The latest in rocket mass heaters: Permaculture pundit Paul Wheaton on sustainable heating

rocket mass heater diagram
© Paul Wheaton

The so-called 'bad boy of permaculture' advocates for rocket mass heaters as the most sustainable and cleanest method of heating our homes.

Unless your home is a well-designed passive solar house with a highly-efficient insulated envelope, keeping our homes warm all winter can be a big expense, and one that comes with a hefty environmental cost, depending on the source of the energy used to heat it. Burning wood might not seem so clean or sustainable, but according to Paul Wheaton, of RichSoil, building and using rocket mass heaters, which burn a fraction of the fuel of a wood stove, is the cleanest and most sustainable means for heating conventional homes.

By pairing a rocket stove, which burns hot and very efficiently with smaller diameter fuel than a conventional wood stove, with a large amount of thermal mass, a rocket mass heater can effectively heat a home with 80% to 90% less wood than traditional wood stoves can, and continue to radiate heat from a single fire for a day or more. In addition to being an efficient heat source, rocket mass heaters are also clean burning, due to the design, which "reburns" the smoke in an insulated combustion chamber, yielding an exhaust of mostly steam and CO2, with little to no smoke exiting the system.

A lot of experimentation has taken place using different configurations of rocket mass heaters, from portable versions to ones made from wood, and one of the people leading this heating revolution is Paul Wheaton, who has been testing out four variations at his place in Montana. At this year's Permaculture Voices conference, Paul breaks down the latest on what's been working and what hasn't with his rocket mass heaters.

Wheaton has a lot of other info on rocket mass heaters, including plans and videos, at RichSoil, and there is a strong rocket stove and rocket mass heater forum community at, with plenty of hands-on experience and feedback for aspiring builders.

If you like this video, and want a way to regularly get more in-depth permaculture information, Diego, at Permaculture Voices, has excellent original interviews and discussions on his podcast.

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