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New idea or maybe not - heating with compost

 
Perry Mac Donald
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Has anyone taken advantage of manure and compost piles to heat their homes using the same method as a rocket heater . Please forgive me if this practice was already done , I'm relatively new here and don't want to rehash anything . Might someone tell me where to look ? Thank you .
 
Steve Edwards
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Location: Bristol - UK
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Hello Perry,

I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say "using the same method as a rocket heater" but, in general, this isn't a new idea; check out Jean Pain on Wikipedia and Youtube for more.

I haven't yet used this method to heat my house but I am currently using a smallish heap (about 7 cubic meters with 100 meters of burried hose) to heat water for both outdoor use (it's nice to have a hot water supply out in the garden when the weather is cold) and for washing dishes in the house - currently getting about 40 litres of water in the region of 60 degrees Celsius from our heap before we need to let it stand and recharge for a few minutes and this lasts for about 3 weeks before the heap temperature starts to quickly decrease. My somewhat limited practical experience of this system is showing me that there are issues with keeping my heap at optimal temps that are mainly to do with keeping it well aerated and moist.
 
allen lumley
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Steve : I Think perry was wondering if the hot water from a compost pile could be circulated through a Rocket Mass Heaters Thermal Mass warming the
mass and then the house. I believe that while Jean Pain did produce 100% of his energy needs from his system it was by using the Methane produced in a tank
warmed by the heat of the compost pile that produced the heating / cooking requirement !

Perry : As for as I know the direct answer is probably somewhere a thermal mass placed inside the living space of a residence has provided Central heating,
The thermal Mass of a rocket mass heater would be a great candidate for such a project, If I were to attempt it I would want a continuous coil with no breaks or
unions in the entire system as those would be my primary source for leaks ! Hope this helps Big AL !
 
Cindy Mathieu
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Reclaiming the heat from a compost pile has a very small yield for the amount of time and difficulty it takes. You might be able to warm some seedling trays or some chicken eggs for hatching, but nothing like your whole house.

Not recommended.
 
allen lumley
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Perry : Cindy has a good point, for this to work we are not talking about a couple of bushels from a rotating drum, but rather about 'Acre Feet' of wood chip
type compost, well aerated, and kept moist, with probably more additional water than the amount of grey water a family would provide in a day. During
the winter months your compost pile would need to be covered with more insulating mulch to protect your 'working 'mulch, this would help with water
retention but would also hurt the ability to keep the pile aerated.

Still as Steve Edwards pointed out, Jean Pain was successful at making this system work ! Hope this helps ! Big AL
 
Peter Ellis
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the answer is "yes, people have used heat from compost to warm their homes". I don't know what you mean when you say "using the same method as a rocket heater", but can say that these are two entirely different approaches, so I can't imagine what could be "the same" between them.

Is it an effective/efficient method? Depends Are you already making large quantities of hot compost and looking to put all that heat currently being wasted to good use? Then running some pex tubing through your compost pile and into your home might be a worthwhile project. If you're like me and your compost pile never seems to heat up, it isn't a good idea to try to set up something to take advantage of waste heat that you have trouble generating

Definitely has been demonstrated as a viable method (see Jean Pain). Likewise almost certainly not suited to every situation.
 
allen lumley
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Perry McDonald : Some thing that Peter Ellis reminded me of an old farmers trick, of banking the side of the barn and even the farm house with manure up to
the top of the stone foundation/exterior basement walls, and covering that with more used bedding and old planks and brush mostly on the Windward side!

As the Amish are the only new farmers moving into 'The North Country' I have been watching to see if this farmers trick was also common to the Amish, I have
seen it placed on the windward side of out buildings, but not their homes ! With deep enough bedding to cover the manure in a good year the manure was able
to hold enough heat to 'work until spring'. There was probably some heat being transferred through the cellar walls and many cracks sealed, it must be
remembered that segregated parts of the farm cellar would have been used as root cellars and the goal was to keep the cellar close to natural year round
ground temperatures ! Again to get enough mass to generate enough useful heat up here in the North East, you would need multiple truckloads of wood chips
to make and hold that much heat ! It can and has been done ! Big AL !
 
