While reading an article in the Alaska Magazine yesterday, I came upon a reference to Russian wood stoves (Pechka) that were commonly used to heat the typical Russian cabin.  The stoves were efficient, comfortable and made from local materials.

I researched the matter more and came upon this beautiful description.


The Masonry Stove

"To the uninstructed stranger it promises nothing. It has a little bit of a door. Which seems foolishly out of proportion to the rest of the edifice. Small sized fuel it used, and marvelously little of that. The process of firing is quick and simple. At half past seven on a cold morning the servant brings a small basketball of slender pine sticks and puts half of these in, lights them with a match, and closes the door. They burn out in ten or twelve minutes. He then puts in the rest and locks the door...The work is done.

All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable...it's surface is not hot; you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt. 

Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day; the cost is next to nothing; the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns.

America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? No, she sticks placidly to her own fearful and wonderful inventions in the stove line. The American wood stove, of whatever breed, is a terror. It requires more attention than a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time; and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half... and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano.

It is certainly strange that useful customs and devices do not spread from country to country with more facility and promptness than they do. 





By Mark Twain"


I'm curious to know if anyone on Home Energy Pros is familiar with these wood stoves and would care to post their thoughts and experience.

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Thanks Jack, I found the pictures intriguing. There is a constant element here, between what was good back then and what would be good now (and has been mentioned) is the thermal mass.  I remember looking at a massive brick wood burning furnace years ago that included access doors to those "convoluted channels" where you could scrub the creosote out as needed, an obvious by product of stealing the heat before it exits the top.  Probably inspired by designs like the Russian Stove.


I'm not sure creosote build-up would be an "obvious by-product" for a short hot fire that receives plenty of combustion air while it burns.  We consider creosote to be a given in our "modern" stoves, because we choke off the air to slow down the combustion process.  A clean burning fire does not generate as much smoke, and should create less creosote.

I agree that a hot fire is much better than the low and slow we often see in our air tight stoves today.  But extracting most of the heat from that exhaust would also provide time and surface area to extract more of the particulate.  The one I remember used a unique pattern of access openings to allow brushing from the top down and reaching all surface areas in the process.  Sounds a lot easier than having someone climb inside.


Here is a link to the English translation of the "liveinternet.ru" site that Jack referenced above.  I find it very interesting.

I'm taking, "From what I know it's main feature is a ton of thermal mass, not miracles." as the point needing attention, what thermal-mass is being heated.

My schemes to do this always involve moving the hot air at the ceiling to the floor where the thermal-mass can be added by putting pvc pipes full of water between floor joists and use insulation board below them so air can flow and recirculate from vents at the floor into the room and at the ceiling to have it pulled back below the flow.

Vertical walls can be used to pull the air down and also can have pipes in them such that you can get 4-tons of water into a 12x12 room, that should keep things cozy for a lot of hours.

The second thing is that to build one took a master craftsman, we don't do that anymore in many trades, it's become a venue for artists and rare artisans.

Indian build small fire, sit close, stays warm  White man build big fire, sit way back, freezes to death".



I always heard that as "Indian build small fire, sits close, stays warm.  White man builds big fire, sits way back, stays warm cutting wood."

Interesting story about the Swedish version ("kakelung") is that they were invented in response to an energy (fuel wood) crisis in Sweden hundreds of years ago. The king, it is said, called a competition among inventors to find a more efficient way to heat homes with wood.  I suppose the winner received a lifetime supply of herring.

That's funny Evan.  I like herring and I like your reference to a lifetime supply of herring.  Here is a link to the Swedish architect, Carl Johan Cronstedt, who the king commissioned 1767 to design the efficient wood stove.

Don't forget that masonry stoves work best (just like radiant floors) in poorly insulated houses when  you need a radiant surface to feel warm.  If you've gotten your home up to a reasonably high insulation level, then it is hard to justify the cost of these units, and hard to use them effectively.

That said, we have an active Tulikivi dealer in the area and I've really enjoyed being around a couple of them.  Also, the Europeans have a variety of very attractive, small scale, pre-made units that are pretty common over there. 

I'm surprised that you say that masonry stoves or radiant floors work best in poorly insulated homes.  Mass stoves and radiant floor heating systems should work well in all kinds of home, from poorly insulated to super-insulated homes.  The only heating system that I can think of that works best in poorly insulated and leaky homes is the conventional fireplace that we see in the typical American home.  While romantic and pleasing to look at, conventional fireplaces only warm with radiant heat like a campfire, while the rest of the wood's energy is wasted up the chimney.   All of the convective and conductive heat produced by a conventional fireplace leaves as hot air up the chimney, or is conducted outside because that is where most of a conventional chimney's mass is typically located.  Any radiant heat gained by the objects heated by a conventional fireplace is almost entirely offset by the additional energy required to heat the cold outside air that is drawn into the home by the draft of the fireplace. 

Ten pounds of firewood can generate about 60 to 80 thousand BTU's of heat.  Adding this amount of heat to a mass stove could spread this heat over many hours, while a conventional metal stove would quickly burn this amount of wood in a matter of minutes and add it to the home in less than an hour.  The only way to slow down the heat from the conventional metal stove would be to choke off the air supply to the fire, which reduces the combustion efficiency and causes soot to build up in the chimney.

I don't think the mass stoves would cost any more than a conventional fireplace.  Instead of mounting the brick chimney on the outside of the home, the brick would be kept inside the home where it can be used to store the wood's heat.  The additional floor space taken up by the larger stove could be offset by making the room larger.  The additional wood used to enlarge the room would be more than offset in reduced firewood consumption over the life of the home. 

James,  here's what I meant about masonry stoves or radiant floors in poorly insulated homes and it is based on experience with radiant floors.

Both heating sytems provide radiant heat which is physically welcome when a person is cold and when walls and windows are cold and when a house is drafty.  That's the attraction.  Both systems are also (or can be if designed right) efficient too.

However, in an efficient home, running radiant floors at temps that feel good, that are "warm", will often overpower the heat losses of the house.  Radiant floor engineers and installers have found that those floors need to be run at 80-85 degrees to match the heat loss of the bulding.  That's cooler than body temperature.  I expect that the same is true for the Russian stoves.

We've built homes in Montana with design loads (-25 degrees, so worst case conditions) of 20,000 btus/hr. since the 1980's.  Most of the time, the houses need much less heat than that.

Sizing the heat system and the delivery system has to match the climate and the heat loss of the building.  Mis-matches often result in loss of efficiency and higher than necessary installations.

Otherwise, I really like the Russian stoves and would like to see examples of small ones. I appreciate your photos, they are gorgeous.






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