Rocket Mass Heaters are a very popular DIY in the cob, natural building, and permaculture world, but is only starting to get traction in the tiny house movement. Today, Chris McClellan AKA Uncle Mud is here to explain how Rocket Mass Heaters Work, how to build one of your own, and most importantly, his design for a tiny rocket heater, called the Cottage Rocket.
In This Episode:
- “The first non-suicidal woodstove” is safer and more efficient
- Tips for those who want to DIY their own rocket mass heater
- Don't skimp on these materials, especially in a tiny house
- How the EPA tests woodstoves explains why rocket heaters aren't quite legal
- Enough heat for 8 hours without being overheated: the Cottage Rocket does it
- Makeup air and minimizing the chance of smoke in your house
- Saving money, using scraps, and lowering the environmental footprint
- Where to find cheaper materials to insulate your tiny house
Links and Resources:
- The Kimberly and Katydid wood stoves
- Gamera rocket heaters
- The Natural Building Companion by Ace McArleton and Jacob Deva Racusin
- Mother Earth News
Uncle Mud AKA Chris McClellan
This Week's Sponsor:
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Tiny House Decisions is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. And it comes in three different packages to help you on your unique tiny house journey. If you're struggling to figure out the systems for your tiny house, how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, what you're going to build it out, then tiny house decisions will take you through the process systematically and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for podcast listeners. Head over to https://www.thetinyhouse.net/thd and use the coupon code tiny at checkout!
At Kelly's Working Well Farm
The Gamera rocket heater
The shelves are a fun design element
Some materials can be salvaged, lowering the cost
Uncle Mud often tests rocket mass heaters outside
Workshops are a great way to learn how to build a rocket mass heater
The metal behind the heater and the bricks on the bottom are more important that you may think
Ohio's first legal rocket mass heater!
Uncle Mud 0:00
You know, the great Bob Dylan quote, one of his songs he sings, "to live outside the law, you must be honest." And when you start building stuff that is code sketchy, it's on you to make sure it's, it's safe.
Ethan Waldman 0:22
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 146 with Uncle Mud. Rocket mass heaters are a very popular DIY option in the cob, natural building, and permaculture worlds, but is only starting to get traction in the tiny house movement. Today Chris McClellan, aka Uncle Mud is here to explain how rocket mass heaters work, how to build one of your own, and most importantly, his designed for a tiny rocket heater called the Cottage Rocket, which could be used in a tiny home. I hope you stick around for this really interesting and entertaining interview. I want to tell you about something that I think will be super helpful as you plan to design and build your tiny house. Tiny House Decisions is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house and it comes in three different packages to help you on your unique tiny house journey. And if you're struggling to just figure out the systems for your tiny house, you know, like how you're going to heat it, how you're going to plumb it, you know, what construction technique are you going to use like SIPs or stick framing or steel framing, Tiny House Decisions will take you through all these processes systematically, and help you come up with a design that works for you. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of Tiny House Decisions for listeners of the show. You can head over to thetinyhouse.net/THD to learn more, and use the coupon code tiny at checkout for 20% off any package. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/THD and use the coupon code tiny for 20% off. All right, I am here with Uncle Mud, aka Chris McClellan. Uncle Mud raises free-range organic children in suburban Ohio. He uses natural building and rocket mass heaters as his soapbox to preach self-reliance and community empowerment. He can be found anywhere there's mud to play in. Uncle Mud, welcome to the show.
Uncle Mud 2:29
Hey, thank you very much.
Ethan Waldman 2:30
Good to have you here. So I was hoping that we could just start where I kind of found you, which was rocket mass heaters, something that I've been fascinated with for years. And I was hoping we could just start super basic for maybe somebody listening who has never heard of a rocket mass heater, you know, what is it? How does it work?