Ty Morrison
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This is a cross-forum link, so I have placed it in two forums.

Jean Pain compost mound heat for hot water loop to hoop house/green house, low tech and very good data:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Compost-Heating-System/?ALLSTEPS
 
Yvonne Jackson
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After reading the clunky english translation of A Different Kind of Gard n penned by Ida Pain, Jean Pain's wife, I am convinced there is something to heating it's compost.

Have since been scouring the net looking for refernc w to Pain. Quite a few, but-- and AlI expect you to your experience has been the same, Perry, I can't seem to find people who are using the Jean Pain method of even a Jean Pain-inspired method to heat a five room house.

They are finding success heating hot water and success warming a green house. There two major differences I notice between Jean Pain's method and these Jean Pain-like projects I've been able to track down. First major difference, Pain is very particular about what goes into his compost pile and how those components are to be cut. in fact he invented his own brush cutter to have a machine to produce the sort of wood chips he found necessary. His chips look more like shredded paper than the wood chips I'm used to seeing. He does not use manure. Just woody material.

The other major difference is that he created monster piles, about 30 feet in diameter and 6 foot or so high. the piles for the projects I'm finding on the net are considerably smaller. that smaller piles should generate less heat is perhaps obvious. less obvious is that content and the cut of the stuff of the pile should make a difference. On that, I defer to Pain, who, as a citizen-scientist, continuously experimented to get the results for which he is now so famous. if his experiments show that these variable matter, I'm gonna accept or that they do matter until equally ardent experimentation shows that they don't matter.

I am very interested to try this myself 2-4 years down the line. My house is similar I. Size to the one Pain mentions and there is a lot of brush on my 19 acres. Yes the set up sounds like a lot of work if you're not using machinery as Pain did. But then he probably ran his machinery off the methane he produce during the composting process. but considering a return of two winters' heating, it sounds worth it to me.

the question I had in all this was more basic.. how was the heat of the pile transferred to the house? Radiant tubing I the floors? Were the water pipes connected to the old style clickedy-clank radiators? just what?

I am convinced that more exploration/experimentation is needed to see just what can be done with Jean Pain home heating. Especially it's compost piles that do contain manure.after all, seems like th compost is where manure belongs.
Both
 
Thomas warren
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Location: Yakima County, E WA
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Will Allen uses compost to heat his hoop houses in the winter, in Wisconsin.
 
Jennifer Walls
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Location: Chattanooga, TN
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I'd like to revive this conversation. I would like to know if it's possible to heat a good size camper with compost. I was actually thinking more along the lines of air, as it seems it would take less energy to heat air than water. However the smell of compost air in my camper may be undesirable. That issue aside, has anyone used this method to heat a camper? Any guidance would be appreciated. I will continue to read through the forums to learn more.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Yes it can take less energy to heat air than water, but then there is less heat in the air to use... Water is a much more compact means of storing and transferring heat. You do have to understand how to contain and move it safely, or you are likely to damage your structure from leaks. I certainly would never want compost air circulating in my living space.
 
chad Christopher
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Yes, but only partial heat. Its effective in passively heated green houses. The only top head reference i know of, are the new alchemy insitutes ark building. And Darrell freys book, the bioshelter market garden. There are many other resources out there. Often used in combined systems, such as passive solar hot water radiant flooring, and or radiators to preheat or suppliment other systems whe they lack the proper needs, ie sunlight. It can be hard to find browns, but i think the compost can be have its benifits, being monies, or your own use. There is also a small proplem with air quality that may or maynot be a factor in a residential building. Most systems are closed loops that heat thermal mass, via fans that carry heated air through pipes. These same pipes can harvest heat from the ceilings. The bioshelter market garden is the only closed air working example i know of. But most certainly needs a mass for storage, air cools and moves too quickly. And to secondly note again, only effective as one part of a multifunction passive heating system, which is why i like the idea of using water. The people at builditsolar.com have some affordable passive water heaters you could intergrate.
 
