Here is some information about the progress we are making with our outdoor shower house projects. With campers coming to our Stelle (Il) and Bending Oak (Youngstown, OH) projects this summer we want to have a way that they can take a warm shower using current sunlight (scrap wood) to heat the water. (More on solar vs. wood burning hot shower water systems below.)
The goals for our shower houses are 5-fold; 1. Non-permanent and portable 2. Knock-down for winter storage 3. Inexpensive (easily available or recycled materials) 4. Easy to assemble/duplicate 5. Attractive (Has to have a welcoming factor)
The first concept we came up with that cost the least turned out to be more of a job to construct than first imagined, may not hold up in a hard wind, and frankly, looks a bit tacky (to me). But the price is right at $65.
This is an April 2016 Blog Post on how we built a Thermal Mass Rocket Stove at Jordan Rubin’s ‘Heal the Planet Farm’.
(We cover the foundations of rocket stove building at every Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course we host.)Schedule of Upcoming Courses
We call it the Epic Greenhouse Rocket-Mass Heater because of it’s sheer size and multiple modifications we designed into it. The whole stove is built around an 8″ flue system that exits outside of the greenhouse below floor level, under the greenhouse end-wall, and then turns towards the sky.
Designed by Bill Wilson (MWP) and Kevin Kepplinger (HTP Farm) Construction and Design Assistance from Heal the Planet Farm Team (All are Midwest Permaculture PDC graduates)
The key modifications we made to this stove that are not usually found on more traditional rocket mass heaters are:
The feed chamber is very large capable of holding full-sized firewood logs so it can be loaded to burn for up to 4 hours at a time and produce a lot of heat.
The thermal battery or thermal mass is below grade and insulated so the heat will not wick into the soil surrounding it but instead radiate up to keep fish (aquaponics system) and bedding plants warm even in the dead of winter.
We installed a multiple-speed flue fan and a flue damper near the end of the exhaust pipe to give ourselves greater control over the speed of the exhaust and even the burn. We can slow the exhaust down to hold the heat in the thermal mass longer when it’s hot or speed it up when we need a stronger pull to get it started. We know this is unorthodox and a bit like cheating, but it’s very helpful and the fan is variable speed using very little electricity.
Why A Year-Round Greenhouse is part of This Permaculture Design
It doesn’t take much for those of us in temperate climate zones to imagine the allure for year-round greenhouses. Fresh tomatoes in January are compelling! A more controlled and protected environment in spring, summer and fall has real advantages as well. And from a small business perspective, what if we could produce enough fresh produce for ourselves and a handful of our neighbors 52 weeks of the year?
In a good permaculture design for an urban residence, a homestead or a farm, the first thing we seek to accomplish is the efficient storage of summer crops through root cellaring, drying, fermentation and other forms of preserving. But once we accomplish this… few things beat fresh produce in the middle of winter.
To get this done we need to design for the two major demands of plants that are in short supply during the winter months: heat and light.
Why Wood Gasification is part of This Permaculture Design
Wood Gasification is the process of converting wood (any kind of scraps or trimmings) into flammable gasses by burning it at very high temperatures in an oxygen starved environment. These gasses, once cooled and cleaned of tars, can be piped directly into an internal combustion engine as a fuel substitute for gasoline…!!!
We have designed in the use of wood gasification units for:
Running trucks, tractors and other vehicles and machinery
Generating heat and electricity in the winter for greenhouses and homes
Being able to harvest the energy from sunlight stored in woody plants, from our own land
Using the waste product, biochar, to increase the fertility of our gardens and food forests which will also be pulling excess Co2 out of the atmosphere and locking it up
And the wood gasification units burn much, much cleaner than wood stoves because of the high temperatures. They actually burn off almost all of the smoke and gasses, turning even these into additional energy.
Whereas wood gasification turns wood scrap into a flammable gas to run engines (generating electricity power and heat), a thermal mass rocket stove simply turns scrap wood into heat…. lots of heat…with a lot less wood!!!
So, we have included them in our overall design, especially for Earthcamp Village, because they are:
Relavtively simple to understand, construct and use
Inexpensive to build
Beautiful, functional and warm.
Fueled from current sunlight (i.e. wood)
Very…very… efficient at converting wood into clean heat!
Bottomline: They burn 1/4 of the wood to generate the same heat from a conventional wood stove and the outgases are 90% cleaner as well.
The Key? They burn the wood, smoke and gasses at very high temperatures…SAFELY!
Thermal Mass Rocket Stoves Explained
Not long ago, our friends and neighbors, Bev and Wayne, started to build a thermal mass rocket stove in their living room. Wayne took one of our PDC courses and was inspired by the rocket stove concept (See the illustration and links below).
Bev and Wayne have been sharing their adventure with us and we are very excited about the possibilities.
Imagine having a wood burning stove in your home that:
Burns less than 1/4 the amount of wood you typically burn
Keeps you as warm or warmer
Allows you to easily burn sticks, twigs and branches instead of just large chunks of firewood.
Burns cleaner than any wood stove ever made
The big thing for us, living here on the prairie in Illinois surrounded not by woods or forests but by corn and bean fields, is the very real shortage of easily available firewood.
What I am talking about are the large hardwood trees with trunks and large branches which are typically chainsawed to length and then split to fit into a wood burning stove. All of this tonage of wood then needs to be hauled out of the woods, dumped or stacked somewhere, then loaded back into a truck for delivery to be driven to someone’s home (a lot more energy) and then unloaded and stacked again for winter use.
Meet Our Friend Rob Frost from the Milwaukee, WI Area
Back in the 1970s, a Frenchman by the name of Jean Pain of built a compost pile from woodchips about the size of a garage. Inside the pile he had coiled around a single, very long hose that he could run clean water through. In the very center of the pile was a very large-sealed-tank holding a slurry of cow manure.
Once the pile started to heat up he was able to run water through the hose at will and extract some of the heat. He had all the hot running water he needed for bathing, washing, and get this…for heating his home…for 18 months…!!! And from the manure tank in the center he extracted enought methane to provide gas to his stove and oven but more impressively, he compressed it into tanks and ran his automobiles from it. And when he was all done, he had a pile of fantastic compost for his gardens.
Our friend Rob Frost is attempting a mini version of this for his suburban home. Thanks for the inspiration Rob!
The dust has settled following our full schedule of trainings in August. It feels good to be home and to be getting into the garden harvest while starting to think about the upcoming winter season.
Becky made some fresh salads from our gardens including pickled beans, tomatoes, nasturtium flowers and fresh sauerkraut.
Yesterday we had two cords of oak delivered for our winter heating needs. I have cut and split our wood many times and believe me, it is a real blessing (and a bargain) to purchase the finished product.