Uncle Mud 2:58
Gotcha. Okay, so a fire made out of wood. You know, when you're burning wood, you are hopefully creating mostly heat with a little bit of carbon dioxide and water as byproduct, by mixing the carbon in the carbon gases in the wood, with the oxygen in the air in a hot enough environment that they chemically react cleanly. But nature being what it is, we mostly have impurities and inefficiencies in the mix. So a normal woodstove, say, produces, turns about 65% maximum of it, the heat energy in that wood into heat for your house and the rest goes up the chimney along with a whole bunch of unburned gases that create pollution and stick to the inside of your chimney and cause chimney fires. And we we have this urge to get a good night's sleep that is so important that it's actually one of the most important benchmarks in the woodstove industry is can I get an eight hour burn out of this and we're willing to sacrifice all sorts of inefficiency and pollution to slow down the burn and to get an eight hour burn and risk the chimney fires and all those other things. So the wood stove industry ends up getting a bad name for being a dirty, dirty thing. And rocket mass heaters are basically a homemade version of the 1000 year old masonry heater or Russian stove design that can be made out of junk metal sandy clay soil, or cob. And you basically create a small insulated firebox that you've been cheap or free scraps of wood into. And those burn hot and clean and quickly at temperatures that would melt your normal wood stove. And the hot gases then are clean enough that you don't have to send them directly out the chimney with all your heat, you can send them through a thermal battery heat exchanger, like a large bench made out of cob and stone that can slow, that stores that heat and slowly releases it. So that's been going on the study of that has been going on for about 30 years now. My place in it has been developing rocket heaters that work with smaller mass batteries, such as a you would use in a tiny house, or a or a built one for school bus. I've built them for treehouse for my daughter's tree house for the double wide trailer that I live in, these things don't work very well as environments for putting a very heavy storage, thermal storage battery. And so we've worked out ways to make a tiny house rocket heater. That's what we're currently involved in.
Ethan Waldman 6:55
Well, then you are you are just the right person to have on the show to talk about rocket heaters because you know, this is Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast and it's always you know, it's a bummer when we hear about really cool sustainable things like you know, like a live roof for example, that you know, would be difficult to put on a trailer on a vehicle that is that needs to get towed. So before we get into the the tiny house specific stuff, I want to go back cuz you just said so many things that I want to kind of follow up on. On your website and you there's a quote that said on your rocket mass heater project page that says a local fire chief describes the design as quote "the first non suicidal woodstove". So can you can you say a little bit more about that? Like why? Why are they so safe? Because when I look at a rocket mass heater, usually, the place where you feed the the wood to burn looks like this open little hole, like with this fire hole in the middle of your house. Like how is that safer?
Uncle Mud 8:01
Well, so if you have a fire hole in the middle of your house, but the the chimney inside of it is sucking at the air that goes into it so hard that the fire burns sideways. And you can actually reach your hand in and adjust the wood that's burning because the air being pulled in is cooling everything down. And you have a large enough surface area of this mass heater collecting and absorbing, absorbing and releasing slowly the heat from that concentrated hot spot that you can sit on the heater while you're feeding it. And you're not going to burn yourself. And the only real hot spot on top of the barrel that's radiating heat into the room is up where little kids can't get to it. And those are our safety measures. Those improve the safety, safety of burning wood in the house. I mean when we had a wood stove and four little kids, we had a dog kennel fence around the thing to keep the kids from crawling into it or climbing too close to it. And when we replaced that with a rocket heater, the the bench that surrounded it didn't get super hot. And they had to be old enough to be able to figure out how to climb up onto the bench before they could get to a place where they could touch anything super hot. And by then they figured out that it was super hot and not to touch it, which was nice. But the non-suicidal thing that our our fire chief was talking about was comes from the horrible experiences that he and our lovely faces fighters, like him have of pulling dead children out of houses that that burned down because of a chimney fire. Because it's expensive to get somebody to clean your chimney once or twice a year to have it be safe to run a woodstove. It's and some people don't take care of that for long enough that creosote actually clogs their chimney and the exhaust from the woodstove comes back into the house at night while everybody's sleeping and nobody wakes up. These are the horrible experiences that give our firefighters nightmares. So to have a woodstove that will burn small amounts of wood hot and clean, so that there's no smoke and no creosote to catch on fire later. And minimal hotspots to hurt people. That's kind of exciting. Now I got to come clean, though, the rest of his quote was too bad, they're illegal. And, you know, if you're living in a house that's on wheels, already, you're already in, already drunk the kool - aid of, "I'm gonna just do what I want and deal with the consequences. I'm not going to particularly worry necessarily about legality and whatnot", but you do want it to be safe. And you know, as the great Bob Dylan, quote, one of his songs he sings, "To live outside the law, you must be honest." And when you start building stuff, that is code-sketchy, it's on you to make sure it's safe. And these rocket heaters are pretty much as safe as you can get, if you understand them, and if you take the time to practice, and learn how they work. I mean, like driving a car, or the difference between driving a car versus driving a sports car, I learned how to not drive in the snow by wrecking my dad's T-bird when I was 17, because it didn't handle the same as the as the little four wheel drive pickup he'd taught me to drive wood stoves and rocket heaters is a learning curve with any sort of do it yourself heater and rocket heaters are just fine if you if you can, if you learn to learn how to how to deal with them, before you before you rely on them, or before you go to sleep in the same room as one.
