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Masonry Fireplace Heats Entire Home


QUESTION: When I visited Europe, our entire house was comfortably heated with just one decorative fireplace. We needed only one 30-minute fire each day. Can these fireplaces be used in the U.S.? Are they efficient?

ANSWER: These are true masonry fireplaces and have been used as far back as the Roman Empire; they still are used to a great extent in Europe today. They provide gentle radiant warmth, a feeling of sitting in the sun, for your entire house. Various designs are applicable in mild southern to frigid northern climates.

These European-design (Finnish, Swedish, Russian, etc.) fireplaces are truly beautiful works of art. The exterior is hand-built from decorative tiles, brick, stone or stucco. Many have built-in shelves, storage areas, even cushioned seats.

In recent years, true masonry fireplace kits have become available. These have tongue-and-groove blocks for simple assembly. Some of the kits can be assembled as if they were large Lego sets. You can try to build it yourself and have almost any local mason do a decorative finish.

True masonry fireplaces operate on the principle of a short intense, high-temperature burn. At this high temperature, wood burns completely and efficiently with almost no pollution. The fire generally lasts no more than 30 minutes. You never need to have a fire going while you sleep.

Inside the masonry fireplace, hot flue gases are channeled through many feet of maze-like flues. By the time the flue gases leave the chimney, nearly all of the heat has been absorbed by the heavy masonry walls. Some designs have efficiencies of 90%, as high as today's high-tech furnaces.

The masonry fireplace slowly radiates this heat into your house. The outside never gets above a safe, comfortable temperature. You can also order masonry fireplace kits with an optional baking oven (imagine the aroma of bread baking).

The climate and the efficiency and size of your house determine the best design. A Russian design is massive and is good for cold climates. By the design of the gas paths inside, it is ideal for a room divider.

A Finnish fireplace typically uses a "contraflow" vertical flue gas flow design. It is tall and requires less floor space. A German design, Kachelofen, uses horizontal flow inside. It can be designed with light, medium or heavy construction depending on your climate.

A typical house can be heated with a surprisingly small amount of firewood per day. The wood is cut into small, easy-to-handle pieces so that it burns rapidly.

Write for or instant download ( Update Bulletin No. 966, a list of 18 manufacturers and builders of true masonry fireplaces, detailed descriptions, design types (many styles pictured) and a firewood guide. Please include $3 and a business-size self-addressed envelope and mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

Check Local Codes Before Doing Wiring

Q: My old electric garage door opener has a built-in light that stays on whenever the door opens. I rebuild cars, so the door is open a lot. How can I get the light to stay on for only two minutes?

A: Always check your local electrical codes before attempting any wiring. One simple method is to remove the light bulb from the opener and screw in a plug adapter. Purchase a standard trouble light with a long cord.

Plug the trouble light into the plug adapter in the opener. When it is in the on position, it will operate automatically like the light does now. When you do not want it on, just switch it off at the trouble light.


Letters and questions to Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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