Hi Ken - thanks for the post.
I'm fairly lucky in this area - we've got a couple of master masons who live and work around here. Further, there's a number of "pre-fab" heaters available, one of which is the "kit" I bought.
The components are all formed from refactory cement and shipped to the site. Then the home-owner (if s\he's orders of magnitude more competent than I <grin>) can assemble it or hire a mason, which is what I did.
This is not DIY, which is fine by me, and, fully assembled, cost about as much as a forced-air furnace and ducting. Not cheap but it has the advantage of not requiring fossil fuels to fire. Instead, I use about 1.5 bush cords of hardwood for a winter (which, as I type, is about -16c with a light wind from the NW.) The house is 1200 sq ft, open plan, and stays nicely warm with about 1.5 fires a day.
The heater is described as a "contraflow heater" - I have no idea whether this is a common term or not - but 10,000 lbs of masonry make a great radiator! Mine still needs a "decorative facing" (oh well, function over form <grin>) If I hadn't wanted the water coil, there would be no electricity involved at all but the advantage of heating water for the in-floor radiant in the lower level outweighs the cost of power. My electricity budget was designed with this use in mind.
Anyway, in short, I wanted (and got) a heat source that is independent of all grid connections, that will work even "when all about me have lost their's and would like to join me". (Ok, horrible mis-quote, but I couldn't resist.) My heat costs me $300/year, a fact I mention regularly to my neighbours. They still seem to like me....