Positioning our Esse Ironheart woodstove

Esse Ironheart woodstove sited on a tiled surround

I’ve been meaning to do a post about how we decided to position our Esse Ironheart woodstove, but have been reminded by a new reader who is about to purchase an Ironheart and is curious about how best to site the stove in her home. Welcome Catriona and thanks for prompting me to get to a post that’s been brewing for a long time!

We found the Ironheart by chance and are we ever grateful for that bit of serendipity in our lives. When we decided to purchase our patch of land and embrace the need to build a new home on it (as the land came without any significant buildings on it), it didn’t take us too long to decide to build a concrete or ICF home (insulated concrete forms). But we didn’t know much more than that and simply started reading whatever we could on sustainable energy options for homes and on modern house design.

An article in a green homes magazine showcased a home with an Esse Ironheart integrated into its kitchen. My husband was immediately smitten and started researching the Ironheart in earnest. Everything we read told us that this would be a smart investment: a heating source that made use of renewable fuel (trees) and burned as cleanly and efficiently as any woodstove ever had. It was a bonus that we could plan to cook and bake on it, but those additional features seemed quite abstract at the time.

Armed only with the theory of the Ironheart, we proceeded to design a home that positioned the Ironheart very centrally in the main living space, but still made use of a natural gas furnace and an electrical range in the kitchen.

Great room of an ICF bungalow with Ironheart woodstove

We moved into our home in the late fall of 2010, and that first winter we were blown away by how incredibly well the Ironheart performed and how amazing an ICF home was at retaining that heat. In summary, we’ve learned:

1. The Ironheart is indeed as good as it gets; the heat it puts out is incredible, the options for controlling that heat are amazing, and you can see it igniting the wood gas and burning everything inside the box. It truly is a deeply efficient woodstove.

2. Combining the Ironheart with a home made out of concrete has been a double whammy: we can easily achieve tropical beach temperatures in our main living area (ie 27 degrees celsius and upwards, or high eighties and upwards for you fahrenheit folks) if we don’t regulate the size of fire and rate of burn. Additionally, our concrete house holds onto that heat incredibly well: on a typical cold winter’s evening (remember, we are in eastern Ontario in Canada and it can go down to minus 30 degrees celsius) we would wind down the Ironheart’s output in the early evening (ie the woostove started cooling down then). In the morning, the main living area of the house would still be holding steady at between 18 and 20 degrees celsius (again, very comfortable sleeping/living temperatures) in spite of the cold outside.

3. We only need about four good-sized logs to heat our home on a typical winter’s day; you can read more about our wood consumption here.

4. The Ironheart gets to cooking and baking strength very quickly: on a cold winter’s morning, we could be frying eggs on top within 15 minutes of lighting the fire and baking in it after about an hour.

5. Smokin’ hot the Ironheart is (I sound like Yoda!): standing in front of the Ironheart’s woodbox, stirring a pot on top of the stove one morning, my husband called out to me that my denim skirt was smoking. I’d forgotten to pull the hanging screen across to create a shield between me and the woodstove, and I very nearly regretted that oversight!

6. We could have gone without the natural gas furnace that we installed at the time of construction; we heated our home nearly 100% from the Ironheart this past winter, and realize we could do it completely, even without making any further changes to our woodstove infrastructure. It’s a bit frustrating realizing this, but on the other hand we know the traditional furnace will still make our home more sale-able should we decide to move in the shorter term (no plans to do so however!).

Double doors leading out from great room to front hall with stairs to lower level

Some key things to tell you about our home’s layout

1. Our ICF home is a bungalow with a walkout basement. Its north side is nestled in the side of a hill, making the front of the house appear very small; it’s the south-facing side that is full of windows on both levels to make the most of passive solar gain.

2. We designed the main floor with the following things in mind:
i) We wanted one large main living area that could be easily closed off from the rest of the house should we ever need to heat it exlusively using the woodstove for an extended period of time in extremely cold weather. With that in mind, our ‘great room’ includes the kitchen, dining area and living room. It has four exits: a single door to our mudroom (seen next to the kitchen in one of the images above), a door out to our screened in porch (next to the woodstove itself), a single door to our bedrooms in the hall beyond the great room, and double doors leading to our front hall/entry and to an open set of stairs down to our lower level.
ii) Cool bedrooms are completely desirable to us, so having them outside of the main area being heated works well.
iii) We deliberately made the design of the house very open in the front hall, where stairs lead to our lower level, as we liked the open feel and design features it made possible (including a reading bench and bookshelves on the landing of the stairs), and hoped it would help with air circulation in the house (it does, but not enough).

