Wood burner from Mexico saves on hot water in Maine

When Joe and Jeane Lourey moved into their home in Skowhegan, Maine, last January, they decided to trim energy costs every way they could, both for economic reasons and to do their bit toward cutting down on the nationhs imported-oil bill. They had "had it," they said, with electric hot-water heaters ($25 a month for a family of four, according to Department of Energy figures) and looked around for an alternative.

What they found was a simple boiler that has been manufactured in Mexico for the past 45 years. Now, for the cost of a "few sticks of wood" a day, the Loureys have all the hot water they need for bathing and dishwashing. With no washing machine in the home, they do the laundry at a public coin center.

The Loureys admit to giving up some convenience.Nothing is simpler than to have hot water 24 hours a day at the twist of a faucet. But nothing is more wasteful than to hold water at a high temperature for hours on end while it stays unused, they contend. Now they have to wait 13 minutes from "light up" before they can start drawing hot water.For a saving of more than $20 a month over electric-heater costs, however, thats an inconvenience they can readily live with.

The couple considers the boiler to be one of the most inexpensive (prices range from $200 to $250 depending on size), yet effective hot-water heaters available today. For their needs they generally fire the boiler twice a day, early in the morning and again in the evening, "certainly never more than twice."

Steve Bell of Anson, Maine, contends he saves even more money using the Mexican boiler.

"We [his family of six] can get all the hot water we need for just $1 a month in fuel costs," reports Mr. Bell, who says he buys waste wood from a local dowel factory at $1 a bag.

"One bag keeps us supplied for a month," he adds.

Mr. Bell admits, however, that other people may have to pay more than he does for wood and that perhaps $2 or $3 a month is a more "realistic figure." But, he adds, "you can also burn paper and other household wastes in the boiler -- and that makes for verym inexpensive hot water."

It should be noted, however, that Mr. Bell has an ax to grind in this respect. He was so delighted with the way the boiler performd that he was convinced that others would be similarly impressed. So when he discovered that dealerships were being sought, he jumped right in.

"It was an opportunity that was too good to miss," he says.

The boiler is, quite simply, a firebox surrounded by a jacket of water. Because the jacket so completely encircles the fire, virtually all the heat is absorbed by the water, causing it to heat up rapidly. This speed of heating means that the boiler has only to be fired when hot water is needed. "Demand heating" is the term that is used.

The boiler works like the Russian masonry stove and other competing models. But in place of bricks and mortar, water is used to absorb the heat. So if the water is heated and then not used, the boiler will radiate warmth into the surrounding space, much s forced hot water does through the baseboards of a conventional heating system.

While it is not recommended for this use, the Aqua Heater will double as a space heater in an emergency.

Similar to the masonry stove, the Aqua Heater requires a small but fast-burning fire. A rapid fire is most efficient because under these circumstances the most complete burning of the fule takes place, including the combustion of the gases that otherwise contribute to creosote buildup in the chimney.

In other words, virtually all of the Btu (heat) available in a fuel are extracted when it burns rapidly. For this reason, easily burned kindling, tree prunings, and inexpensive waste wood, including dry household waste, is all the boiler requires.

An optional coal-burning grate is soon to become available for the Aqua Heater.

I saw the heater in operation recently at the Common Ground fair in Litchfield, Maine, and watched while a handful, literally, of waste wood brought the 12.6 gallons of water to a usable 100-plus degrees in the prescribed time. The true efficiency of the boiler showed up when I put my hand over the stack immediately above the boiler. It was warm, rather than hot, showing that the bulk of the heat from the fire was being aboserbed by the water.

The water heater was developed in Mexico more than 40 years ago to meet the needs of people lower down on the economic scale, li" ing in areas where electricity and oil deliveries were rare, if not unknown.

Now, in the changing energy situation of 1980, it is finding acceptance in cost-conscious middle-class America as well.

If you want to find out where the boilers are available in your area, write to Aqua Heater, PO Box 815, Clark, Colo. 80428.

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