Rocket Mass Heater, Part 3

Got our bricks.

Thank you to Shawn and Amanda for taking a drive to Eugene to pick these up

These are not the dense heavy firebricks that I was expecting, but the lighter insulating firebrick.  These are supposed to be easy to cut with chisel or hacksaw.  I am going to need to do a little research and make sure the characteristics of these bricks are suitable for the rocket stove.  It seems like they should work, they will allow the heat to build inside the chamber and they should not absorb much of that heat.  I think that works because I want the heat to travel through the j-tube, build to high temperature in the riser/barrel and then I want the heat to transfer to the thermal mass before the exhaust exits the building.

I started laying out the bricks and thinking about brick count, how to construct the J tube, the heat riser, the support for the barrel and the ash cleanout.  Here are some pictures:

The bricks here are set on top of the poly iso foam board.

I don’t think that’s going to work.  The weight is going to deform the foam board.

Also, these insulating firebricks should not lose a lot of heat down into the concrete slab according to what I have read about this kind of brick, so I should be able to set the brick rocket stove mass right on top of the concrete.  Then I will cut and layout the insulating foam board between the mass and ducts and the concrete slab floor.

I was mainly just laying out the burn chambers and stacking brick to see how the rocket stove will fit in the space.  I really wanted to light up some paper and see if the rocket stove would draw as it is set up here, but I resisted the impulse.  I don’t think we are ready for that step yet.


The picture above shows the heat riser extended up a bit so that the top of the heat riser would be about 2 inches below the top of the barrel. I also played around a bit creating an ash cleanout pit.  That is the the rectangular space in the foreground of the picture above.  The ducting would then come out of the ash cleanout cavity,  run forward toward the position of the photographer in this picture (thanks for camera work, Marylea) then it will turn 180, run back and end in a stack that will rise and go out the “window” space just above the rocket stove.  I am going with the stack up and out of the mass heater in close proximity to the heat riser as Ernie and Erica have suggested.

bricks barrel

Here is a picture of the rocket stove with the barrel lifted and in place over the heat riser.  (pretty barrel, right?  need to spray that down with some bbq high temperature paint)

I think I will have to bring the whole rocket stove forward at least a foot so that I can get 2 feet of clearance between the barrel (that is going to get very hot) and the frame wall behind the stove and the ceiling above the barrel.

I think I will end up with a fireproof material on the walls near the barrel and on the ceiling above the barrel.  I am thinking about durock board, then maybe I end up with tile on wall behind or maybe just a cob type plaster.

Question for today:

  • Am I going to need to “glue” the bricks together with a firebrick mortar or cement or will I be able to mix a cement/cob material with vermiculite and seal the burn chamber, the j tube, the heat riser and the ash cleanout?

Going slow.  Having fun laying out this project.  We have been thinking about this for a long time.

It will be a few days before I can get back to this project.  I get my first day of jury duty tomorrow and also need to get back to the office grind for a reasonable number of hours.  Words need processing, phones need answering.

Rocket Mass Heater, Part 2

We want to keep as much heat from the mass heater in the house as possible.  One of the ideas with the rocket stove is that we will be able to dispose of trash wood, prunings, etc more easily than we can now, but another idea is that we want to extract the heat from the wood and let it help heat the house.  This place is amazingly easy to heat with gas-fired radiators throughout, but what’s the harm in improving and adding options for heat?

So, the concrete slab and foundation are almost certainly not insulated from ground.  The basement is about 3 feet below grade.  So even though heat rises I am trying to design and build mass heater that radiates most heat up and out into the basement space and then up through the house from there.  I am trying to avoid losing heat through concrete walls or floors into the ground.  So, we picked up some polyiso foam board off craigslist.  Some of it is a little rough, but I think it will still work fine.  The foam board is 2 inch.  Here is where the design question start to arise:

  1. Should we place the foam board right on the concrete or float it above the floor with 2 inch space between concrete and foam board?

Looking out on the internet is not real helpful.  There are not a lot of people using foam board on top of concrete in a rocket mass heater project.  The consensus view appears to be that there is no problem with putting the foam board right on the concrete.  I think that makes sense because this same kind of faced foam board in put under concrete slabs, so it must be pretty moisture-tolerant.