Annie Hope
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Have a look at this link:
http://mb-soft.com/public3/globalzl.html

It is very wordy, but worth a look. We have planned for a few years to make one, but waiting for the time and money, which hopefully we will have soon. We are going to have a trial with it using an insulated 40 Gallon barrel composter, and having a small water pump and thermostat that turns on when the heat reaches a certain temperature. We already have a "wetback" on our loungeroom fire that is piped into our hotwater cylinder (quite common in New Zealand), so we don't want to store in it enough hot water to have a shower. We will either feed the water into an insulated holding tank of water, and from that will then pump under seedlings and mushrooms as required to keep them at 17-23C.

If it does work to do this, we may make a bigger model, that will also feed water into a radiator system through the rest of house when we install it.

With both systems we could also boast it with passive solar heating.

We are in a temperate New Zealand climate though, and our average min/max temperature in winter is 5C to 11C. We are not trying to heat a house from -20F.
 
Annie Hope
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I should add to the above link that I would be cautious about directly venting heat from the compost heat into a living space. I am also cautious about doing it in a greenhouse. It is meant to be better for the plants, but what about when humans are working in there?
 
chad Christopher
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I currently know someone who is a part of a study of ammonias presence in soil, after years of using greenhouse soil as the thermal mass of a composting heat system. The short answer is; yes they are there, but in levels so low, its like taking a piss in the ocean. The major concern is proper management of the compost, and clean acesss to work it.

Lets put it this way, if you want a substantial amount of heat from compost, accept the fact that about 1/3 or your time, and income stream will be compost related. But hey, everyone needs a day job. Especially in the winter when things are slow. Think restraunts compost bins, coffee places, small groceries. And then sell compost.
 
john mcginnis
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Perry Mac Donald wrote:Has anyone taken advantage of manure and compost piles to heat their homes using the same method as a rocket heater . Please forgive me if this practice was already done , I'm relatively new here and don't want to rehash anything . Might someone tell me where to look ? Thank you .


Something to keep in mnd about Jean Pain. Pain's occupation was a forester responsible for maintenance of large acreages. Clearing undergrowth was part of that duty. As a consequence he had access to tons of compostable material. That he found a way to utilize it favorably is a testament to his ingenuity. But here is the rub -- do YOU have access to the volume of resources he did? I would hazard most don't. Fact the usual refrain is 'where can I get more materials?' If you can't acquire tonnage volumes it might not be advantageous to you to consider Pain's methods.
 
Travis Johnson
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I looked into this a lot and have the perfect situation for doing so; lots of sheep manure, a house that is 100% radiant floor heated, and a silage pad 100 feet from my house. Even for me, it just is not worth doing.

I am not against the concept, it is just that according my calculations it would take about 1 acre of grass and 1 acre of saplings to have enough compost per year to heat an average sized home. Even if you have that, do you have the equipment to put up that much grass and wood chips? How much water do you have? And of course there is the time factor.

Yes I could do compost heat, but it is faster to just go out into the woods and cut firewood outright; more BTU's for a lot less time. It would take me 3 days to produce enough wood to heat my home for a year, and about a week to cut, chip, pile, water and run pex for compost heat to heat my home for the same amount of time. And that is not factoring in a rocket heater which could heat your home and use a lot less wood. As for water, oh my. I live on a hill and my well has a recovery rate of 2 gallons per minute. There is NO WAY I could pump 9000 gallons of water on my compost pile to get it to heat my house for a year. I could have the local fire department haul it in and use it, but that is an added cost.

I calculated in the end that it is doable, but there are more practical ways to accomplish the same task.
 
Janet Reid
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Location: South Australia
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Perry Mac Donald wrote:Has anyone taken advantage of manure and compost piles to heat their homes using the same method as a rocket heater . Please forgive me if this practice was already done , I'm relatively new here and don't want to rehash anything . Might someone tell me where to look ? Thank you .


