Typically a masonry heater that is sized to heat a whole house will need a concrete block foundation as outlined in our "building codes" section, but in today's high efficiency homes, or with a heater not intended to heat the whole house the framing for the home can sometimes be augmented to support the load of a smaller masonry heater.
A masonry heater is an investment that will provide long term value, and must be seen from this perspective. Long past the point where you no longer care what you spent on it, a well designed and built masonry heater will still be delivering to you very cozy warmth and using very little fuel to do it.
That said, everyone has a budget of some kind, and so it's a good thing to know what's out there, and what the major costs are to installation of a masonry stove.
Thermal Mass is not an "it" but rather a property, like weight. Every object absorbs, retains and releases stored heat, but some hold more than others. An object that holds a lot of heat energy is said to have, or be, a Thermal Mass.
The simplest way to think of a Thermal Mass is to visualize a dump truck next to a compact car on a flat, smooth parking lot.
The truck takes more energy to get moving, and keeps rolling further after one stops pushing. It has more mass.
The compact car gets moving easily, but won't keep rolling as long.
The interior of a masonry oven heats slowly, evenly, and over a longer period of time by radiant heat. In contrast, an oven made of metal will heat much quicker and is unable to store the amount of energy in the wood, thus the energy is wasted through the walls and by heating air. It is the slow release of radiant heat in a masonry oven that gives wood fired food the taste and texture that differs so much from a metal oven.
A quality wood fired oven is made from quality materials. Your expected use and cooking requirements will also dictate the type of oven you purchase. As your cooking requirements and usage increase, you will want to tend towards a thicker dome and floor to provide more mass to store heat and for more thermal shock resistance. Ovens with thicker domes and floors also tend to be constructed from more than a few pieces which also lends to the longevity of the oven.
Depending on the temperature your oven starts with, and the moisture content of the wood, you can plan for 20-30 minutes to heat up your wood fired oven to cook pizzas or burgers. If you are looking to cook a roast or large quantity of bread, it is best to plan for a little longer heat up time to allow the heat to soak into the masonry mass of the oven.
The best wood to burn in a wood fired oven is a seasoned (dry) hardwood such as oak, maple, or hickory. You should stay away from moldy wood, softwoods with pitch such as pine and hemlock, and especially from pressure treated or painted wood. Any chemicals, molds, or rot in the wood can affect the taste of the food.
If you are burning quality, seasoned hardwood the temperatures in a wood fired oven can exceed 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is too hot for most foods, however. You will find that pizzas cook best around 850-900 degrees, meats at 600 degrees, and other dishes around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As you use your wood fired oven, you will learn to know what the right temperature is for different foods.
Simply visit our member page here and select a company in your area. If there is no company in your area, you can contact AMHOP or one of our members and they will be pleased to point you in the right direction.
There's a lot of different stoves out there and builders of differing levels of proficiency. You don't need a builder with the same level of skill to install some of the kits on the market as you do for a fully custom heater.