Ethan Waldman 12:54
Right. So is it reasonable to expect that that a homeowner or tiny homeowner or somebody could reasonably you know watch some videos, maybe buy a set of plans and build a safe rocket mass heater? Or should should people always hire a professional to build one with them.
Uncle Mud 13:14
I think spending time with a professional is very useful because you get you get the chance to like to take a workshop with somebody and you help build somebody else's rocket heater. Hopefully the teacher will take the time as you're building it to discuss the things you're going to run into like the the amount of pipe you're going to sink into your your thermal mass before you start running into friction issues that slow the whole thing down and causes the backdraft. Hopefully, you'll have a teacher who will share how exactly the fire works so that you're not discovering it when you get a faceful of smoke at your house for the first time; you're discovering it within the company of somebody who's watching out for you. But it is not impossible or even dumb to figure this out yourself. You just have to take more precautions. If you treat a rocket mass heater as an experimental device, you're going to be okay and I'm not saying experimental in that we don't know how they work yet - we do know how they work. But experimental isn't that I'm experimenting because I haven't done this yet. And the same as we would treat a car we haven't learned to drive yet. So just like build a rocket heater in your driveway and lay out all the plumbing and watch it work or not work and get on the forums and discuss it with people and send them pictures and, and let them tell you how dumb you are and all the horrible things that come from using an online community and just, you know, let it slide off, and somebody will, will teach you what they've learned already. And you can do the same for others later. But yeah, do it in a place that it's safe, build the thing outside first, before you build it inside. And learn where the hotspots are, and where the spots are, where we're ash will get stuck and clog things up. And, you know, learn where the where the feed should be, so that you don't have to get up and and to go over and put wood in it. And all these things will make you much happier with the product when you finally stick it in your house.
Ethan Waldman 15:59
Is it something that you could build in your driveway and then move into your house, it always strikes me that these things must weigh like a million pounds.
Uncle Mud 16:06
Yes, a cob rocket mass heater for the average of you know, let's say 1,500 - 2,000 square foot house should weigh about six tons. But the, the core of it that is used is the part that you have to really get right is a couple of hundred pounds of firebrick and cob and ceramic wool that you can build and then take apart and put in someplace else after you've got it figured out. And and one of the lovely things about cob for instance is is I can build something and if it didn't work, I can break it apart and soak it in water and and now I have wet cob again that I can sculpt something else out of. I can do that over and over. So it's not a matter of do I build this and then have to figure out how to drag it inside. In fact, the cottage rockets that we've been designing are designed to actually be shippable. So a 50 gallon drum cottage rocket should weigh less than 150 pounds. And the idea of being I can ship you something that I know works. And you can plug it in like you would a normal wood stove and in your tiny house and or in your workshop or whatever and then fill it with cob or pea gravel for mass. So if you're going to build something like that in your driveway, we have these cottage rocket parties before COVID we had a lot of these every month or so I'd have half a dozen or a dozen people come from all over and we build cottage rockets for people to take home and it was fantastic fun, fantastic learning experience because I want you to be able to play with my plasma cutter and and something empowering about learning how to use an angle grinder without catching your hair on fire.
Ethan Waldman 18:16
Yeah. Let's let's talk about the process for building one of these like what what materials do you need? What tools do you need and what like what is putting one together kind of look like?
