Here comes the Heatmor


I wrote last week about the fact that we heat our house with wood, but we don’t have a woodstove or fireplace. As promised, here’s a little more about the outdoor wood boiler that keeps us toasty.

It looks like a little outdoor shed about 25 feet from the house, and it’s got its brand name, Heatmor, in cutout metal letters across its front door. (We’ve talked about rearranging those letters to spell other things. Rathome and Meathor are the leading candidates.) Heatmor’s a company based in Minnesota, which seems to give it additional gravitas in the “fighting off winter” department. There are other brands out there, too, and we’ve heard of folks building their own. A reader last week asked if our furnace is EPA qualified, and it is.

Basically, it works like this: You build a fire in a firebox in the center of the boiler. This heats 80 gallons of water that surround the firebox. The hot water (at 180 degrees) runs through underground lines that enter the basement. At this point, what happens next depends on what kind of heat system you have in your house; ours is a radiant floor system, so the heat from the Heatmor gets transferred to the water lines that run under the floors. With luck, we’ll be able to keep the same fire going for the entire season, feeding it two or three times a day. The boiler also heats our tap water.

So is it green? Aside from the whole discussion about burning wood in general, I would say this: Feeding a boiler with wood every day definitely deepens appreciation for the feeling of warmth. At the same time, we can’t just turn up the thermostat or build bigger fires if we’re not warm enough; that’s why we decided to insulate this year. We’re already noticing an improvement in the feel of the house, and things should get even better when we tighten up door seals and hang some thermal curtains. So the nature of our system has essentially pushed us to do some of the basic weatherizing that’s recommended for all houses—the kinds of things that the LEAP program is promoting.

Anyone else use an outdoor boiler? How’s it work for you?