Some particulars about our woodstove’s installation and positioning

1. The tiled area underneath the Ironheart is wonderful and is exactly the size it needs to be; I’m grateful to our builder for his knowledge and attention to detail in this.

2. The position of the Ironheart within the room it occupies is perfect and I wouldn’t move it an inch; I love how handy it is to the kitchen and the dining table, it’s a perfect focal point from every spot in the room, and it’s just right where it is. I would never consider placing an Ironheart physically in the middle of a room (ie rather than on the perimeter), as it wasn’t really designed for that kind of installation and it just gets so damn hot. It just feels right being along a wall.

3. Our woodstove is positioned the recommended distance (for Canadian woodstove standards – about 14 inches) from the wall behind it and had no special treatment (ie no heatproofing, no tiling). We have noticed that the painted wall behind the stove becomes incredibly hot when the Ironheart is at full strength, and so we are planning to install some kind of heatproof layer to the wall before our next heating season. It’s incredible to know that some UK homeowners have the Ironheart positioned flush to neighbouring cabinets and counters in their kitchens; that doesn’t seem safe somehow!

Things we wish we’d done differently and which we are addressing

1. We should have ordered the woodburning insert for the firebox. Our model came with the standard coal burning insert that is commonly used in the UK (where this stove is designed and made), and we are still using it that way (we are awaiting a wood insert, but the Esse Ironheart rep has not been very communicative – that’s another story).

2. We should have got more involved to ensure that our model would come with hob lids; we left the order in our builder’s hands and unfortunately the stove came without the lids. Those lids, when we get them, will undoubtedly help with controlling heat output (which is particularly important for us being in our way-too-easy-to-heat concrete house).

3. We can’t get a whole lot of heat from the Ironheart – amazing as it is – down to the lower level of our walkout bungalow. We’re seriously looking at installing the optional hot water add-on (with two radiators) in order to better distribute heat from our woodstove to our lowel level. That is a whole other post, and I will address it very soon.

Upcoming posts on the Ironheart will include:
– more specifics on the amount of wood we burned each day during our heating season, the tools we’ve come to rely on and maintenance of the woodstove

– our plans for installing the optional hot water system with radiators and how we might have designed elements of our home differently had we had firsthand experience of the Ironheart

plans for cooking during the hot weather months (trust me, these do not include the Ironheart!)

NOTE: My husband would like it placed on record that he cleans the window of the Ironheart before every new fire, which is why the window to the firebox in these shots looks so grimy.

28 thoughts on “Positioning our Esse Ironheart woodstove

  1. This is a terrific post. I didn’t realize that you built an insulated concrete forms home. This is something that we have long wanted to do. The open feeling of your main room is so welcoming. I also likethe peak of the red bench that you bought a few weeks ago…it looks terrific there.

    1. Thanks Libby. It was very weird planning to build a new home at first as the youngest house we had ever lived in was about 70 years old, and the oldest more like 130. We wanted to create the feeling of a one-room cabin in the main area (but with much more sunlight!) and I must admit I love it every single day. It’s made the transition to a new home so much easier than I thought it would be. The energy savings with ICF is very nice, but the quiet of a concrete house is also something pretty neat. Highly recommend it!

      1. It’s a beautiful house, and your main room floor plan exactly mirrors ours. Someday, we’d love to hear more about your unique home, and the story behind building it…

  2. I have the Ironheart and I love it. Mine came with lids, they look pretty but I tend to leave them open whenever the stove is in use so I wouldn’t really miss them. The hotplate will easily glow red with them closed and they are starting to discolour slightly. Occasionally I’ll close them to direct more heat into the oven if I’m baking and I’ve let the fire run down a bit too much.

    I think it is an amazing stove for a small or well-insulated house, where it can easily heat the whole house as well as provide hot water and great cooking.

    I have a small mudbrick cottage with an open-plan kitchen and lounge, and the Ironheart sits on the threshold between the two. Conveniently, the hotter left side is exposed (it is next to the door) and radiates towards my lounge, and the right side borders the kitchen bench. This setup couldn’t be more perfect.

    I have an 8″ gap between the back of the stove and the wall; the wall doesn’t get very hot at all, but I don’t really have the thing roaring most of the time (a steady burn is ample). It may be that the wood burning ashbox tames it a bit, and I also have a back boiler on mine which might further reduce the heat radiated from the rear.

    In the summer a solar collector heats my water and I don’t cook so much (the barbecue or a small gas stove suffices) so the stove isn’t used at all, but during the winter it is my only source of heating, cooking and hot water and so it really gets a workout.

    If the house has been stone cold (ie unattended) for a few days in winter it will take a day or so to really warm up, but once the chill has gone the Ironheart is the perfect size to keep the place toasty warm through the coldest nights.