Uncle Mud 18:31
Gotcha so basic rocket heater could be and something like it has been built by our ancestors. Before they had metals, I mean, they just dig a hole and out out on the Mongolian steps and they would then build a little chimney up where they could sit and set some set of pot and cook over the hot clean fire they got from letting the right amount of air in with the little sticks that they had to burn or whatever their fuel was. So you can build something of a of a rocket mass heater, even with just primitive materials like cob, I've used wood used ash and stone when we didn't have any fire brick and clay. The thing works better if you have some more refined materials refractory materials that are designed to handle the high temperatures like firebrick. I mean, firebrick's a great thing for making your rocket heater last longer because the cob just kind of wears out if you're poking sticks with it and and the intense heat kind of just lets make a slop away over time but if you lie on the inside of your burn chamber with the inch and a quarter firebricks that you can buy at your local ceramic or brick supply place, they're not very expensive, and they're easily replaceable when something cracks because high temperature something will eventually crack. And the more modular you can build the thing, the more you can keep it going by replacing or repairing the parts of the break. One of the lovely things about cob is you got this mushy lump, and when something cracks, you add a little water, rub it and smoosh it into place. It's a great material for building houses or, or high temperature heaters or our pizza ovens. Because it's cheap to begin with and it's ultimately forgivable of mistakes, you can redo whatever you're working on, over and over until you get it right. So the when you start getting into situations where you want something that is high performance, and perhaps even more lightweight, then then you start looking at more like ceramic wool or, or dura board, high temperature ceramic insulative board for kilns. Those are handy. Especially if you're trying to squeeze this into a small space. One of the most important aspects of using a cottage rocket or using a rocket heater in a tiny enclosed space is that you don't have the luxury of lots of space between your heater and your wall. And, and you may look and say, well, I've got cement board up on this wall. This wall is not flammable, but the studs inside of it are flammable and the and the wood siding on the other side of that wall is flammable and if it gets hot enough, and if you can't see it, you can't tell that it's too hot. It will burst into flame eventually, even if it's not this week. So. So really, these some of these more expensive materials that are important are like the insulative materials or the or the sheet metal to create heat barriers that that suck cool air in from down low and warm it and circulate it up into the room instead of letting it sink into the walls where might make things melt or catch on fire.
Ethan Waldman 22:46
Right. So do you sell plans for the cottage rocket?
Uncle Mud 22:52
We do we we we backed off a little on that because there are there are issues with rocket heaters with legality. With the EPA tests the the test thats the United States Environmental Protection Agency uses to allow or disallow a wood burning, heating appliance are based on batch heating, like you fill your wood stove with wood and you light it and if it passed the EPA's test of having a little enough particulate matter in a two hour burn then they can go to the next step of getting their safety test the UL test to then market woodstove but a rocket heater doesn't have a batch to throw a two hour burn worth of fuel into it has this little hole in the top that you drop little twigs in as you need more carbon to burn. And that doesn't fit the EPA testing protocols. We're working on that that. There's a stove going up for approval. Right now. Liberator at rocketheater.com is a company out of Missouri that produces the Liberator, a rocket heater that is the only one right now that's UL listed. So your insurance company will let you stick it in your in your house that'll also burn pellets without electricity, which is kind of cool and plug into a 12 foot thermal mass bench to store the heat instead of sending it all the extra heat up the chimney. That's a nice setup. And their second generation stove is going up right now for the EPA testing. And once they succeed there'll be a burn protocol that lets us introduce more of these heaters, because right now most of the ones I build are actually too big for tiny houses. Most of the ones that that are legal for code approval that I build are too big for tiny houses because they go with the masonry heater code that requires them to be almost a ton. And you don't want to put that on wheels, necessarily.
Ethan Waldman 25:27
No. So with the Cottage Rocket, you mentioned that it's a lot lighter weight, and I was looking at some pictures on on your website of them, and it looks like it's just the 50 gallon drum. And then that's, that's it or like, that's the whole footprint of the Cottage Rocket. Right to where where does the mass come from? Is there a mass kind of inside of that drum?
