Masonry Heaters embody a principle industrialism has lost, and which holds the key to our futures.
The world is nutty. Modern systems of production, distribution, and marketing have overwhelmed us with decisions, most of which matter very little to our personal happiness but have effects that impact not only people we'll never meet in places we'll never go, but those close by that we know and love for generations.
Hucksters with huge budgets try to convince us that their product, system, or candidate can solve with a simple slogan, problems that took generations to develop. When I stop to think through the impact of every dollar I spend and choice I make, it's overwhelming. Even my self-image is a product sold back to me. The modern world is a very complicated place, and it is extremely difficult to make sense of it all and make good decisions.
One thing I know is that as far as energy goes, we are living on borrowed time. We have been convinced that oil and oil dependent resources like large scale solar and wind generation are the only answer to keeping the gravy train rolling. I wish I knew how much money Big Oil spends marketing their vision of the future to the masses, as I suspect it is very high. They want our future to seem inextricably tied to them, and to mass production of energy.
I have chosen to take a different mindset. The world is what it has been for a long, long time, and this is because the human heart is what it is. I choose not to believe that my fate is necessarily tied to the fate of “all mankind.” I have chosen to keep it simple.
Home heating is one of the biggest single-users of energy in my direct control. I can't control how the schools heat, how the factories heat, or how my neighbor heats, nor do I want to; but I can control how I heat.
Masonry Heaters can be large, small, efficient and well built, or poorly built and not-so-efficient, but even the poor ones usually beat out a basic wood stove. This is because they are fundamentally different in their approach. This is why the US EPA has consistently refused to regulate them, and it's what I want to talk about.
Modern industrial society operates on the idea that with enough power we can make things work the way we want to. We apply horsepower to our problems instead of wisdom, and have chosen to organize our lives, cities, towns, and economy around the consumption of energy to fight natural forces rather than working with them in order to create a harmonious life. This is the mentality that solves interpersonal problems with attorneys rather than investing in relationships and creating community.
On the surface a masonry heater accomplishes one humble thing: It gets the most heat out of an amount of wood. But (and this is the point) it embodies a principle that industrial society seems to have forgotten and which may hold the key to our futures: It works with the natural tendencies of the materials from which it's built, the fuel it uses, and the people who occupy the space it serves.
A masonry heater involves no complicated parts and needs no electrical power. It doesn't care when the power goes out. It's just a durable material that absorbs, holds, and radiates heat laid out in a way that allows it's fuel to burn as it naturally does and to hold the heat produced within the building. It uses the basic nature and attributes of the materials from which it is constructed to accomplish it's end instead of accomplishing it's purpose with horsepower.
It doesn't rely on political stability in far reaches of the world. It doesn't pollute anywhere. It's comforting to my family to know that we have warmth regardless of what the market does.
Maine Masonry Heaters ground, center, and connect a house to it's environment. That connection is more than a sticker or plastic do-dad affixed to the stove saying “Partial-zero-sub-nano-non-emitting device.” Consider this: Fuel is by definition local, and responsibly harvested can improve the vitality of the ecosystem. It can be waste: scraps from construction sites, pruning cut offs, branches others would throw away, or blow downs (for those interested in the extra work of finding and getting it).
And it doesn't just heat, it enhances the quality of life to all who live with it. It can be a living room fireplace, a kitchen hearth, a bake-oven, and a water heater all at the same time while it infuses the space with a feeling of warmth that soothes and relaxes all who are blessed to experience it.
And the kicker is: The reason I'm drawn and can't get away is: There is NO downside. None. It rewards us aesthetically, it rewards our children and grandchildren environmentally, it makes amazing sense financially, it provides security and local employment all without destroying habitats or enslaving people in far off countries, without polluting the air, without back-breaking labor, and it's a visible manifestation of this principle of making the best use of what we have and not trying to force things to be what we want them to be.
I believe that I can organize my life in such a way that should energy prices continue to rise and supply systems become unstable I will not be, as they say, up a creek. I believe that the humble masonry heater is a huge part of this equation.