22 May 2010

Starting a rocket stove thermal mass heater

Its getting cold in Canberra. The fire place in our house is smokey and cold. The gas heating is too easy and expensive. Its time we learned how to build a rocket fire!

I discovered rocket fires last year when Permaculture Keith blogged about them. That lead to a couple of Youtube videos, which lead to meeting Erica and Ernie in Portland Oregon to see one in action.

Since that visit, Sunshine and I have been busy selling our house in NZ, moving to Australia, and having a baby. Now in a rental, its difficult to commit to a full build, but I've found a bit of time to study the method.

Basically, a rocket stove thermal mass heater is a super efficient wood fuel heater that can be built by just about anyone, using waste and/or easily collectible materials. To give you an idea, in Dunedin we used an efficient and certified wood burner that used about 4-6 cubic metres of wood per year. Erica and Ernie told us they use about 1-2 cubic metres in their rocket heater, and their house was less insulated than ours!

If you want to get a sense of what a full rocket stove thermal mass heater is, this is a great introductory video:

Here's the book that the video refers to.

And here's a really good illustration by Erica, of the critical design of the rocket stove. At that link are a series of photos documenting a full build, including the thermal mass heater.

Here's another photo documented installation with some adaptations to the standard design, by Michael Blaha.

And I started the Wikipedia article to see where it might go.

My attempts so far
So begins my attempts to study and learn this technique for heating. After the usual terrible time trying to source materials in Canberra, here's a series of videos of my first mock up.

Canberra is an incredibly difficult find out about anything online. The websites are crappy and the search results are worse. As a result, sourcing materials is frustrating. All we needed was some short lengths of steal pipe at varying diameters, a few steal drums of varying sizes, about 10 fire bricks, and 10 normal bricks. So I baled the family into the care and drove around looking for word of mouth. The main waste recycle facility was useless. We found private waste recycle yards that looked promising, but were all locked up with no one around. Everyone we spoke to directed us out to Fyshwick, the industrial hub of Canberra. There we found some materials, but all set at exorbitant prices :( It seems what useful materials is recycled, is pretty well stitched up by business. But we did manage to scrape together a few bricks and some guttering just to get this first mock up made.

The hunt for better materials continues...

Our compost hot water system

Here's a video playlist outlining my compost hot water system so far:

This all stems from a Frenchman named Jean Pain. I discovered Jean Pain's composting method back in 2008 while browsing for info on composting toilet systems. All that existed then was a single article in the Readers Digest from 1982. So I started a Wikipedia article, defended the notability challenges, negotiated copyrights for images of Jean Pain, and watched it grow from there. A few months later, Youtube user TaranikiFarm copied and uploaded the 1980s documentary, The Power of Compost, focusing on Jean Pain's method, made back in the early 80s as well. Jean Pain drew 18 months of energy from his large compost pile. Heating and gas, 100% of his energy needs, including his truck and machines!

Now, clearly such a method is not for everyone, but it is for me. Energy rates in parts of Australia are expected to rise over 60% in the next 3 years, and I don't intend to be left out in the cold as energy poor either. My outspokeness and impatience with work always gives me a sense of precarity in regards to income, so I think its a good idea to skill up on alternative living. Besides that, its just good fun :)

Next step, getting methane gas from it for cooking...

02 May 2010

Australian backcountry skiing

Sunshine, Eve and I took a drive up to Guthega on the weekend, to scope out a ski trip for when the snow falls. Inspired!

Lots of people scoff at the idea of Australian skiing. Personally I like it more than anywhere.

Wikipedia has a great article on skiing in Australia, and check out my little map with videos:

View Australian Back Country Skiing in a larger map