Uncle Mud 25:54
There are two places to put the mass. So on a normal rocket mass heater, your core that where you do your burning plugs into a a mass bench or a mass wall to store the heat in a big chunk of cob or brick or stone or whatever, that slowly releases the heat in a tiny house, you don't need six tons of mass to store enough heat for heating the place overnight. You don't have room for it either. And, and you might not even have room enough for a for a small bench. But cob, for instance, has a thermal density that allows heat to travel through at about an inch per hour. So if I have a pipe going through a cob mass, and it's and then the pipe is two inches from the surface of the bench, you'll start having a warm butt on your bench about two hours after you've started burning. And if but if it's only two inches, you're going to have an overheated butt after you've been running this thing for about four hours. The cottage rocket design says instead of giving me six tons of 100 degree or 110 degree mass, give me a quarter of a ton of 600 degree mass because that mass is surrounding the small inside chimney inside around the core of the burner where the temperatures are up around 1500 degrees. So you're so you're getting a smaller piece of mass much hotter. And as long as it's big enough to still be radiating heat eight hours later when you wake up. It's not going to work as well for a large house, but it is going to be enough heat that your tiny house doesn't get enough heat storage that your tiny house doesn't get overheated right now while you're burning the wood, and then isn't super cold when when you wake up in the morning and that's really kind of what we're looking for. For for a heater. There's a whole bunch of lovely little stoves for for tiny houses, you know the Kodiak or the Cube or use those guys and make the the little?
Tinywoodstove.com, they have a line of them.
Yeah, there's a whole bunch of those and and it's hard to get one to burn cleanly for eight hours. But that's really what we want. We want to not have to get up in the middle of the night to feed this thing. So the Cottage Rocket - and some of them are $3500 and I've had a wood stove that I had to feed three times in the night and and to me if I have 3500 bucks I'm gonna spend it to not have to get up three times in the night
Ethan Waldman 29:26
I think you're talking about the Kimberly the Kimberly and the Katydid. thank you yes
Uncle Mud 29:29
Thank you! Yes I am. I keep forgetting there that it's a it's a very good stove and it costs more than my daughter's entire house by almost twice as much.
Ethan Waldman 29:43
It almost looks like a rocket stove like it's got it is cylindrical and I think that there is like a secondary combustion type thing that happens inside.
Uncle Mud 29:54
It's a gasifire, yes, yes, it's a very efficient and and and it's not cheap. So the Cottage Rockets that I build, you should be able to build one for yourself. If you scrounge the materials, we've built them. For 50 bucks or less, more reasonable budget might be $400 in materials. The idea being to create something out of a 50 gallon or 35 gallon drum or a couple of them, that will heat your tiny house and still have some heat for you in the morning. The first one I built for my daughter's treehouse actually worked so well that we ended up putting it in our double wide instead of her treehouse. And heated the house with that for three years before we went and tried one of these other ones. Just as we have been testing them, to see how things work, we've got videos on our YouTube channel from running the Liberator, we got them running the the Gamera rocket heaters from Romania, from Bulgaria, sorry, those are fantastic heaters. And they've got a range of sizes to fit tiny houses and, and big houses. And we're running one right now. And sitting in my driveway is the second generation Liberator getting ready to have an unboxing video this week. So we've been testing these things, because we want to see what works and where it works and what size what kind of mass it needs in order to still be warm in the morning and not get blasted out of heat when you're running it. And and so we've been actually going up to Paul Wheaton's place in Montana, building tiny house rocket heaters there for their little sheds that they rent out for events and experimenting with some of his ideas as to how to build them and seeing what works and what doesn't. And learning a lot about about how to heat small spaces without catching them on fire.
Ethan Waldman 32:05
Uncle Mud 32:08
Ethan Waldman 32:10
I'd like to tell you a little bit more about Tiny House Decisions,my signature guide and the resource that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. It starts with the big decisions, which is, you know, should you build a tiny house yourself or with help? Is a prebuilt shell a good idea? Is a house on wheels better than on the ground and what works better for you? Deciding on the overall size and deciding on whether you should use custom plans or pre-made plans, different types of trailers and more. Then in part two, we get into the system so heat, water showers, hot water toilets, electrical refrigeration, ventilation, and we're only two thirds of the way through the book at this point. From systems we go into construction decisions: talking about nails versus screws and SIPs versus stick framed versus advanced framing versus metal framing. We talked about how to construct a sub floor, sheathing, roofing materials, insulation, windows flooring kitchen, I know I'm just reading off the table of contents. But I just want to give you a sense of how comprehensive Tiny House Decisions is. It's a total of 170 pages. It contains tons of full color drawings, diagrams and resources. And it really is the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. Right now I'm offering 20% off any package of tiny house decisions using the coupon code tiny when you head over to thetinyhouse.net/THD. That's THD for tiny house decisions. Again, that's coupon code tiny when you check out at thetinyhouse.net/THD.
