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12 January, 2011

You Searched "Heatilator"

For some reason, it took me a long time to realize that a blogger can find out how many pageviews there are, which sites are funneling innocent netizens this way, and so on. The saddest thing was learning that almost nobody is arriving on a Mac. After a month or two of this, the thing I find interesting is that people searching for information on their heatilator end up here.

I said something before about why this might be, and after an exhaustive data collection process (I get exhausted easily, and get exasperated with ads, sooo. . .OK, there's no data) came to the conclusion that heatilators are neither antique nor cutting edge enough to be of internet interest.

So, here's what you need to know about heatilators. First, if it is some kind of insert that goes in your fireplace, something that has a fan, this is not the blog for you. I am a hardcore traditionalist heatilator devotee. Don't know about the electric kind, and don't care to learn. The beauty of the heatilator is the fact that it works without a motor, it's passive and green, it uses no electricity.

The heatilator works on a very basic principle: hot air rises. Typically, the heatilator consists of an airspace surrounding the firebox. You build the fire in there, and the heavy metal walls keep the fire from spreading, but conduct heat into the airspace. There are vents at the top and bottom. So in the photo above, the area behind all those openings is full of heated air. Cool air from the room moves in through the bottom, is heated, and comes out the top to warm the room. Convection.

Different styles exist, and I guess some work better than others. What they have in common is that there are made of brick or stone, and there's not much you can do to change them. The openings are where they are, the airspace is what it is. Each has its peculiarities. Like in this one, the five vents across the top center rarely have much air coming out of them. There is about twice as much area in the top openings as in the bottom. More on the fix later.

One thing you should check is whether the convection airspace is airtight. I looked back and saw a few gaps. If you can reach back and insert non-flammable insulation or mortar into any gaps, you keep hot air from escaping, increasing efficiency. Just remember that whatever you drop back there is going to be difficult or impossible to retrieve. Oh, and don't try this fix while a fire is burning.

Air flow is important. If you put things in front of any of the vents, the system stops working. Convection is gentle, and won't blow past things. Use this knowledge to keep your partner from putting "decor" on the hearth. Tell them a scientist said it is very, very bad.

So back to the five holes in the pictured heatilator. When procrastination gets boring, I will probably plug them up, either as part of a mantle, or maybe just mortaring in some bricks. Bernoulli or Venturi or one of those Italian fluid dynamics geniuses figured out that if you restrict the size of an outflow, velocity increases. So if I cut the total area of the upper vent array, the air coming out should be moving faster. I'll let you know how that goes...

Another thing that makes the heatilator work better is having a long-running fire. If you are starting with a cold house and start a fire, it takes a while for the heatilator to really get pumping. You've got to warm the firebox and the convection air space to get it moving at all. The longer the fire burns, the more you heat up the masonry around the fireplace, and the better the heatilator works.

Not just that, but heating up the ton of masonry stores heat that will radiate for hours after the fire dies down. If you are trying to heat your house with the fire, you are way better off with a long, steady fire than with building a roaring fire, letting it die, and repeating the process. The direct heat from the flame is a passing thing, while the convection from the heatilator and radiation from the heated masonry keep working.

What else?

Queries that landed people here include concerns about having a TV mounted above a heatilator. The best solution is to kill your TV. Watch the fire. It's more interesting and has no commercials. Or, hang a thermometer where the TV will go. I doubt the heatilator is pumping out so much heat that it would damage anything, but if you are going to stress out about it, just put the TV somewhere else.

Oh, and the heatilator can be used to make your room smell nice. Get a scented candle and put it in a glass holder big anough to contain ALL the wax. Place it in one of the upper vents, and the heat will melt the whole thing, slowly vaporizing it and sending the scent into the room.

Is there more?

Umm. Maybe not. It's pretty simple. Stop wasting time on the internet and build a fire.

1 comment:

  1. What I want to know is how much heat the TV will release to keep the room cozy, after it's caught all that perfectly good warmth the heatilator was going to put out ...