I heard that UK tomato growers use the compost to heat tomato glasshouses. That isnt a house specifically but it is a set of buildings.
 
Peter Ellis
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Cindy Mathieu wrote:Reclaiming the heat from a compost pile has a very small yield for the amount of time and difficulty it takes. You might be able to warm some seedling trays or some chicken eggs for hatching, but nothing like your whole house.

Not recommended.


Perhaps you could read Jean Pain's book, as I believe he definitively established that it was entirely practical, in his particular circumstances, to heat his entire home with a minimal amount of time or difficulty.  If you don't have access to large volumes of compostable material, it's not a reasonable option, but if you do have the materials for a ten cubic yard compost pile, it's a practical option.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I have a feeling that this is quite doable, and would likely be worthwhile in some locations for specific projects; like mine for instance.  It does take a large volume of material, but that is, of course, what makes this like so many other permacultural based ideas: It is site specific.  In Pain's case, he had the woody waste of an over-mature, heat stressed and thus dying forest system that he was assigned to manage.  He designed a system that would help to remove excess shrubbery (that was taking over the forest under-story as tree seedling regeneration was not taking place) from the forest, compost it, and apply it to the base of the dying mature trees.  This encouraged these older trees to continue to live through the droughts but also gave them the opportunity to sprout and nurse seedlings in their micro climate under-stories; thus encouraging the forest to succeed as a forest instead of transitioning to a scrub land.  In my case, I have a forest that is encroaching on my meadow, some that I may actually encourage to a point, as well as 20+ acres of multi-species forest to utilize.  So it may be doable in my case as well, if I design a management system to maximize rapid growth.  With the right amount of trees growing in my temperate climate.  In a planned rotational coppice system, this could be entirely renewable/regenerative.

It is important to point out that Pain was not just using dry woody waste, but plenty of herbaceous green woody waste as well to get nutrients (especially nitrogen) into the piles. The biggest problem is the chipping of the material into the right size/shape to be most effective for composting. As Yvonne Jackson pointed out earlier in this thread:
His chips look more like shredded paper than the wood chips I'm used to seeing.
Pain specifically designed his machine to optimize the surface area/biological activity on his shredded wood waste.  My own idea, if i was to create this system on my land, would be to optimize the coppice system so that I am only running small/thin material through the standard chipper, thus creating a more fibrous, air rich, high surface area 'chip' without having to manufacture a specialized shredder.  I do not know if that will work yet, but that's my thinking.

Travis.  It seems that you are sort of contradicting yourself in these two following quotes in your post (I added underlining):
I looked into this a lot and have the perfect situation for doing so; lots of sheep manure, a house that is 100% radiant floor heated, and a silage pad 100 feet from my house. Even for me, it just is not worth doing. 
As for water, oh my. I live on a hill and my well has a recovery rate of 2 gallons per minute. There is NO WAY I could pump 9000 gallons of water on my compost pile to get it to heat my house for a year. I could have the local fire department haul it in and use it, but that is an added cost.
  In my way of thinking,  your lack of a good water source for such a system as stated in the second quote proves that you do not have the perfect situation for doing so.  I did not know that your house was on a hill above your potential for gravity feed.  I wouldn't do it in your case either.  You could simply pile your sheep manure/bedding, allow it to age if necessary, and put it on your fields/gardens.  Although this is not as microbially rich as composting, it certainly removes the labor/time factor of composting it with lots of water.  I'm not sure if this will work for you on your site, but if you want compost bad enough, you can make the compost down near creek level, where you have water access without using energy to pump it.

The system is site specific.  In my case, I have gravity feed water to add to the mix, ample forest biomass potential without depletion, and a need for compost. 

While I will have passive solar heat for my house and a RMH, I'm still brainstorming what is the best option for heating the yet to be built large greenhouse.  Since I do want to have a large market garden operation and want to build a lot of compost to boost it's microbial activity, having a massive amount of composted material cycling onto the beds in the future is definitely one of my goals.  It seems that the Jean Pain technique might be a very worthwhile for me to do.     
 
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