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What is a Wood Burning Water Heater?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 16, 2024
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A wood burning water heater is a unit that heats water using wood as an energy source instead of electricity or natural gas. It may also be adapted to use coal, kerosene or oil as alternative source of fuel. Proponents claim that this type of water heater is much more energy efficient, because traditional water heaters use approximately 25-50% of a home's energy usage. Wood burning water heaters are more energy efficient because they work on an "on demand" basis, heating smaller amounts of water only when needed, as opposed to a regular water heater that maintains a larger amount of water at a consistently higher temperature.

Rising hot water within the unit circulates the water by creating a pump action, eliminating the need for a separate circulating pump. Because a wood fire produces dangerous fumes, the water heater requires a flue stack that vents to the exterior of the house. There are units available designed for either the interior or exterior of the home. Units for the interior of a house may also function as a heat source.

A wood burning water heater is usually comprised of a fire-chamber, or firebox, an ash chamber and the water tank. The fire-chamber is lined with fireproof material such as bricks, then is surrounded by stainless steel. This allows most of the surface of the water heater to become a heat transferring surface, heating the surrounding air.

Most heaters are easily introduced into a home using the existing plumbing, with minor alterations. A typical wood burning water heater designed for household use has a tank capacity of 14 gallons (53 liters). Although this seems small, it can meet the demands of a normal household. It takes approximately 45 minutes to heat 14 gallons of water from 52°F (11°C) to 152°F (67°C).

While many people will not see the need to convert from electric or gas powered water heaters, many who want to be more energy "independent" will see the benefits of using wood. Others choose to add this type of water heater to their home as a back-up source of hot water if their primary source of energy fails.

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Discussion Comments

By KaBoom — On Apr 28, 2012

Yeah, I just can't get down with using fire to power something in my home. This is the 21st century, for goodness sakes! Electricity all the way for me. Plus, I don't want to go through the trouble of replacing my old hot water heater.

You don't really have to change the existing infrastructure, true, but you still have to buy the new wood burning water heater! Not to mention have it installed. I know I certainly don't have the skills to install my own hot water heater!

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 27, 2012

@ceilingcat - I've done a bit of reading, and wood burning stove water heaters are perfectly safe. As long as you clean and maintain them properly, your house won't catch on fire and you should be fine.

I think wood burning water heaters are especially great idea because you don't have to change your system around much to put one in your house. A lot of environmentally friendly, self-sufficient home remodeling costs a lot of money (I think solar panels are pretty expensive.) Most people can't afford that, so it's cool there's something you can do that won't cost an arm and a leg.

By ceilingcat — On Apr 26, 2012

I've been looking for ways to make my future home a little more self-sufficient, so I think I might look into wood burning hot water heaters a little bit more. They seem like a great idea, but I do think there are a few drawbacks.

Obviously, you need to have wood available to use for the water heater. And I guess you need to add wood to the water heater periodically, too. Also, I think it kind of sounds like a fire hazard. I know the flue is supposed to stop this from happening, but what if the flue gets clogged or something?

By anon132829 — On Dec 08, 2010

I'm with the farmer on that. Could i make one to replace the water heater I'm using now?

By anon22400 — On Dec 03, 2008

I'm also looking for a wood burning water heater. Might be designing and building one soon. farmernevin

By debbiemt07 — On Jul 05, 2008

Where do I buy a woodburning hot water heater? How much are they?

By cheyannewest — On Feb 19, 2008

where do i buy a woodburning hotwater heater new or used in san bernardino...

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