A Strange Mix of Old and New: Homebrew Hydronic Heating With Wood

CC BY 2.0. What's that stuff doing where the fireplace should be? Lloyd Alter

It's strange, walking into the living room of Cacilia's B&B; on Haida Gwaii, the islands formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands. Usually the focus of a room is a big fireplace; here, the center of attention is a very strange conglomeration of plumbing and an old wood stove. It seems like an odd thing to do, but it's certainly intriguing for a building geek like me.

Haida Gwaii is a logging community; the islands are covered with dramatic first growth cedars and spruce and miles of second growth. Most people burn wood for heat; there are really few alternatives, the electricity is supplied mostly from diesel generators and there's not a lot of sun in winter.


Old stove with new coil and pipes/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0Former owner Cacilia Honisch took an unusual approach to heating; holes were drilled in the side of a wood stove and a coil of copper was set in the top of the stove. This water flowed into a storage tank beside the stove;

circulationg pump

Circulating pump and tank/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

A standard circulating pump moves the water through the system;


Manifold for distributing to floor/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is then fed through this home-made manifold and distributed through PEX tubing into a radiant floor. It's retrofitted to the underside of the wood floor structure by drilling through the joists.

whole system

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It's odd, letting it all hang out in the living room like this, and the new owners Kathie and Phred have not fired it up yet so they cannot report on how effective it is. However it is a wonderful home-brew of old and new tech and a great conversation centerpiece.