Here I am just laying out the foam board and starting to think about the footprint of the rocket mass heater. I am going to follow a standard Ernie and Erica layout – rocket stove in the corner, barrel/manifold right behind that, stove pipe and mass heater to the left, then back to the corner and up and out behind the barrel and out through the glass block “window.”

Ernie and Erica think that the heat from barrel radiating to the cooler exhaust pipe helps the heater draw well and I think they are right about that.

I am contacting Ernie and Erica to see if they want to function as consultants on this project.

pic3Here is another view from different angle.


Found a good deal on fire bricks in Eugene, so our daughter is down visiting friends, family and picking up bricks for us.  Bricks are supposed to arrive tomorrow, Sunday, March 8, 2015.

Questions that I am considering:

  • should I put air spaces under and around the mass heater so that the heat can scoot under from down in front and then rise up and out from the space between the frame walls and the masonry mass?

I think yes on this question.  I don’t see a downside to attempting to create a radiator-like air pattern around the stove.  I think we may get more air movement with this plan and not have to rely quite as much on the radiant heat from the masonry mass.  I am doing some checking on that.  Here is an example of that kind of approach from Ernie and Erica.

Ernie and Erica are my “go to” experts on rocket stoves.

More questions:

  • Will the foam board be crushed or damaged by the weight of the firebrick, the manifold, the mass heater?
  • How much heat protection am I going to need between the rocket stove, the barrel manifold and the framing?
  • Can I build a plywood floor above the foam board, then put the stove pipes in on top of the plywood?  How much cob, gravel, or rubble fill will I need on top of the plywood or foam so that the material under the mass heater does not get over-heated.

More soon on this project.

Rocket Stove Mass Heater Preparation

Ok, time to build the rocket stove mass heater.  We have been thinking about it long enough.  These things look amazing and they don’t look like they are too hard to build, but we will find out about that.

Here is the setup:

pic 1

Took out the two windows.  Sills were rotting out.  Reframed those for replacement with glass blocks that we picked up last year.  We are on a glass block kick.  Old windows were single pane, 100 yrs plus old.  Most of the windows on the house are still original with storm windows added in the 70s or 80s.  We framed up a wall behind the washer and dryer.  Pressure treated 2×4 on the concrete, the rest just 2 and better doug fir.  Lovely wood to work with. Strong and forgiving.  We plan to sheetrock over the 2x wall.  The wall cavity is about 7 inches deep, going to fill that with blow in insulation, so this should be a decent upgrade in the thermal characteristics of that wall.


cleaning up the wall a little bit.  It’s an interior wall, load bearing, storage room on the other side.

Tiny Co-Housing?

Living in close proximity to friends and family is a wonderful thing. What if you could design and build a complete community with a very small footprint? Would you do it? What are the challenges and the payoffs?

Sonoma County project

Dear Friend, Harold Carson, Passed Yesterday

It may not make the papers or the tv news, but a truly wonderful person died in Olympia yesterday.

My friend, Harold Carson, died peacefully, as he had always lived, at the convalescent center at Panorama City.   I don’t know where to start or what to say about Harold except that I loved and respected this gentle man.  Harold, you are missed.  You lived well.  You touched so many people, and you touched them deeply, kindly, with fierce and loving intention.  Well done, my dear friend.  A life well lived.

Common Dreams carried a quote from Howard Zinn yesterday that spoke my mind and heart:

Howard Zinn photo“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

“And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

I believe that Harold Carson lived as he thought human beings should live. Harold’s life was a marvelous victory.

Smartest podcast program on the web?

Against the Grain gets my vote. Listen to this interview with Timothy Morton:

Gaia theory holds that the Earth is a living, self-regulating system, a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts. Timothy Morton dares to challenge not only that perspective’s holism, but also the very existence of “nature.” Morton’s belief in radical interconnectedness is informed in part by his close reading of Darwin.

Can’t follow the conversation without moving pictures?

ok, here you go.  A talk about Hegel, ecology and subjective positioning.

Ferguson v. Port of Olympia, Part II

Ok, jumping back in on the Port of Olympia. If you want to start at the beginning, go here for Part I.Logs Oly port 2011July1 (3)

If you want to start with Part II and not look back, the story is that former finance director Kevin Ferguson has sued the Port of Olympia and Edward Galligan for wrongful discharge, violation of whistleblower law and other tortious conduct.

