, or a loft for tools, or side sheds for garden tools and lawn equipment. I have never seen anybody complain about too much shed space.  It does pay to consider the location before building (about 30 feet from the house, or 50 feet if you plan to store flammables and chemicals, and live in an area where wild fires are common).  Consider truck access to load and unload wood and other gear, and the role of the shed as a collection point for clutter (so you can keep the rest of the yard, and view, looking nice.)

A simple but super-effective woodshed: divided,
each half big enough for one full year's supply,
with room for tools & chopping.

A pretty decent woodshed for very cheap (almost free). 
A portable version could be skidded out to the wood lot,
then trailered back in once the wood is dry.
A drawing of our 1-year woodshed
(same as the photo).

This was our wood shed for 1 year.
(It might have lasted longer
if we knocked the snow off the roof more...
but it did the job until we could build better.)

In a few climates you can get away with a wood "rick", a pine-cone stack, like a haystack.  Not ours.

And if you are tempted to do something with tarps as a temporary solution... mostly, just don't.

Unless you can get substantial air movement under the tarp, and keep any condensation on the tarp from running right back down into the end-grain of the wood, a tarp is more likely to make a mushroom-farm than to help your wood dry.
An intelligent, but not sufficient, attempt
to get some wood-drying function from a tarp.
(If the tarp sides were lifted away from the wood,
so condensation and rain runoff would have somewhere to go,
this high-string pup-tent might work.

Fungus reclaiming log rounds left on the ground
(The fungus is not only eating some of the fuel value,
but it will also enhance the wood's ability to hold moisture.
Great for nurse logs, not great in a fuel wood pile.)

Ever come across the solar-distiller survival trick?  If you are in a desert without water, you can try picking a sunny spot, dig a shallow pit, and fill it with green branches.  Seal the top of the pit with a plastic sheet, and place a little cup under the low spot to collect the condensation.  (The transition from hot days to cool night is useful for helping the water condense as the plastic surface cools.)  I don't know that I'd expect it to work terribly well, in terms of collecting enough water to be really useful in a survival situation, but it could be a lot better than nothing.

However, it also illustrates why putting a tarp over a green woodpile can actually slow its drying.  You basically collect all the moisture from the wood (plus the damp ground), and make sure it rains back down right on the woodpile instead of escaping into the air.  Waterproof plastic tarps are sometimes used when cultivating mushrooms, to ensure that the wood does not dry out too fast for the mycelia to take root.  In other words, a tarp over wet wood keeps the wood wet.

If the wood is not wet when the tarp goes on, a few weeks under a leaky tarp, with ordinary ground dampness, and condensation collected by the tarp, will make the wood wet.  The Chimney Sweep Online gives the analogy of leaving a sandwich in your fridge in a plastic bag, or just sitting out on the shelf with no baggie.  Which one will dry out?  Which one will rot into unrecognizable goo?

A tarp can be useful for fending off a nasty sudden downpour (hint: for about half a day, following which you need to remove the tarp again to let the wood dry out)  or possibly as a door-flap for a structure with a solid freestanding roof.  We did use ragged old tarps to make sides for our pop-up-tent wood shed, but we kept the wood well back from touching the sides.

Turkey tail fungus,
a common inhabitant of damp wood piles
(and incidentally, rumored to be a medicinal mushroom)
Otherwise, skip the tarp, put your rain coat on, and load that wood into its proper storage sooner rather than later.  In the balance of things, a half-day getting wet while being loaded into the proper woodshed is not going to hurt your wood that much - not compared to spending the 3 dryest months of summer growing mushrooms under a tarp because you left the job "for later".

Cut the wood to length now, as well, since the end-grain does most of the work of wicking moisture out of the wood.

Damp wood can hold 50% of its own weight in water.  It takes a lot of energy to boil-dry a few extra pounds of water out of every load in your wood stove.  That is energy that could be heating your house.  So by securing your wood now, and getting it properly dry, you can cut your wood consumption by more than half (compared with burning nasty, wet, green wood). I will always load the full annual estimate into the wood shed,  based on that first year when we had to fall-source our wood.  But the earlier I do it, the more is left for next year.

As a chronically lazy person, that is a savings in time, labor, and resources that I can't ignore.  It is well worth skipping the pleasures of procrastination in order to do less total work, not to mention that it's less weight to haul, and easier to split the wood and kindling once they're properly dry.

Who's burning what?
(note multiple plumes across valley,
rainy days are popular burn days)
Most of the Western states will be under burn ban by June, with restrictions on running a chainsaw or other power tools in the woods.  So now is also the time for Western homesteaders to do their annual forestry: tidy up those dead-and-down trees, limb up those trees that are ready for ladder-fuel reduction.

This is a little more than
"one 4-foot pile with 1 person supervising"
Instead of burn-piling it, and making a nasty pall of smoke to dinge up our fresh spring air, bust it into 15" lengths and put it aside for your winter woodpile.
This winter's storms
dropped several trees.
The storm-damaged logs more than
cover next winter's fuel needs.
 And one final thought: I was super-grateful to find these little surprises in our woodpile last winter, when Ernie was in the hospital.

