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6/6/10

Fireplaces, Woodstoves: Heating. And Old Nostalgia With Purpose In A Modern, Zero Energy, Prefab House Kit.

GOT MY COOKSTOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It even came with a **FREE** mouse nest inside!!!!!!

We headed over to an old Appomattox farm to pick up what I have been desiring for years, a 1940s cook stove. We shall see if this will work within an energy efficient, zero energy prefab modern house kit.
But first: I'm going to talk for a moment about another man other than Handsome Husband who is HOT. Scandal! Mattias, honeychile, I adore you but you look so Hot, Hot, Hot.
This week, summer arrived early: Virginia is at about 90% humidity and 90-something degrees while our German friend visits, yet he refused to ditch his warm clothes for t-shirts and shorts. I'm watching him swelter, in khaki pants, wingtips, and long sleeves... cheeks flushed, sweat beaded... Chile, don't you know this is why we in the South drink our tea and beer ICE COLD? Days like this, honey, days like this. Poor thing, Friday, there wasn't even a breeze. (Which usually provides respite.) I keep offering him Handsome Husband's shorts and t-shirts...

Nights provide only brief relief, ending the crackling, heavy, heat-filled days with thunderstorms.

As hot as poor Mattias is, we are all having a great time together. Tomorrow we'll take him to some of our favorite museums and historic sites... and to try some local food...

Any-hoo, as it's scorching in Virginia, why don't we add some fuel to the... fire?


Let's talk fire places, wood stoves, and heat:

By now you know that when you build an energy efficient SIPs (structural insulated panels) home, therefore with a tight envelope, your systems must be efficient - you do more with less, and air exchange (Energy Recovery or Heat Recovery) is key.

Let's talk about nostalgic "systems" : Some of you want a fireplace. Fireplaces were ineffectual from the beginning.
** Read this article to see why they should even be against code. **

Believe me, I get it: Don't you remember my mod 1960s fireplace adventure?  As much as I wanted that mod super coolio  fireplace, thinking I could seal it somehow, it wouldn't have worked.  In a SIPs home, sealed combustion is critical - otherwise you will draw in cold air, smoke, and gasses into your tight prefab house kit's environment.

But we must also balance efficiency with local culture: Many of our enthusiasts live in rural areas.  Pellet stoves are effective. But when you consider the fact that pellets are trucked in from such long distances when a rural house kit is surrounded by already fallen timber, a renewable resource... having an efficient wood stove in such a setting weighs in heavily towards this practical, local application.

I love to cook. And I love to be cozy.
I grew up with a wood stove.
[Y'know, the efficient one that still sits unused in my parent's basement? My brother *might* need that one day...(rolls eyes)]


I've always LOVED, adored, admired, and wanted a cook stove.
It's not modern. It's not the latest Energy Star blah blah blah technology. I certainly won't get rebates. ; ) But when I saw this 1940s Mealtime cook stove on Craigslist... I snapped it up, I did
Despite the fact it would go into a zero energy modern prefab built with SIPs.
Here is how we are going to attempt to deal with this adored, ineffective (and needs to be more efficient) antique in the context of a modern, zero energy, SIPs house kit.

Firstly, whenever you create an opening in a SIPs house, you need to make sure to plug up that potential energy loss, honeychile!

Think of your building envelope as a nice, warm, cozy, down comforter in which you've just happily wrapped yourself on a winter's night.  Just as I remind you to insulate under and around your foundation, to add insulation wherever you see none, why would you punch holes through your blanket if you didn't intend to sew and plug it back up just as effectively? Otherwise you have just completely turned a great, last-lifetimes, thick-and-comforting-with-its-warmth comforter and turned it into a thin, threadbare throw. Brrrrrr.

When I research systems decisions, fyi, I usually start my query with "passive house" + issue I'm researching.
Passive House (Passiv Haus) is a stringent certification of which I could certainly see our passive solar house kits achieving for those that are interested to do so (yes, we can do thicker panels), but personally think Passive House goes overboard for our local climate in certain areas, often sacrificing aesthetic design. I believe you should be in love with your home. I believe your home should foster community, even if it means flinging open windows and doors and letting efficiency wane during a raucous, late summer evening with friends.

It's the little touches I'm adding to our own home that make it so special, coupled with efficiency - I swoon over cook stoves, I caress the patina and scuffs on my recycled basketball court. It's a sensual thing, a building made and filled with... stories. All these little touches are, to me, what, even if it's not quite as efficient or convenient, like my perfect-for-off-grid-on-a-budget Maytag wringer washer, still make the sum of my off grid home... Epic. Yet not expensive. And appropriate for an off grid, zero energy home.

And therefore, these anomalies are the right solutions for our own local and individual off grid house for our family.

For myself and our family's own house kit decisions, I dance between our own extreme German efficiency and... gorgeous but functional design. Nostalgia that embraces usefulness in my individual environ, not trying to appeal to some big industry trade show surrounded by narrow-eyed competitors.

It seems to me that, although valuable, following 100% certified rigid universal rules doesn't always accommodate and apply to the organic originality each family and micro-local climate and cultural aesthetic brings to their own prefab SIPs home... just to consider.

Here are some links to wood stove / kitchen venting information (and more) we found useful: (I enjoy the discussion and information as a thread progresses on a post, it gives you information to consider for yourself)
What you need to know is that just as protecting and maintaining your exterior seal and house kit envelope is key, so is ensuring the wood stove / cook stove is tight as well, to prevent pollutants from soiling your indoor air.


[And while we're on the subject of ventilation, it's not just the inside you need to protect, consider the outside: (for a future post): Rain Screens!]
These are all things we'll be discussing with our installer and contractor.
I happened to run across Guy Dubois, owner of Commonwealth Building Sciences, a Richmond building performance specialist and asked him about the cook stove.


"Well, ERV's and HRV's don't provide make-up air, which you'll need for a wood stove. You need a pipe for intake, and a pipe for exhaust to have a proper flue draft. There are SO many variables and schools of thought on this... you also need to be concerned about depressurization, and to choose a system that can create make-up air when you need it.

There is an issue with the combustion air safety zone.  I will come back with more on that in July. There is no one clear cut answer, it involves knowing how much air that stove draws...

I've been running into this issue as home owners tighten up their home but have open combustion appliances installed which could depressurize the house enough to back draft into the living space."

And that previous mod 1960s fireplace with which I am still enamored that we determined we couldn't use in the prefab?
It might not work within a prefab passive solar modern SIPs home, but it will certainly have great uses outdoors, helping to prevent me from worrying about a warming autumn fire from igniting the field, even though it just rained. (Yes, I rightly worry about that, if you were in my shoes going through years of drought, wouldn't you, even though the field is freshly wet? I'm just trained to worry about stuff like that...)  Reused and repurposed, I look forward to holding my hands close, huddling against it as we toast marshmallows and tell spooky stories under the stars.

P.s. Good news! I started cleaning the cook stove (pictures soon) and the white part is cleaning up *really* nicely! Next is the cook top, which has no cracks, and I'll be researching best practice repair for firebox cement cracks (company is still in business, fortunately). The enamel is in *excellent* condition. This actually *might* work in a SIPs house!

P.p.s. In case you are wondering: it's a Mealmaster K-44N by Knox Stove Works. (Technical docs: http://antiquestoves.biz/Mealmaster/mealmaster.htm - it *does* comply with NFPA 211 specifications.)

If I were buying new I'd buy a Baker's Choice or Baker's Oven. But then again, we're still researching compatibility with such a tight envelope.

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