Unlike open fireplaces, masonry heaters burn wood in an enclosed firebox. The combustion gases travel through a maze of masonry passages where they release their heat. After the fire burns out, heat continues to radiate from the masonry for hours. Masonry heaters are often large and expensive, and some of the ones made with polished soapstone are architectural marvels. Most masonry heaters are built into new homes since placing a foundation under one in an existing home can be problematic. Because of its size, a room or an entire area usually must be designed around a masonry heater.
While many woodstoves restrict the air intake in order to make wood burn longer, masonry heaters are made to accommodate short, hot fires. The heat extracted from the wood is then transferred to the masonry, which then releases that stored heat to the house after the fire goes out.
What if someone offered you the opportunity to purchase a device that would function similarly to an air conditioner at about half the price of a conventional A/C system and would run on a fraction of the electricity? Such a product exists. It's called a "swamp cooler" or "evaporative cooler."
Swamp coolers are designed to be used only in areas where the air is relatively dry, because they add moisture to the air. But in suitable climates, swamp coolers can reduce cooling costs dramatically.
In addition to lower initial costs, swamp coolers operate on less than a quarter of the electricity required by a conventional air-conditioning system. And they run on only 120 volts as opposed to 240 volts, which can cut installation costs further by eliminating the necessity for additional wiring or a possible electrical service upgrade.
Swamp coolers operate by blowing air through wet pads. The air emerges as much as 20 degrees cooler after it passes through the unit. Because particles of air pollutants remain behind on the wet surface of the pads, swamp coolers provide some air filtration as well.
The air is blown into the house, slightly humidified. At least one window must be open when using a swamp cooler in order to allow the air to be blown inside to escape somewhere. There are some window-mounted swamp coolers available, but the usual installation is a whole-house system that can tie into existing or new ductwork. Water can be supplied manually to a holding tank or automatically via a hose or piped connection; consumption averages between about 2-15 gallons per day. Systems can use a thermostat for control purposes, and 2- or 3-stage or variable-speed fans provide precise management of the cool air input.
Maintenance consists of replacing the pads periodically and cleaning the unit. Pad longevity can be extended by ensuring the water sprayed on or dripped through the pads is of good quality. Hard-water minerals can build up on the pads and reduce their capacity for evaporation, thus diminishing the efficiency of the device.
When taking steps to make your home more energy efficient, it's also important to make sure you maintain good air flow and air quality. By following the guidelines in this article, you will keep your home safe, save considerable money, and, equally important, conserve energy for future generations.©Publications International, Ltd.