So this year, I'm making a few of them for both of us... or maybe for his folks, who knows.  For whenever they're needed.   Country "sick days."
Country "sick days:" Ready-made kindling,
stashed in the woodpile.

These can also be used as "vacation days," keeping Mama happy while you're gone fishing.

March 24 wood progress.
Front-right is the dry stuff
from inside the pinecone stack,
right rear is the wetter stuff
from the outside and bottom.
I've gotten a lot farther on stacking the woodshed.
As of March 24, this was how far: three rows, just over half a cord, of Ernie's pinecone stack outer layers in back, and the good stuff (dry interior) on the front-right for this year's remaining fires.  We are down to burning every other day, roughly.

As of April 6, I now have all of Ernie's pine cone stack (the wood from the outsides and bottom, that was too wet to burn right now) on the right.  It's a little over a cord, so probably enough for next year. 

I've started stacking this year's windfall on the left.

We found somebody's treat collection in the bent cardboard tube, while cleaning up that left side.

Truffles?  Puffballs?
These dried squirrel-snacks
nearly filled a cardboard tube
we had stored in the woodshed.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

We Are Doing It! Kickstarter Thanks, Teeny Tiny Labs, and a Pine Cone Wood Stack

First, thanks for helping us reach our make-or-break funding goal on the Kickstarter!  From here out, it's real: we can expect to collect those pledges and deliver those rewards.

In case you're curious (or jealous):
In business speak, the big numbers you see are "gross" not "net."  That $13,147 you've all graciously pledged is not just spending money.  It includes the daunting costs of international shipping, per-book costs for every printed and eBook (as "Author Copies" from the publisher), and data delivery costs for the self-published digital rewards. 
In order to move our plans forward, and maybe even give ourselves some 'back pay' for the past decade of R&D, writing, and coaching, we need to keep going.
Two cream puffs, ready for breakfast

So we will keep drumming up as much business as we can for the remaining 24 days.  I'd like to sell over a thousand books, and get our per-book costs way down - it would save us something like $8 per book to order 1000 copies instead of 100!  Which adds up to real money, really fast.

But let's not forget to celebrate how far we've come.  It's a big deal to be officially "funded," many projects never get this far.  So...
 Yay!  Basic Goal Nailed!  Cream puffs for everyone*! [*who is currently here at the Wisner family homestead]

Our first stretch goal:  $20,000 = Teeny Tiny Lab

GlowBug - photo by Priscilla Smith
We always need more funds for research and equipment.  If we reach $20,000, everyone who backs the Kickstarter will get designs for a Teeny Tiny Mass Heater (such as you might be curious about for a well-insulated Tiny House, shop, or live-aboard boat).

There are more details on the Kickstarter updates, and you may also remember seeing some tiny heater prototype designs at the 2015 Innovators' Gathering. This stretch goal encourages me to finish testing and write up those designs, so you can replicate them and try them out.
(I have older mini-mass-heater designs already available, if not as rigorously tested, so I can fulfill this reward either way.  Just saying, you might get more than one mini-heater design if the response is good, and always assuming I get a chance to sit down this year.)

The main idea of this funding goal is to have fun giving us a teeny tiny lab upgrade, so we can do more Mad Science!

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few friends.

- Our friend Paul Wheaton, the brilliant and despotic overlord of and  He has been sharing all kinds of support and tips and encouragement, despite being laid up with a nasty health crisis.  His lessons from previous Kickstarter campaigns, both good and bad, have been invaluable. 
He also has been generous in other ways - like one time he got tired of watching us thumb-text and gave us a fancy second-hand phone.  It has saved our butts this month, since just before your big launch is a crappy time to have your pit-bull-in-law develop a taste for phones.

- Our new friend Priscilla Smith, who came out to Paul Wheaton's place and got some excellent photos of everything - three of which are in the book, and others are being used as "don't-try-this-at-home" eye candy for the promotions.  She is generous, talented, and a kick in the pants.

- Our new-and-old friend Chris McClellan, aka "Uncle Mud," has been promoting the heck out of our Kickstarter, and may be helping us print another self-published run of The Art of Fire.  He's currently #1 on the Kickbooster stats - as he has been since about 4 hours after he signed up.  And his "dad humor" and unique rocket experiments keep cheering me up just when I need it.

(Paul Wheaton may not be catching up yet from flat on his back, but is our biggest non-boosted referral source, right after "no referrer data" and already beating Kickstarter itself.  If you'd like to try signing up as a Booster and track your influence, not to mention get a referral bonus, please do: This can be a fun "egg money" option for creative, modern homesteaders.)

- Our chance-met friend Matt Powers just keeps on being a wonderful human being.  I hope he and his son James can wander up to Oregon in June and hook up with us for a clamming expedition or a bonfire date or something.  He anticipated our launch by about 24 hours with his fast-turnaround podcast featuring me as a guest, and Barbara Greene's photos of her permaculture homestead's fortune-favors-the-prepared survival of the 2015 Okanogan fire-storm.

- Barbara, Leaha, Ton, Karen, and all of our Permaculture Study Group friends from the Okanogan - invaluable moral support, brainstorming and occasionally physically helping me get past stuck points, and keeping me healthy and active with mentoring in fire fighting, land stewardship, and local culture. 

