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.
There are 5 major components that add up to the cost of a masonry stove, and no matter how each item is approached, there will be some charge associated with it:
Masonry heaters are available as either fixed designs or custom designs. Many of the fixed designs are available as pre-fabricated kits; some of these can be installed by a home owner. Whether you choose to go with a fixed design or a custom design there is a cost associated with coming up with the design. Very rarely will a consumer pay the full cost of design: Even in a custom designed stove, the stove mason will draw upon experiences in the past and will take that into account in designing your stove.
A mass produced "kit" type stove will have a different approach to design than a custom stove, and so you will pay more for the design of a custom stove than you will for a fixed design.
If your stoves comes in a "kit" form, you are paying for a production facility, raw material, and labor to produce the components that fit together to make your stove.
If your stove is "hand built" using commonly available modules this fabrication will involve a single person or a small group working to assemble your stove from basic materials (commonly firebrick). There is variation in construction methodology, so this cost may vary considerably from stove to stove.
Typically you will pay more in material cost to a "kit" type stove, as this cost of production must be met by selling each stove. A "handbuilt" heater will use less expensive material, but will typically have a higher install cost.
There are also kits which use commonly available firebrick for straight walls and supply cast pieces for difficult to build sections of the stove.
The cost of getting the components to you will vary from mason to mason. Some builders use locally available materials to keep costs down, while others will truck material in themselves. The latter gives more builder control over quality and type of materials. It is advisable to use higher grade material in a masonry heater flue system and firebox than is typically available at masonry yards.
A "kit" type stove will typically be shipped on pallets.
Another huge variation from builder to builder. Some methods take a longer time to install than others, and this contributes greatly to the bottom line cost of a masonry heater. A completely prefabricated kit will install quickly, and this cost will be lowest with such a kit.
A custom masonry stove built with imported stove tile and fabricated on site will take weeks to install and a pre-fab "kit" can be installed in just a few days.
How much individual attention does the builder give you as you're choosing your stove? How much will they be available as you're breaking things in to help you through the unfamiliar process? Your "kit" type stove may be customizable, but there's more involved if you're designing from the ground up to suit your specific situation. There's also more decisions to be made!
If you choose a manufactured stove, you'll likely be getting less of these things than you will with a custom stove. This is not to say that you will get a lesser level of service, but that the service will be less involved than would be needed on the other side of the spectrum.
So what does a heater cost?
That's a hard question to answer. You can make it up yourself and take your chances that it will work and spend less than you would on a top of the line metal wood stove, but this approach is more likely to yield trouble than it is happy evenings!
You can also choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive materials and intricate design, heating a 5000 square foot space.
The cost of your stove will depend on the knowledge base of the person you hire to build it, how big it is, and how intricate it is to build.
I need feedback from AMHOP members on this!