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New Zealand is on the other side and “bottom” of the world relative to Finland, but there is still a winter season and measurable cold even though their February can be considered our “August.”

Sampsa Kiru, a native Finn, is a young doctor in Queenstown, New Zealand, in the middle of building an energy efficient house. Sampsa wants a Finnish Fireplace in his home. He wants the same incredible efficiency and warmth of the masonry heaters that he knew as a boy in Finland. The problem is, no one in New Zealand builds Finnish Fireplaces and except for Sampsa and whatever additional small minority of Finns that live in New Zealand, no one really knows about these heaters in New Zealand and no one can be readily found to teach interested students and home owners in English how to build a traditional Finnish Fireplace.

Sampsa contacted Albie and Maine Wood Heat because we speak English, we build masonry heaters and also have been teaching how to build masonry heaters for over thirty years.

Sampsa has ordered his hardware from the same manufacturer in Finland that we use and have represented for over thirty years in North America. The new owner of our Finnish cast iron masonry heater hardware is Aito Heat Ltd.

We originally scheduled a November workshop date but Sampsa was worried that Albie might fly in before the hardware arrived by ocean freight so we bumped it ahead to February. This also gave everyone more time for planning and local materials acquisition. Albie plans on taking a mason’s ruler, his favorite trowel and a little weighted hammer. Everything else will be supplied locally. Albie will be sending a long list of tools and materials for Sampsa to round up locally soon.

It takes twenty-four hours or so to fly from Boston to Queenstown and a layover in Auckland for two days will hopefully allow Albie’s body to adjust to the new time zone and the summer weather. A dentist friend of Albie’s who has flown a lot has some special herbal pills that pull out the heavy metals from the body just before the flight and this is supposed to help with jet lag.

There is a rumor that you cannot see the Big Dipper in New Zealand, but Albie is looking forward to seeing the Southern Cross which he has never seen before. Sampsa has sent a few photos and sketches of his house project, some of which are included below.

Albie would normally lead a workshop using the Albiecore masonry heating system but New Zealand was too far away to ship a core at a reasonable price so Albie will be teaching everyone how to build a heater from scratch just using firebrick and local cast refractory slabs for the core and heat exchanger.

Predictably, bricks and firebricks, not to mention trowels and other tools, come in different sizes than what Albie uses in New England, so there have been many email exchanges about finding bricks and firebricks that will work with the design he wants to build.

Sampsa has added a couple of interesting twists to the masonry heater design. The first is the use of the Panorama doors, which are widely used on soapstone heaters but are less common on brick heaters. Albie is getting advice from Finland on the best way to lintel over the Panorama door shape. The other special feature that Sampsa is including is a top slab mounted cast iron heat exchanger manufactured in Finland by Hopealoimu. Many customers ask about sending heat from a masonry heater to a remote space via water tubes, but most builders try not to do much with water jackets except as a supplement to domestic hot water heating.

Hopealoimu, however, manufactures two large cast iron plates with a grid of hollow nipples all over them. The nipples on one plate hang down into the upper chamber of the core and the nipples on the second nesting plate point up. The cast iron plates heat a sealed supply of air, which is safely removed by a thermostatically controlled fan to an externally located hydronic heat exchanger. The fire heats the metal, the metal heats the air outside of the heater and the air heats water which is pumped to radiation units in another room. Albie has not worked with this heat exchange system before and neither has anyone else in North America to Albie’s knowledge, so the learning curve, experience and performance of the system will be closely documented for everyone’s benefit.

Sampsa and Hopealoimu both have high expectations that it will work well.

Teaching others how to do things that Albie himself has never done before will be like the multitude of design problems that occur on most custom masonry heater projects that have to be studied and carefully solved one step at a time. As we get closer to the February workshop dates, Albie will update the information on the project.

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Maine Wood Heat