One big question that's come up for me as as we've talked and also from the videos that I've seen is how do you deal with with makeup air because I'm envisioning this fire that's really just sucking air through the feed tube. And then you know, here I am in my tiny house that is built really tight. You know it doesn't have a lot of air leakage Do you have to provide? Well if you do have to provide makeup air, but how do you go about providing makeup air rather than just having the rocket mass heater suck air through every tiny little crack in your house.
Uncle Mud 34:33
So there's a debate on that. Because basically, if you have a house that's too small and too tight, then you're going to have what's called sick house because just your breathing is going to create so much humidity that you start getting mold in the house then you start breathing them all and your your breathing your own. In addition to breathing your own carbon dioxide and the carbon monoxide from your Your propane burner for for your water heater, your propane burner for your, for your, your cooking stove, you're also going to be smelling your own socks and and your own BO, if your house is too tight.
Ethan Waldman 35:19
Well these, you know, a tight, tiny house, if you're doing it correctly, you're also building in, you know, some kind of mechanical ventilation as well.
Uncle Mud 35:29
Air exchange. Yes, yes, absolutely. And so having the right amount of air exchange to be comfortable is really an important thing to calculate. And to get help from somebody actually knows how to calculate it right? Or be willing to waste some fuel while you figure it out yourself. The debate though, is whether to give the fresh clean, beautiful, sweet outside air to your fire directly by running a little tube up next to it, or, or to let that extra air come in from across the room so that you get to breathe it and the fire gets to breathe, you're dirty sock air. That's the debate. And, and and there are people who come down on either side of that debate. And every one of those people agrees that you really it's really important to have the right amount of makeup air. I mean, my my father in law's perfectly good suburban 2500 square foot house has a big problem in that it's so tight that the woodstove wouldn't run when they installed one in their fireplace and it competed for air with their propane heater and even the dryer was competing for air with their propane heater and natural gas and so they actually had to figure out how much makeup air to bring in and how to bring it in. If you just bring a line in and stick it next to this heater of rocket heaters are balanced so well as to not send unnecessary warm air up the chimney when you're not needing it to go. They're balanced so well that they can actually reverse and and cause the chimney the smoke to come into the room or to go out your your in air intake. So you have to design around that. So like the one we installed in a basement this year, we brought in the outside air intake and and it came to about three feet from the air intake of the of the rocket heater. And it came in below that so that there's not going to be a reversal. Because you don't want the plastic pipe that you brought cool air into to try to act as a chimney. That's all kinds of bad.
Ethan Waldman 38:14
Got it. Okay, I'm envisioning like a plastic pipe coming down from above above your feed tube and then all of a sudden it becomes the chimney. No, that that's scary.
Uncle Mud 38:24
And it can happen in just having your rocket heater in a sunroom and a two storey a one storey sunroom and a two storey house. That if if the window upstairs gets open, that suddenly the higher chimney than your chimney. So you know and that can happen with a normal wood stove too. It's it's an important design element to to figure out how can I absolutely minimize the chances of air coming in the wrong way and going out the wrong way? And how do I even if I have to sacrifice a little bit of warm air. If you look at the code designed for a woodstove chimney or for a fireplace chimney for that matter, they all sacrifice warm air and efficiency for safety as they should, to an extent I've slayed in one Ianto Evans who develop the rocket here is one of the original originators of the idea has this beautiful little rocket heater in his guest house, but he's also a very thrifty person. I think that's the nicest way to describe that is thrifty in that this thing is designed so that if you try to burn wood and go to bed with a fire burning as it starts to die out, it backdraft into the room on purpose to start creating smoke because what he wants you to do is put the fire out before you go to bed and not waste the fuel and get in under your blanket and be warm, instead of using the extra fuel to keep the room warm unnecessarily. And it's genius, but it's kind of mad genius, because we get a little soft as Americans thinking, "Well, I want to wake up to warmth, so I'm going to stoke this up really good and go to bed." And that, that's a terrifying thing to do at gantos house.
