Homebuilt Innovation

by Handsome Matt

I love innovation. Absolutely love it. Especially when it’s the iconic, garage built, individual driven, response to an issue kind of innovation. My good friend Anthony Bonacci recently sent me an email and accompanying photos of a home built, wood fired heater.

The Email

What is the real impact?

So as a car and motorcycle fanatic, I have a one car garage that I use as a workshop. It is moderately insulated, but the roof is not. I have been using a propane powered “reddi heater” during the cold months. However this was really not a good solution for me. To get and sustain a comfortable tempurature over a 8 or 10 hour work day, I could burn about 80% of a 30 lb standard grill propane tank. And that is $24 to exchange. Not cheap for one day of work. Not wanting to spend all my money on heat and rather on what I am working on, I started looking for an alternative.

I work as a painter at a very large sign company. I knew I could get almost unlimited scrap wood for free from the dumpsters outside the shipping department. I started looking for a proper bin, and eventually settled on an empty 5 gallon laquer thinner can. I cut a hole in the end,made a door from aluminum, and cut a 4 inch hole in the side. I spent $20 on 6 feet of pipe and a roof cap. I also made a flapper in the pipe to keep as much heat down in the shop as possible while still keeping a draft for the smoke. It is a simple and small woodstove which is all needed for a 1 car garage.

I figure at about $20 savings for a full workday, I will save about $400 over the next 10 weeks. I do realize that woodsmoke is not beneficial for the environment, but bleeding through that much money in propane seemed a little excessive to me. What if I decided the money I saved I would use on some insulation for the roof so further reduce wood consumption (about $80). Replacing every bulb in the house with compact fluorescent light bulbs would also be another way to conserve (around 20 bulbs and $60-$80). Plastic wrapping the windows in the house would also reduce heating costs (no estimates on savings). Wouldn’t all these benefits, and I’m sure there could be more, be worth a little woodsmoke?

What do you think?

Anthony Bonacci

My Response

As I said above, I love home built innovations. This is a great example of looking at a problem and coming up with a solution that worked.

The reuse of materials is great! All of that, from the lacquer can to the scrap wood saves space in landfills, and uses less energy than recycling them.

Yes the smoke caused by burning wood is an issue, but if the stove burns efficiently, which I think it does looking at the photos below; then the pollution isn’t a great issue. And as you stated can be offset by CFLs, insulating the garage, and wrapping the windows to stop heat loss.

Even beyond that, if you really worry about pollution from burning wood, plant a tree or two each year. Some organizations can do this for as little as five dollars a tree.  If it comes to that.

The Stance

Bottom line is this. Refining propane from oil is a costly endeavor, environmentally speaking. Burning scrap wood in a homemade heater is less so. It stops the wood from going into a landfill, and the minimal pollution emitted can be easily offset. Furthermore, the costs that are being saved every week means more money in your pocket.

Am I advocating a return to wood stoves for everyone? Not at all. But for some areas they could be quite useful, and even dare I say, environmentally friendly!