- Extended family: reminding me again and again why it's so great to have a clan at your back, and to re-discover your siblings as creative, intelligent, capable adults.  Together we are more than we could ever be alone.

- I'm gonna plug my other half here, and say Ernie continues to impress me.  He rarely self-censors on Facebook for anyone's comfort, which occasionally makes me cringe - but that honesty is refreshing to a lot of our die-hard DIY fans.  Then I notice yet again how much he does without words, when I am fluttering around in a verbal blizzard of writing or publicity projects.

This is his "pinecone stack," basically a wood haystack.  This is an experiment to try and replicate a method he remembers seeing from Uncle Les, one of the forest-homesteaders in the Coquille Valley rainforests.  (His family has been managing the same forest, for timber, for over 150 years, and it still has mother-giant nurse trees on it.)

The stack is busted open so you can see the inside, because it was put to the test this month.  While he was stacking roughly a ton and a half of wood just for fun, I was neglecting my summer woodshed-filling chores, working on the book manuscript, and learning to play fire fighter.

The partially-used stack. 
The bottom row is intact
because it was snow-saturated.

Interior - note the "nest of approval"
The bottom row has some sacrifice wedges to start the stack tilting inward.
Each course is built in rings that tilt inward, like a haystack.  As much as possible, the logs are tilted to lap slightly over each other, like shingles.  The bottom row is tilted up on wedges to make for a stiff, tilted arrangement.

Getting an earlier start on my chores this year:
filling half the woodshed, so we can cycle each side.
When we busted into it for emergency wood supplies, the outer bottom course was completely buried in snow, and those logs are still pretty soggy.  I've been moving them to the woodshed to dry for next year.  The upper sides, on the outside, had 2 feet of snow on them, and I've been moving them to the wood shed too.

But the inner layers, protected by those sacrificial ones, are about as dry as you could hope to find in a coastal woodshed. Not quite as bone-dry as things get in a drought summer around here, but way better than the icy punk we gathered before buying a load of decent wood that first winter.  The "nest of approval" is some synthetic blanket stuffing that some critter apparently found in the trash pile, and dragged into the dry center of this wood stack to make itself a cozy den.  I can just imagine a pine squirrel opportunistically pretending to be a "snow beaver."

When we are rushing around in spring and fall, doing workshops and site visits, or attending to Ernie's leg's medical demands after an ambitious travel season, we don't have the luxury of a normal, seasonal homestead season.  Two of the 4 years we've been here, we've had to "winter in" by mid-August.  So I am learning to treat wood storage as a spring chore, or to try and get in 2 years at a time so I can slack the next year.
(Tried that this year, almost made it.)

The wood had been in the woodshed long enough, still gappy between the rows for air flow, that some other pine squirrel had decided to pile a bounty harvest of fir cones in between the rows.

While Ernie is celebrating the success of his lumberjack experiment, I have been hauling in some of the bounty of fir-cones, and chipping down knobby branch and stump pieces, so we have some dry material to mix with the slightly-damp stuff.

I've also been splitting down some of the almost-dry wood as I bring it in.
Wood over 6" diameter is considered "thousand-hour fuels" in fire fighting, meaning it takes months to appreciably change its core moisture levels.
So if I can get it down to 2" chunks, it becomes "100 hour fuels," and I can expect it to be reasonably dry in less than a week indoors.

Still not a great process.  I'll do better this year.

In our next blog post, I'll show some good woodshed designs, and some good and bad ideas with tarps.

Happy Almost Spring!
Thanks again for supporting our book launch, in so many ways.
If you haven't done so yet, please check it out:

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Grateful Brain (thank you Kickstarter surge!)

Just thanks.

I woke up this morning, after sleeping less than 5 hours, wanting to write you again.
Paddling as fast as I can, 18 to 20 hours a day, I am still not quite keeping up with all the timely suggestions, offers of help, and messages of support.  While I've been told to expect the Kickstarter momentum to drop off after the first 3 days, it seems to be still going.  Yes, please, more!

Thank you all for the tremendous outpouring of support for our new book.

I've received some of the nicest compliments on Facebook, email, and all the websites from old friends, new friends, and perfect strangers.  The folks who bookmarked our Kickstarter profile a year or more ago have been scooping up the early bird rewards faster than I can get the announcements out to the rest of our audience.   We're starting to get visitors from the "popular" and "trending" listings on Kickstarter.

As each step gets done, and the project begins to move forward on its own, I felt a sense of release. The "weight being lifted" metaphor is trite and true.  It's like pushing your arms against the sides of a doorway for a long time, then stepping forward and trying to relax.  (Try it!)  It's like a glowing retinal after-image of self-imposed anxiety, where there is this momentary, fading awareness, along with the opening look new things as it fades.

Since the launch, it's gone from a floating open feeling, to a profound sense of support.
You have my back.  You care.
Thank you.
I'm deeply grateful, and it's highly motivating.

This is a wonderful feeling, and pure self-interest has me wondering what else I can do to keep it coming. 

