"Rocket Mass Heaters are site-built, often owner-built, masonry heaters. Each project has unique elements, like the height of the chimney or the available floor space, that may affect the design.
Most rocket mass heaters share common features, like the shape of the firebox, and the general methods for operation and maintenance.
This manual includes sample drawings, fill-in-the-blank areas for site-specific details, operation and maintenance logs, and standard instructions for how to light, clean, and maintain the heater. There is also a troubleshooting section that addresses problems that may come up due to design, maintenance, or operational oversights.
The total length is about 20 pages (updates may be substituted at the authors' discretion).
Ernie and Erica private clients generally receive a complimentary copy of this manual during a paid consultation or site assessment."
This Manual is only the fill-in-the-blanks owners' manual, not the full Rocket Mass Heater Builders' Guide. That 400-page book is under license agreement with our publishers, and we can't resell it digitally independently.
However, there are a few pieces of this project that we wanted to make more easily available to those who don't want or need the whole book.
When we wrote the contract with the publishers, we reserved the right to continue selling previously published documents, including this brief Owner Manual.
The most up-to-date version we had self-published at that point was Chapter 4 of the draft, a very similar manual is now Chapter 5 of the published Builders' Guide.
We felt it was important to encourage the good practice of builders providing as-built drawings and operators' instructions to their clients, and to make it easier for DIY builders to document their work in case they ever needed to share the details with kids, guests, or new owners.
An Owners' Manual shows that your heater is not just a haphazard jerry-rigged contraption, it has known best practices and a conscientious manufacturer and installer.
So this is like a little workbook section, which you can purchase very affordably compared to the other books and videos out there.
Regardless of whether you use the Builders' Guide, videos, workshops, or some other resource to build your heater, we hope this fill-in-the-blanks manual will be a good resource to help you document the project.
If you don't wish to purchase a downloadable PDF for this purpose, we recommend the following documentation:
- Floor plan and detail drawings, including diagrams showing cleanouts, firebox shape, and any special features such as heat shielding. Draw to scale if you are able, using graph paper or other drafting tools; or you can take a photo or pencil sketch and draw/write in the important dimensions (with arrows).
- Photos of the project showing stages: foundations, insulation, firebox coursework, heating channels, layers of masonry and finishes, cleanout cap locations, chimney/attic installation
- Materials sources in case of repair/replacement: take photos or save labels/receipts from things like color tints, local stone or clay suppliers, refractory brick and insulation. Even with site-sourced materials, you may want to keep a small bin of color-matching plaster samples for chip repairs, and note where these are saved (usually in a closet or garage along with other household paints and trim pieces, labeled).
- Operating instructions (we include a printable pocket card with standard lighting instructions that you could place near the heater for guests or house-sitters). Some stoves have special instructions, such as how to load local fuels like coal, buffalo chips, and pellets; air controls or safety doors; chimney dampers or bypass controls; etc.
- Maintenance instructions and log. How, when, and where do you remove ash? What is the best way to inspect the chimney? Some owners may also note goals for firewood harvesting, cleaning/inspection before first lighting in fall, etc.
- Fuel usage log - Just as you might track mileage on a vehicle to have a baseline performance and detect problems early, you may wish to log your fuel usage and stove performance over the first full heating season. Some owners will continue this habit regularly, others will let it go unless they have reason to be curious or question the later performance (especially during unusual weather).
- Tricks and Tips: Sometimes efficient mass-accumulation heaters are too efficient for their own good, and may have quirks like not wanting to light on warm afternoons or during certain kinds of wind events. Documenting your own personal tips and tricks for operating the stove, and especially for lighting it safely from a cold start, can be very helpful in case you have to go away for a while. Or if you have repeatedly observed the same problem, e.g. the stove gets plugged up after someone burns a load of old office paper, note these types of problems and the easiest way to fix them.
Making your heater a good "baby book" is worth every minute you spend on it, as it can save you and future residents many hours and days of frustration later on. It makes all the difference to your project having a long and useful service life.
Builders or owners who created a digital "baby book" or owner manual using these suggestions, it would be awesome if you could share examples or links in this thread!