Ethan Waldman 40:27
Right, and it sounds like you don't really, you don't need that because it's a rocket mass heater, it's gonna stay warm for hours anyway.
Uncle Mud 40:35
It will, it will stay warm, but his idea of warm is less, comfortable than perhaps our idea of warm. I would much you know, we were used to being able to get up to pee in the middle of the night and, and, and not be uncomfortable. And perhaps most of humanity's experience has been that as long as you're still alive in the morning, you're willing to break the ice off of the water bucket in the kitchen. So so you know the rocket heaters are most efficient. If you if you've got it figured out as to how little you can do with one of the benefits of that I found in rocket heaters is that white oak firewood in my area goes for about $300 a cord, you know or somebody went out and cut it all down and split it and brought it over and then I stack it up and I bring it in and I feed my wood stove. The hardwood scraps that I feed my rocket heaters with will have these little pieces of of little stuff that if you tried to just throw that into a wood stove, it would just go all over the place and not burn very well. But it's great for dropping in to a rocket heater or cottage rocket. And it's about $30 a cord instead of $300 a chord. So I've got a heater that uses between 10% and 50% of the wood that a normal wood stove would to create a certain amount of heat. And I'm doing that with fuel that costs a 10th as much. And then I've got this thermal battery on the back of it storing most of the heat that would have gone up the chimney so that I can really, you know, lower my use of carbon creating heat source in the northeast where we don't get much solar in the winter. And we and we really need something to keep us warm.
Ethan Waldman 43:00
Yeah, and we have an abundance of trees. So it's a kind of a natural cycle.
Uncle Mud 43:04
Yes, post industrial scrap wood is is a big resource where I live all the pallet cut off all of the the hardwood flooring cut off from the manufacturer down the street from me. Instead of the $1,000 I was spending some months for propane. With this house that I live in. I'm spending $100 a year for a dump truck full of hardwood scraps, kiln dried hardwood scraps from the mill down the street. And that stuff comes from the local the local forestry operation, yes. So it's a lot, a lot less than jetlag, if you will then say breathe bringing over fuel from, you know, from the oil industry and the other side of the world. That's kind of nice. It would be nice to have some more solar around here, but it's gray here, just what we the price we pay for living someplace with a sixth of the world's freshwater coming through the Great Lakes.
Ethan Waldman 43:48
Yep. So I think that people are going to hear this people who are maybe in the process of designing or building a tiny house right now and they might be really keen to learn more and and really get into rocket mass heaters. You know, where can people find you? And do you have any resources that you recommend? for people to really want to learn more and maybe get their hands dirty? building one of these things?
Uncle Mud 44:45
Absolutely, totally. The first thing I would say is before you even like look at my stuff we're talking me, insulate, insulate, insulate. And it's hard to think of well, how am I going to get more insulation into a tiny house that I might not want? To give more than three inches to the wall cavity, but and or how do I do this? How do I forgive myself for using poly ISO because it works so much better for my tiny house than straw bales that would take up half of my, my floorspace and be too heavy to haul around in my, on my trailer. Yeah, we should wrestle with ourselves on these these questions but you know, you can get the best insulation that's already been pulled off of the industrial roof that it was put in 10-15 years ago, for half the price of the new stuff, it's already off gassed, it's already been committed to creating the toxicity that it did in the world, go ahead and use it again, to get good insulation in your house to lessen your amount of of carbon burn to be comfortable. But if you you know, you want to try to understand the things that you're working with. That's that's what Uncle Mud is about is that encouraging people to get their hands muddy and and learn what they need to learn and become aware of the amazing resources. Some of the best natural building, building science people in the world live right there next to you guys, Ace McArleton and Jacob Deva Racusin from wrote a great book on high efficiency natural building using carbon using straw and blown in cellulose in buildings as a carbon sink and also to avoid using foam because the foam in a in a passive house that doesn't have a furnace actually creates more environmental damage, than heating a normal stick built house would take in it to heat the thing in its entire lifespan. You've already done more damage, just making your foam super house.