This is probably the single most valuable thing I can offer, more so than any physical help or technical information.

If you want to know more about the power of gratitude, read this article: The Grateful Brain.  It offers scientific evidence that gratitude is not just an altruistic or pleasant feeling; it is a functional anti-depressant, and a literally and physically empowering state of mind.  Science once again 'discovers' and proves out what traditional wisdom has been saying for millenia.

Ernie tackles a confidence course during the IDEO program

It's like human nature is wired so that when we help each other, giving and reciprocating favors, making gratuitous acts of kindness and decency, we become more powerful and determined in our own work.  Fear and anger make us weak, while feeling grateful and supported literally makes us strong.  I learned this from a behavioral psychologist and Marine veteran at the Center for the Intrepid; if you dismiss this as woo-woo, you are missing the boat.
Seeing our book take off is a little like seeing Ernie walk again without crutches after 8 years. 

So I want to share with you the most valuable lessons I took from watching the IDEO program, and Ernie's cohort of courageous survivors pushing through setbacks to rebuild their lives and physical grace:
Gratitude.  Vitamin D.  Give back. And never give up.

Ernie escaping into the wild

(See previous posts about the IDEO program)

Your tremendous support doesn't mean we are going to just coast from here.
On the contrary, our gratitude is going to intrinsically push us to do more and better things.  Can't help it.  It's our biological nature. ;-)

Your support doesn't mean that we are going to coast from here.

We have a commitment from a world-class publisher for the overseas English version of the book - which means we'll be able to offer better shipping rates or even a whole different package for our international supporters.  And we'll be scrambling to make sure the data is correct and relevant for those regions.  If you're in the EU, UK, Australia, New Zealand, or outside North America, let us know if you have any last-minute questions or input for that edition.  International supporters might want stick with the digital Kickstarter rewards for now, and keep your eyes peeled for announcements.

Many, many possibilities are unfolding. We're more than halfway to our minimum goal, and I am preparing to post the first stretch goal.

Chime in on what you'd like to see! This grateful feeling has me itching to give back in more ways.

I know many of you share our commitment to building stronger, more resilient communities; empowering people to get their hands dirty and build skills and problem-solving competency; and taking one bite at a time out of the "elephant" of global problems.  (Thanks for that metaphor, Deston!).

Aligning our individual projects and efforts makes a bigger contribution to solving global problems.  Your wishes are very good indicators of how we can give better service, and make a difference.

So please keep the comments coming.  What is one more thing I might be able to offer you - or your friends and family, or your community?

Thanks again for reading these updates.

May your dreams prosper as you share them with others, and may your earnest service bring unlooked-for blessings.


Erica W

If you haven't yet found the Kickstarter to place your pre-order, click on this link:

If you're not getting our newsletter, email me.

I have one list for general interest (like this blog), and one that's specifically for dedicated rocket mass heater and wood/fire/masonry enthusiasts.  I sometimes put out special offers there, like in-kind collaborations, beta-testing, or draft resources for review, that I don't release to the general public.

For those outside the USA, please read the FAQ for alternatives to costly international shipping.  This thorough book is, understandably, somewhat heavy (it's 296+ pages, including the appendices and index).

Or you could sign up as a booster, like many of the rocket-stove regional leaders are doing.  Uncle Mud is currently "winning" at booster referrals (go Chris!).  International customers may be able to pay back your physical book/shipping by encouraging your friends and neighbors to chip in at some of the digital rewards levels.  (Kind of a pyramid scheme, I guess - but we only have four weeks left, it's not like we can reach every person in the world without your help.)

Thanks, Teresa, for the word for "Natural alignment" marketing.  The idea is that if we can count on our readers who naturally care about us and our work, to share this info thoughtfully with others who will naturally appreciate it, then everybody has fun.  It's a lot less annoying (and more effective) than bulk marketing. 

I have been getting cold-calls, emails, and Kickstarter messages offering to Tweet my stuff to Over a Million Subscribers for only $14.95! But if I don't have any relationship with those people or know what they like, what good would that do our reputation?  And how many of them would really like or support our work, compared to the ones that have a negative reaction to us as are another annoying ad?  I assume that our actual friends who actually use Twitter are actually re-tweeting (I have to go do a Tweet myself, haven't touched my account in way too long).  And I'd rather rest on natural appeal than scuzzy marketing.

I would love your comments about clever twists on our natural appeal.  Anyone who has visited us or our clients, and melted into a rocket sofa, knows why this is cool.  But according to xkcd, there are something like 10,000 new Americans every day who are learning something for the first time that "everybody knows."
Ten Thousand

I'd love your ideas for how to present our work in ways that appeal to those thousands of people, for whom this is a brand-new discovery.

It would be really crappy statistics to extrapolate that we should reach over a quarter-million people in the next 28 days, but heck, let's go for it!

Let us know if you have ideas for more digital rewards that would be especially useful - for international work, for friends, would you like a special home-schooling package? 

You know our work is much broader (and stranger) than this book alone.  and our digital rewards can reflect that.

It's an honor and a pleasure to work with my wonderful clients and supporters.

You rock.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

It's Working!