So, working from the lawsuit Ferguson v. Port of Olympia again, I note/quote from the lawsuit:

  • “In approximately late June/early July, 2011, plaintiff (Ferguson) met with two Commissioners to alert them to what plaintiff considered to be some of the serious issues that he had reported to Galligan (Port Executive Director Edward Galligan) , and advised them that Galligan had failed to take any remedial action.  The issues that plaintiff reported at that time included the failure of Galligan to follow Port personnel policies, and the apparent nepotism and increased technology expenses in a potentially unlawful awarding of a technology contract.”


  • “on August 16, 2011, plaintiff was compelled to submit a written report via email to Port Commissioner Jeff Davis, which laid out plaintiff’s reasonable belief about violations of law or policy and waste of Port funds, most of which implicated Galligan.  The written report identified a variety of matters with details information, including but not limited to the following:

(a.) Nepotism in the award of the Port’s IT contract to the brother-in-law of Galligan’s former secretary and the Port’s HR Manager, who was directly responsible for all information technology at the Port, which appeared in conflict with Port Policy 108.

(b.) Change of the IT award/oversight from the HR Manager to a staff person, who was nevertheless supervised by the HR Manager, continuing to appear in conflict with Port Policy 108.

(c.) Waste of Port funds in paying an excessive amount of $10,000 per month to maintain the IT system, and payment of such amounts with lack of adequate service by the IT consultants – one who resided in Vermont most of the year and the other who left the Port without local technology support while out of the area.

(d.) Award of the IT contract to an entity which has a statutory two year ban from public work due to previously operating without a license

(e.) Payment to the IT contractor after the contract expired, and renewal of an expired contract without first requesting new proposals for qualifications or bids.”

In reading through the 17 page Ferguson complaint, it becomes clear that the IT contract is a somewhat central thread that should be subject to public scrutiny for the purposes of deciding if the Port is operating in an ethical and forthright manner.

So, how would we start to get to the heart of this story?   Why not start with a quick look at the contracting entity and the contract?

Sorry, need to go to work, will be back with a look at the contracting entity and the contract in a day or two.

Ferguson v. Port of Olympia, Part I

What is going on at the Port of Olympia?proppant ship

The Daily Olympian carried a story on May 21, 2013 about a lawsuit filed by the Port’s former finance director, Kevin Ferguson, against the Port and the Port’s Exec Director, Edward Galligan. .  Among other things, Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges that the Port’s contract for IT services is not quite right.

That’s an interesting allegation and one that might be easy to sort out.

Here are specific passages and allegations from the Ferguson lawsuit:

  • “In approximately January, 2011, Galligan directed plaintiff (Ferguson) to write a leter or recommendation to the Port Commissioners in support of a pay raise for Galligan.  Although he was not comfortable with this directive, plaintiff was compelled to follow Galligan’s instruction.  Plaintiff wrote the letter, but only after informing two commissioners in advance as to the directive he had been given.”

A little bit of context for this bit: Galligan was Ferguson’s direct supervisor at the time and the commissioners are charged with supervising the executive director.  Is there a cause of action here?  Probably not, but I think lots of us understand that this type of request from a direct supervisor would feel coercive and manipulative.

  • “Throughout plaintiff’s employment he observed and discovered a variety of matters which adversely impacted the financial status of the Port and which he reasonabley believed to constitute mismanagement, waste or violations of law…  Many of the items plaintiff was discovering and observing included acts or omissions by the office of the Executive Director, Galligan.”

A little bit of context for this item:  The Port belongs to all of us.  The Port holds title to property with a value in the range of 300 million dollars.  The management of these holdings require that the tax payers of Thurston County ante up 4.8 million dollars per year to keep the Port afloat.  These simple facts do raise questions about the financial management at the Port.  Couldn’t we simply hire a property management firm and get a better return on investment?

The Port likes to tout its role in job creation, but I think a hard look at the jobs that would actually disappear if the port property was operated by a property management firm instead of a quasi-public agency would reveal that the public is buying very few good local jobs with the investment of 4.8 million per year.

That’s enough for today, back in a few days with more from the Port on questions about the IT contract and the Port’s environmental record.