I have a fireplace in my basement and wood like to augment my propane/hydronic heating system with a wood stove fireplace insert similar to your setup. My question is about the water jacket that you use. Is it off the shelf product? Custom? Can you provide insight into the set-up that you did not detail. Your expertise would be appreciated!
This is another great example of class action lawsuits forcing great products off the market.
Throughout the 1970′s energy crisis there were several nationally sold fireplace inserts and fireplace grates that heated water. This made it easy to pipe all the wood heat to hydronic baseboard heaters in other parts of the house, or to a hot water coil in the ductwork and heat the return air being ducted to the other rooms without operating the electric strip heaters or gas burners. I purchased several of these “Hydro-Heaters” for other projects, including the one I now have in our solar home. I had it the new unit boxed up and put in storage for almost 15 years, then installed it in 1992, and it has worked perfectly for the past 16 years.
There also was a firm in northern California I visited in the late 1990′s that was making a great wood-fired hot water heater for remote home-sites. It looked like a standard gas hot water heater, but the bottom half was a fire-box and the flue went up the center. You built a small wood fire and waited about 30 minutes, then you had enough hot water for several showers and dish-washing. They made a “tank-less” version that was just a fire-box surrounded by a water jacket, and you pumped the heated water to a larger storage tank or hot tub. I also purchased one of each and am still keeping them for future since this firm is now out of business and to my knowledge was the last company still making these in the US.
What happened was most state and federal agencies viewed these products the same as a steam boiler since they can explode if not properly installed. For example, all of the models that were sold in the 1970′s always came with a temperature relief valve and a pressure relief valve. If you have a large fire going and the water pump stopped pumping when the power went out, without any water flow the water jacket would quickly turn all water still left in the heater to steam. I have witnessed several times when this happened and all the only thing you saw was some some steam safely venting to a floor drain or outside. However, if the relief valves were not properly installed, the pressure could reach a level that would rupture the steel jacket or under extreme cases even explode. There were not only cases of tank ruptures due to missing relief valves, but even a few cases where a relief valve was piped to the outside and a small drip through the valve due to a weak spring would run down the pipe and freeze during winter weather. After several days the relief valve’s discharge pipe would totally plug up with ice, then if the pressure increased due to a power outage stopping the pump there was no place for the pressure to vent.
I know that there are millions of these wood fired hot water heaters and hydronic fireplace grates being sold in third world countries every year, and I think the California manufacturer moved his operation to Mexico years ago, but I am not aware of anyone making a hydronic fireplace insert that is legal today. If any reader out there can provide this information we all would be grateful, but I think the cost to get these UL listed and the cost for liability insurance for any manufacturer makes this impossible today.
If you really want to heat your home with wood using a hydronic system, I suggest installing one of the many outdoor packaged units you see advertised in Backwoods Home, and in an article I provided on this subject. Since these outdoor units use a non-pressurized water jacket system to pipe hot water to heat the home, they are safe and easy to install.