I had no idea how many people had their Kickstarter accounts primed to snap up our book the minute we opened it.  There were a bunch of purchases between clicking "launch," and the few minutes it took me to paste the final link into the announcement.

A big thanks.

I'm sure there's a lot more work to be done, but for now, it just feels great to finally have the project launched, the book in my capable publisher's hands, and be floating on a huge wave of social support.

Highlights from today:

- Connecting on a personal level with people from very different backgrounds, and realizing how much we have in common.
"Here in the rural Okanogan, we each get used to wearing so many hats that we have to look under the brim to recognize someone."

- Hearing nothing but support from family, friends, and opinion-makers like Paul Wheaton and Maddy Harland all on the same day. 

- Feeling a weight lifted after a year or more with the same top item on the to-do list:
"It's like the retinal after-image of self-imposed anxiety, glowing and fading away."

-Beautiful, quirky compliments on Facebook - like Deston comparing our last decade-plus of work with "eating an elephant" - at least metaphorically - one bite at a time.  I wonder how many elephants-weight of earth and stone we've moved literally, one lump at a time?

Speaking of one bite at a time:

We have kind of a lovely problem on the Kickstarter.  So far, everyone is skipping right past the little $1 and $3 incentive rewards, and going straight for the book.  Which is great - please get the book!

 But I think the lack of minnow-nibbles means that we are not reaching enough of the nieces, nephews, casual browsers, quirky homesteaders, and people looking for a little spot of humor at the end of the work day (or an inspiring reason to take early retirement).  They are the next growth ring of interest and enthusiasm, the healthy hatchlings that let us look forward to a solid silver salmon run in 3 to 5 years.

The whole point of writing this particular book, not an uber-geek's technical manual, or resting on the anti-establishment Evans original: we want to make this stuff more accessible to a mainstream audience. 

So we need to reach the broad range of strangers, and hopefully, give them the casual impression that we are cool enough to tell people about. I need a Cool Kid Consultation. 

If you are a die-hard rocket mass heater fan - what's the first thing that you tell or show someone who's never heard of them, so they understand your enthusiasm?

If you are a die-hard Kickstarter supporter or campaigner, what could I tweak on our campaign that would give us a better first impression when "strangers" or casual friends drop by?

Any other marketing ideas, strategies, etc. are more than welcome.  I've been documenting what I've already tried on in case you are a permaculture entrepreneurial geek.  A lot of it is new to me.   But it turns out we've done some things right without knowing it, too.

Thanks for the great response so far, and please keep it up!

The biggest thing you can do right now is share the link with people, ideally with a little note that tells your peeps exactly why this feeds our common dreams.
It will be different for different audiences.

We have 30 days, and the countdown is ticking.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide Kickstarter - now open!

We are now live on Kickstarter!

Thanks for all the encouraging comments.  One thing that impresses me is hearing from so many people (by email as well as here) who are serious about building their rocket mass heater this year, or who have already done so successfully by using our self-published plans.  Experienced, creative, realistic people: those who have not already built their heater are gearing up for their projects now, during the thaw. (Instead of putting off their wood heating plans until the first frosts of fall). book will be out around June 1st, in time for the best building weather in most Northern climates.

The Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide is the result of over ten years building and testing these heaters, and close to 4 years of book work.  It contains complete, buildable information, down-to-earth discussions, and some new photos that may be useful inspiration.

I think the table of contents is probably the best way to convey how much useful information is in this book:

 Acknowledgements and Background  
Chapter 1:      Rocket Mass Heater Overview
         and Terms     .........................................................      1
Chapter 2:     General Design Considerations     ..........     25
Chapter 3:     Design Examples     .................................     39
Chapter 4:     Step by Step Construction Example     ....     59
Chapter 5:     Operation and Maintenance     ................     97
Chapter 6:     Rules and Codes     ..................................     131
FAQs         ......................................................................     157
Appendix 1:     Earthen Building     ...............................     173
Appendix 2:     Rocket Mass Heater Building Code
    (Portland, Oregon)     ...............................................     193
Appendix 3:     Special Cases     ....................................    199
Appendix 4:     Home Heating Design Considerations   ....     219
Appendix 5:     Wood Heat Considerations     ....................     235
Appendix 6:     Supplemental Practice Activities     ...........     251
Index:         ...............................................     265
About the Authors     ...............................................     275

Sample pages from Chapter 1

This book is a complete, practical summary of the state of our current work.  We're hoping that a big pre-sales Kickstarter will help pay back some of our dedication to researching and writing it, and help us move things forward over the next few months.

I'm pretty nervous as this is our first Kickstarter, despite being featured in a few previous video projects that did pretty well.  I don't want to over-promise, or indeed promise anything that I don't already have a solid plan in place to deliver: hence the item limits on things like DVDs, where we are only offering the current stock-on-hand, or events and training, where we can only physically and mentally be present for a certain number of projects in any given time span.