Ethan Waldman 47:23
Uncle Mud 47:23
So before you've even moved in, but this is the type of calculation and work that our straw bale builders in the northeast are doing and Chris Magwood and Deirdre McGowan and those amazing folks up in Canada, where it gets even colder are figuring out these details. Some of them work over for tiny houses, I really like using straw clay in tiny houses that don't have to be on wheels. Because it's it's cheap, and it works. And, and the combination of thermal mass and insulation is comfortable. Whereas maybe cob isn't going to be comfortable. In our climate here. Patreon.com/unclemud is my is is my patron patrons only website where I put extended technical video and resources like the the development information on the cottage rocket as we're working on it. And the reports on experiments around that like the woodshop, the the workshop rocket, which is basically a non thermal mass version of that for heating your, your workshop because your tools don't care what temperature it is, but you'd like to be warm within a couple of minutes of going in there. And then you know, let the fire go out and 20 minutes later, it's cold in there. So what but as long as you're tinkering around, you throw a couple of sticks in as you walk by workshop rocket works really well, sauna rocket, the greenhouse rocket. These are some of the iterations we have on that. The YouTube channel for Uncle Mud has some great resources because we do a lot of visiting people who are doing amazing things. I love visiting people who are smarter than me. Because that's how I learn something and I get to share that when maybe they're too busy being smarter than me to share it with the rest of us. So and we we get to visit a lot of wonderful people doing amazing stuff. And we put that on our YouTube channel. And we try to get it on Facebook as best we can answer questions that way.
And I really like seeing what people are doing themselves. Now when they post it here to our Uncle Mud page, because it means that that they're actually paying attention both to what we're trying to say and also to sharing it with the rest of us because that, you know, passing it around getting some open source information out there is the only way we have to compete at all with a world that wants you that wants to sell you something every time everywhere you look.
Ethan Waldman 50:20
Well that's I feel like that's a really great place to leave it you've been such an inspiring guests, you've shared so much knowledge and information and and I hope people do, check out your website and YouTube channel and Patreon. I'll post those links in the show notes page for this episode, which after we're done, people who are listening to this as an official episode, they'll hear what that is.
Uncle Mud 50:47
I do want to mention the written an article that you can find on my Patreon site or on Mother Earth news website. I've done a lot of articles and video webinars and stuff for Mother Earth news. And one of the videos that we did was my daughter's tree house. When she turned 18, she decided she was moving out, which we thought was odd because she didn't have a job and she was in college. But she ended up she built a tree house and lived in it for two years it had a rudimentary kitchen and a composting toilet and electricity and, and it what it meant was that she had choices, rather than taking all of the money that we could afford to give her and all the money that she could make, to just barely stay alive while she scrambles through whatever degree she latches on to early on because she doesn't have choices. I've become a real fan of, of helping people make it work through in multi generational family situations by giving people their own little breathing space, even if they have to come into the hot main house to do laundry and get the internet and go through the fridge. they've still got their treehouse where they can sleep or their will shed where they can go out and make their their loud music. And or just be away from the rest of us have their own space. Having something that's your own, even if it's not on property that you own, is really empowering to give you economic and freedom and also the intellectual freedom to say, Well, what can I do? And what can I afford to what can I afford to to mess up you know, the banks we talk about too big to fail. But with tiny houses with figuring out how to put an apartment in in your aunt's garage like I did to get through college with no debt. But do it in a way that nobody could see because the neighborhood didn't like it. You know, these type of things even if you fail, and it costs you a couple 100 bucks, or you have to move more quickly than you thought you could find a way out and and do something that you can afford to fail at rather than being stuck and and that will give you the tools to succeed more later as well.
Ethan Waldman 53:20
Awesome. Uncle Mud, thank you so much for being a guest on the show today. This
Uncle Mud 53:24
This was awesome. Absolutely, it's good to meet you. I look forward to seeing more of your stuff too.
Ethan Waldman 53:33
Thank you so much to Uncle Mud for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes from today's episode including images of Uncle Mud's Cottage Rocket, some embedded YouTube videos, and more at thetinyhouse.net/146. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/146. Also, don't forget to check out Tiny House Decisions, the guide that I wish I had when I was building my tiny house. I'm offering 20% off any package right now at thetinyhouse.net/THD and use the coupon code tiny for 20% off. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/THD coupon code tiny for 20% off. Well, that's all for this week. I'm your host Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
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