The stovethat’s part of the house


At the end of the hydro line, where dense forestcrowds the narrow, windingside road thatruns off the highwaybetweenShawville and Ladysmith in Quebec, Norbert Senf has been slowlyperfectingmasonrystoves, using a blend of the oldfashionedskills of a mason, and the keyboard expertise of a modern designer working on a sophisticated computer system.

« Stove’’ isprobably the wrongword to describewhatSenfbuilds, sinceit conjures up the image of a metal box.


Senfworkswith brick and cement-likestove liners. Whatresultsisreally part of the architecture of a house. A stovecanbe a room divider.  It canbe long and low, or high and narrow, or triangular to fit intoa corner. And itcanheat hot water and drasticallycutelectricity bills.


In operation, it’squitedifferentfrom a hot air furnacebecauseitdoesn’theat air. It sends out heat in the form of infraredwavesthat warm anythingthey hit — such as walls, chairs, floors and, of course, you.


As parts of a room get warm, they, in turnradiateinfraredwaves. So whatyou end up withis a room thatisbombardedfromevery direction withinfraredwaves. And eventhough the air temperature in the room maybelow, you’llfeel                    comfortably warm.


Senf and hiswife Leila came to this area of Quebec, northeast of Renfrew, 25 yearsago. He was 23 yearsold, a mason, a university dropout afterthreeyears of mechanical engineering, and a former resident of Rochdale College in Toronto.


Now, this man with the slate-blueeyes and the easymanner, is in demandacrossNorthAmerica. As weweretalking, a call came in from Idaho. The caller hadseen the website of MasonryStoveBuilders, the name of Senf’s business, and hadordered a stove. He wanted to know when parts wouldbeshipped.


Whatattracts people to masonrystovesisthattheyneed to befiredonly once a day, with about 23 kilograms of wood. They’llburn hot — and cleanly — for about twohours, and warm the brickwork by channellingheatthroughinteriorducts. The bricks willretain the heat and radiateit for the next 22 hours.


However, carbondioxide (CO2) willbeproduced, at a rate about 40 per cent greaterthan a gasfurnace. And CO2 is a major contributor to global warming.


Masonrystovedevotees argue that once you look at the entireenvironmentalpicture, a stove’s CO2 contribution isactuallyzero. That’sbecause new treeswill replace thosecut for firewood. And as theygrow, they’lltake out of the air the sameamount of CO2 as wasemitted by the burning.


Over a long period of time, therefore, the net increase in CO2 iszero. However, thatequation ignores the rate at which CO2 isadded right now. And right nowis a verycritical time in global warming.


If treesweren’tcut and burned, theymight continue growing for another 50 years, absorbinginstead of contributing CO2.


Nevertheless, I stillthinkmasonrystoves are terrific, providingyouburndeadwood. That’sbecause if youleft the wood to rot, instead of burningit, itwouldproducemethane, a greenhousegas 24.5 times more powerfulthan CO2.

And there’sgoing to beplenty of deadwoodaround as a result of the icestorm. Preliminaryestimates are that 35 per cent of the hardwoodforest in areas of the stormwill die becausetreeswon’t have enoughleaves to survive.


Secondly, as Senfsays, woodissimplystoredenergyfrom the sun, as are oil and naturalgas. The differenceis, trees are renewable, and, « Weshouldbe living more off oursolarincome (renewabletrees), and not squanderingoursolar capital (oil and gasstored in the ground).’’


That, to mymind, is the mostpowerful argument of all for masonrystoves. If youwant to visitSenf’swebsite the addressis http://mha-net/msb/html/msblinks.htm. And if youwant to seewhatmasonrystoves look like, click on hisGallery page.


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