I could use your suggestions for a few additional reward items:
- it seems like there should be something at the $50 level. 
That would roughly correspond to book-plus-one-thing, but I'm not sure what one thing to include.  It should be about a $20 value, maybe from our existing online store, or some little personal touch.
The book contains complete, step-by-step plans for an 8" J-style heater, the table of dimensions for Peter van den Berg's batch box (with his kind permission), and scale drawings from most of our existing heater plan sets (both 6" and 8" J-style). 
So maybe we could include some plans that are not explicitly detailed in the book - one of the latest experiments?  Greenhouse heater plans, which are a little different from a conventional building, especially with regards to solar gain, water exposure, and chimney installation?

Maybe also something at the $500 or $600 level - a live training package?  A new online course or private online forum?  A "just want to see you guys flourish" donation?  I'd like to give back real value in the rewards categories, even if some of our supporters are backing us purely to support the research.

Other suggestions welcome.  We may add more reward categories and stretch goals, but we won't change anything once you've already chosen a pledge.  (We can't).

International supporters - we have looked up shipping rates for the countries where we have the most customers, but I know there's interest from other parts of the world.  And believe me, I know shipping is expensive.  (I'm biting my nails hoping that the weight of the finished book is within a few ounces of the weight of the galley proofs we practice-mailed.) 

Please be aware that the book may be distributed in Europe and Australia/NZ by a publishing partner; and possibly also in Asia.  So you might want to get a digital rewards package now, and wait for a better shipping price on the paperback book.

For our fans in Africa, upper Tibet, and South America who have been talking to Ernie about ordering options: Please keep in touch, and we can work something out.  You can even request a specific rewards package, or maybe we can do a separate deal for a wholesale package of 5 to 10 books that you can re-sell locally.  Or we could ask the publisher about releasing a high-res, print-on-demand-ready version of the eBook, with the separate cover file, that you can have printed locally for a good-quality result.  Or we just run the shipping calculator for your country, and add it to the rewards category you're interested in.  Don't worry, we'll figure something out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Answers to Smoke Questions (part 4 of 3)

If you only light a fire occasionally, for camping or yard debris removal, you may think that smoke is just an inevitable part of burning wood.
(See Part 1, or if you like longer rants, try my earlier post "Wood Burning for Ethical Rich People," .)

Regulators seem to think that where there's fire, there's smoke.
(Notice how that's backwards from the old saying?) 

If you run hot smoke through a cool chimney, the tars in the smoke can condense inside, like steam on cold window panes.  Condensed smoke becomes sticky, flammable creosote, which can cause terrible chimney fires.
In the interests of public safety, it is legally required for wood burning stove chimneys in the USA to be at least 350 F during operation: hot enough that smoke won't condense on the inside.  Modern chimney components are also tested and designed to withstand at least one chimney fire without igniting the house.

It works - if you don't mind the added costs of both the tested-and-approved parts, and the extra fuel to heat the sky. But it's a real limitation on efficiency.

After-market controls to let you 'damp down' a woodstove for slower, steadier heat remain dangerous: they can increase the smoke (by reducing the air to the fire), and reduce the chimney temperature (leading to more creosote buildup.) 

To reduce the unwanted smoke, and the wasted energy to dispose of it safely, there are two key skills:

- Fire tending: Know what the fire needs to burn clean and efficient, and keep it burning well.  Good stoves are a big help, but even in a simple stove or hole in the ground, you can control the fire's efficiency by how you prepare the fuel, lay the fire, and adjust the fuel and air throughout the burn.

- Heat Delivery:  Separate the firebox from the heat delivery system.  Thermal mass heaters, aka masonry stoves, are exempt from the above regulation because they operate in a different way.  A short, bright, clean fire provides heat to a large heat-storage system, which distributes the warmth over hours or days.  Rocket mass heaters are only the most recent (and lower-budget) example in a tradition that has been developed over thousands of years, wherever people cared enough about fuel-efficient heating to build permanent heaters in their homes.

Answer to Smoke or Steam challenge from Part 1:
Is the chimney behind this cat putting out smoke, or steam?

There is definitely some water vapor visible in the plume.  It's a foggy day, so that makes it harder to tell - because the plume doesn't disappear as rapidly.

However, notice the residue in the thinner smoke behind the cat.  As the water-fog in the thickest part of the smoke spreads out and and evaporates, it leaves behind some bluish-white residue, visible over the cat's back and on the far left, as the smoke plume moves away from the chimney. 

There is also a hint of a sort of pearly-yellowish color in the main plume.

I would say this is smoke, but not nearly as dirty as the grey example in Part 1.  Maybe 80% steam, 20% smoke (that's just a guess).
It is coming from a woodstove where the owner has just added some fresh wood; as the fire warms up, the smoke may clear up a bit more and go back to being mostly steam.

The easiest way to tell, not visible in this picture, is to follow the plume downwind until the white fog is completely evaporated. 
Smoke leaves a bluish or yellowish streamer that continues on "forever" into the distance.  
Steam will usually evaporate until it completely disappears, unless it is a really foggy day.

If you like the idea of burning wood without smoke, consider taking a copy of our Art of Fire booklet on your next camping trip, or pre-order our Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide coming out in June, 2016.  We're opening our Kickstarter campaign tomorrow for pre-sales, and throwing in a lot of digital bonus materials.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Overnight Heat Storage and Decorated Barrels (Firing Up, part 3 of 3)

Nice to hear your thoughts on our last post!
Sounds like you are as excited as we are about the option of staying warm without running an unattended fire in the house all night.

