Build Your Own Outdoor Wood Furnace

The notion to build your own outdoor wood furnace is a romantic one. The image of a backyard furnace (perhaps set in a rustic shed) providing hot water for heating, bathing and other household needs is compelling. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

Build Your Own Outdoor Wood Furnace: Some Considerations

An outdoor wood furnace system has several major parts. The boiler (which consists of a water-jacked firebox and insulated container) is where wood is burned to heat water. An external shed protects the boiler from the elements. A water tank, pump and underground pipes store hot water and move it to your home. Various adapters (heat exchanger, water heater adapter, etc.) allow the hot water to be used to heat your home and provide domestic hot water. All of these elements must be constructed to operate safely and in harmony with each other. Here are some of the details:

  • Do your homework. The installation of an outdoor wood furnace requires plenty of space to allow for the heavy smoke generated by these devices. Many municipalities have very strict rules regulating the placement and installation of outdoor wood furnace. In fact, several states have outright bans on their use. Be sure to check local building codes and permitting requirements before you start shopping for an outdoor wood furnace.
  • Buy or build. Unless you have welding skills and access to heavy sheets of metal, building a firebox for your outdoor furnace is a complicated, if not impossible, task. Most homeowners will end up purchasing a commercial outdoor wood furnace installation, spending between $3,000 and $15,000.
  • The back forty. Outdoor wood fireplaces are typically placed at a distance from your home and cold and heated water are pumped back and forth via underground pipes. These pipes will need to be located 18" to 36" below the freeze line of the soil in your area, depending on local building codes. Be prepared to locate all existing underground utilities and to hire a contractor or rent a backhoe to handle the extensive excavation required.
  • Hook up. Once the heated water arrives at your home, it must be adapted to your existing infrastructure. Plumbing experience and some HVAC knowledge will be helpful when installing the various components needed to use the hot water for heating or domestic use.
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