After ten years building and testing these heaters, we are pretty confident in what rocket mass heaters can do, but there are a lot of ways to use the same insights in a given situation.  Thermal mass heat storage, radiant vs. convective heat: there are many ways to design around the same basic physics.

Bonny 8" Convection Bench,
photos courtesy of Calen Kennett,
taken during the filming of
How to Build Rocket Mass Heaters with Ernie and Erica.
One case in point was a 5000-square-foot, 3-family home in northern California. They called us in a few years back when their central heating ducts were moldy from the damp under the house, and they were using 8 cords per year to heat the big place with a fireplace insert and two woodstoves. It was about all they could do to keep the wood shed stocked, and the upstairs bedrooms were still clammy in the damp winter weather.

After putting in a rocket mass heater (the Bonny 8” Convection Bench), their wood use dropped to about 2 cords per year (¼ the previous). They were still using the two woodstoves in the wings whenever they felt like it – just not as often. Thanks to the combination of thermal mass heat storage and constant convective circulation, the upstairs bedrooms are warmer than they had been for years. They are pretty happy, obviously, but that's not the end of the story.

Bonny 8" Convection Bench,
showing warm-air vents in bench back.
People who visit their house, lounge on the warm bench, and see the upside-down get fascinated, and want one of their own. In the next two years, we had a number of calls, consultations, and at least two more workshop clients who were inspired by this one stove.

I get excited when I hear about the contagious interest in these heaters. It always feels good to know you're making a difference in people's lives.  Our designs can benefit forest health, air quality, fire safety, and even the health of the birds, soil, and water that are damaged by commercial fuel extraction and transportation - but only if they're used, and if the idea spreads.  The users have to be satisfied enough to stop using their old heating methods, and to recommend and share these clean heaters with others.

A big part of what makes these heaters contagious is that they do not demand austerity. Unlike getting a smaller car, or turning down the thermostat, rocket mass heaters are a beacon of luxurious hospitality.

Friends with high-stress jobs fall asleep on our bench after dinner. Band practice is better in a rocket-heated garage, where steady temperatures and humidity keep things in tune.  In the country, everyone appreciates reducing the firewood chores, better sleep without waking to feed the stove at night, and savings on heating bills. Our people are not going to freeze to death if the power goes out, or they can't get a propane refill during a winter storm.

Rocket mass heaters combine about seven key insights.  As an open-source technology, these ideas are freely available for people to learn how they work, pick and choose which aspects to use.
Woodstove with mass wall:
The earthen masonry half-wall
beside this woodstove
stores heat: from the stove, and
free sunlight from the windows
(south-facing windows are
to the right, beyond the sink)
For example:
- Thermal mass heat storage: If a bench doesn't suit the home, thermal mass can still help provide overnight heat.  It might be a huge masonry tower, earthen plasters or "mass walls" collecting woodstove heat or winter sunlight, or even a simple pile of stone or brick behind an existing wood stove. I've seen people in tiny houses or trailers use a bunch of stockpots of water on their woodstove range to hold heat overnight.

- Radiant heat: If you don't like the look of a round, black metal surface, radiant heat can be distributed by elegant tiles, or by changing the angles in existing fireplace to resemble a more efficient Rumford configuration.  A heat source that is centrally located, in line of sight of the room(s) needing heat, will heat more evenly and effectively.

- Insulation can be lining the drapes on certain windows, putting a blanket over the attic hatch, or sorting your storage closets to put the fluffiest stuff along outside walls.

- Clean fire, as we described in the previous letter, is good for all kinds of stoves and fireplaces.

We have lately seen several beautiful examples of "Mass Walls," with earthen plaster and mica highlights, or country slate stonework behind the woodstove, or just sand and clay loaded into the cavities of an existing stud-framed wall.  
Make sure there is a good footing to support them (floor joists may sag if they're offset too far from load-bearing walls below).  
There are a lot of non-combustible, dense materials to choose from, so the mass wall can double as both heat storage and heat shielding for your framed walls or cozy cuddle-spot furnishings.  Put the mass wall across from the heat source if it's a fireplace, or build it up between the heat source and any exterior wall that is getting more than its fair share of the heat.  (Capturing that heat and reducing the exterior wall temperature will save even more energy.)

Why is heat storage important?  By storing the ambient heat longer, using mass instead of air, we can have good ventilation in the home without sending all our heat out the roof vents or chimney.  The internal walls can be warmer, and outside walls and ceiling cooler, providing greater comfort while reducing heat loss.  We can reduce the actual BTUs needed to stay comfortable overnight, even in poorly-designed homes.  
You can use thermal mass storage with any kind of heat, including free solar energy (for passive-solar and direct-solar designs, see, ambient heat from occupants and cooking, or purpose-built heaters and fireplaces.

Smarter use of renewable resources is important not just for home budgeting or winter survival, but for larger global energy issues. Ernie and his dad, like many other fishermen, nature-lovers, and seafood-eaters, break their hearts watching preventable disasters like Fukoshima and Deep Horizons that hurt our coastal communities for generations to come.  International politics gets heated quickly when a conflict zone impacts energy security for wealthy nations (the poorer nations presumably just suffer with less belligerent bluster).  
Nobody can single-handedly save the world by riding a bicycle or switching to renewable heat. But when we can take care of ourselves and our families while also reducing those bigger problems, it feels good.

Mediterranean rocket mass heater
from Chapter 3 of our new book:
built by Adiel Schnior and team,
photo courtesy of Adi Segal.
There is nothing like feeling your body melt on the heated bench, or seeing how little wood it takes, to convince people they want this for themselves. It's much harder to explain in words, or pictures, the attraction of these warm beasties.

One of the biggest objections when people first see the rocket mass heater pictures is, 

“How can you stand to look at an old barrel in the front room?”
Israeli stove with tile
and ceramic-bangle details
(image courtesy of Adi Segal)

This problem is really a looks versus function issue. 

The barrel's job is to be airtight and spread radiant warmth all over the place (and to be affordable and eco-friendly). A smooth, round, weathered-steel cylinder turns out to be a really efficient way to do this, and recycled barrels are cheaply available almost everywhere. 

After enjoying the heat from the barrel, who wants to spend a few hundred dollars to replace it with a better, thicker, different, or “prettier” black metal cylinder? The most effective upgrades would really look very similar in the room.

Some folks do go for a custom rolled steel cylinder, or create interesting stuff with reclaimed parts from old cast-iron stoves or other objects. (An upside-down garbage can be disguised as a Greek column, but is that really better-looking than a barrel?)

Copper over barrel
(not as good at radiating heat)
We tried a polished-copper cladding on our new Cabin 8” heater, but took it off again after a few months because we missed the radiant heat. (Copper at that temperature is an alarming conductor – too hot to touch, with no warning as you bring your hand closer, yet it doesn't put any heat across the room).

Most often, folks live with the plain black barrel, or add a few decorations to their taste: clay, lime, or stove-enamel paints; bangles; or brassy “lingerie,” while leaving plenty of black metal surface for heat delivery. I just picked out three photos of nicely-decorated barrels to include in the color section of our new book.
Finished Cabin 8" Rocket Mass Heater
with brass decoration and exposed barrel

Speaking of our new book:
The Rocket Mass Heater Builder's Guide is on track to come out this June from New Society Publishers. It's full of details that have never been pulled together in one place: like a 10x upgrade to our existing plan sets. 
We are releasing a Kickstarterpre-sales campaign in a few days, using this last little bit of winter to hopefully engage people's attention.  There will be some nice reward packages and discounts to our early supporters, and the results will affect our game plan for this year's projects.

Please sign up for our mailing list, or for updates on this blog, to get the announcement for the official opening.

Thanks for reading. This book and Kickstarter campaign are big steps for us.  We welcome your advice or questions. Please stay in touch.

Erica Wisner

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fire Layouts (Firing Up, part 2 of 3)

Rumford-style fireplace with V-fire
Basic skills are super-important for building self-reliant communities.  Managing fire is a basic skill, but it's not necessarily simple.

I told you in Part 1 that I'd use this post to say more about how to light a clean fire in any stove.
These tips are gathered from many sources, and confirmed by our personal experience: Ernie's time in the Midwest, Alaska, and North Pacific; Erica's physics degree and alpine-camping family, and of course our decade of working together on heaters, ovens, and fire science demonstrations.

Fire Laying Tips:
There are three common mistakes people make with fire.

"Grid" fire -
often used with
smoky, wet fuel

The #1 mistake is to use wet wood.
Don't do it.
As I said in the last post, it starves the fire of air, robs heat, worsens smoke and creosote problems, and is generally like trying to drive your car with both brakes on.
Think of your wood shed as kind of like a food dehydrator.
Get your wood in to dry about a year in advance.
The spring thaw, when your woodshed is at its lowest (NOW) is a great time to put up fuel for next year.

Second, don't forget fuel-air balance:
Many people think more air makes a cleaner fire. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. (Imagine lighting a match in a wind storm, for example.)  Every experienced fire-tender knows the spacing between the wood matters, and it's more a matter of instinct than measurement.
I'd guess that in an open fire, I usually leave ½ inch to 1 inch between pieces of wood, depending on their size.  Maybe half the thickness of each piece. With very small kindling sticks, or a rocket mass heater with its powerful draft, the sticks can just pack in as a bundle; the natural variations in shape allow in plenty of air.
Don't forget to close down the air slightly toward the end of the fire; even with no visible smoke, excess air cools the coals, and you get more carbon monoxide (CO) and less energy from the coals.

Third: Arrange the fire to suit its purpose.
If you only know one way to build a fire, it may not be the best option for every situation.  We use specific fires for light, cooking, or steady heat; to conserve wood, reduce smoke, or make tasty smoke for curing food; and to create specific impressions like security, elegance, or bravery. 
Let's look at the Grid, the Candle, the Tipi, the V-fire, and some specialized shapes for particular fireboxes like the Chimney/Rocket fire.