    I’m so happy I found this stove, with its unique combination of space heating, cooking and hot water production – it has really made my house work for me, and I heartily recommend it for others in a similar situation.

    1. I’m sorry it has taken me a while to respond to this lovely long comment. I loved reading about your experience with and shared enthusiasm for the Ironheart, and some of your experience helps to inform ours a little more. We’ve just got our wood burning insert installed for this heating season, and my husband has noticed a huge difference already (and we already felt the Ironheart was burning very, very efficiently before that!). Having our hob lids is really helping for us too, as our home is concrete and can heat up very quickly if the Ironheart goes unchecked. Controlling heat overall feels much more in our grasp now.

      I’d love to hear more about the solar collector that you chose for your hot water; we’d like to look at that too.

      Your home sounds like a great fit for the Ironheart; perfect layout. Enjoy your toasty evenings!

      1. The solar collector was installed by the previous owner, but there isn’t much to it. I think the key to a simple, reliable setup is to have a gravity system, so the HW tank sits in the attic and both the heat sources are below it, meaning no complicated pumps or exchangers – the hot water rises into the top of the tank and draws cool water from the bottom. My tank has an electric element but where I am there is so much ‘overlap’ between the two heat sources in autumn and spring that I almost never use it.

        One more comment about the Ironheart to those considering one – don’t be tempted by the idea of buying the bottom drawer for storage of pans. I agonised over it before deciding against, but the reality is that any woodstove generates a bit of ash and dirt and bark fragments on the floor from loading and emptying, and has associated tools like a dustpan and brush, poker, tongs, gloves etc, which all need to be kept somewhere. The space under the standard legs is perfect for this sort of stuff, and it also gives you a spot to kick crumbs to until you can get around to sweeping up.

  3. Hi:
    We’re thinking about the Ironheart stove for our future home. Can you tell me where you can buy them? We live in Ontario.

    1. Hi Paula and thanks for stopping by. You can contact Esse North America through their rep Tony Pitt at essena@telus.net. Please feel free to let us know if you have other questions and good luck! Would love to know about what kind of home you plan to build.

  4. So hard to find an indoor water boiler, we’ve been trying to heat our infloor radiant heat with wood for 10 yrs!! and just this year we decided on a cookstove as our most practical solution. We looked at the Ontario Amish made ones. The price may be right but, the quality is just not there, though they do offer the water jackets and coils. So…we are now looking at the ESSE Ironheart. Too bad, I’d rather shop closer to home!
    I wanted to sincerely thank you for your webpage – it’s been a big help to me. I’m e-mailing Tony today, and I’ll be sure to include the extended wood box in our quote.
    Did you have a long wait for your stove?

    1. I’m so glad to know that the information on my blog has been helpful for you in deciding on the Esse Ironheart. I sincerely believe you will NOT be disappointed! We truly feel it was the single best decision we made for our home. The extended wood box has been a fantastic addition too. I’m not entirely certain of how long the wait was for Ironheart, as our builder handled the order once we confirmed it, but when we had to order parts recently they only took at most a couple of weeks. It sounds to me as though they regularly have containers coming over from the UK, so I would hope the wait wouldn’t be too long.

  5. Dear Wuppenif – Thanks very much for all that useful information. Would you be able to tell me which bits of the Ironheart are cast iron and which bits steel sheet please? I know the doors and hotplate are cast, but are the front panel, the sides and the back? And the underside? Can you tell how thick the steel is if steel? Thanks! Roc

    1. Thank you so much for getting in touch – welcome! Gosh, it took four very strong men to bring ours inside. Our home was being built at the time, so our builder handled this. I would definitely say that you need to hire some muscle to get it inside safely. It weighs about 800 pounds if I remember correctly. Good luck! I`d love to hear how you get on with it.

      1. With mine, I screwed casters to the wooden pallet (I had the luxury of a tractor with forks to lift it, but you could jack up one end at a time) and wheeled it into position. The ground was uneven so I laid boards and got a couple of neighbours to help manoevre it, but they didn’t need to do any lifting. Once it was in position I used some blocks and planks and a jack to raise the stove off the pallet so I could slide the pallet out and lower the stove to the ground – I did all that by myself. It was very satisfying when it was all done!

      2. I think this is very impressive. We`ve certainly undertaken similar manoeuvers with some very heavy items, like the egg-style grill that we bought this past summer for outdoor usage, and an extremely awkward, ancient tube tv that we found on the side of the road, but never anything quite so heavy as the Ironheart. Interesting advice if those options are open to them!

      3. Very impressed that you managed it on your own. Our neighbour has a Manitou so we can lift the pallet and put castors. But I am a bit worried that they will sink into the ground as we need to go down a grassy incline from our drive. And then there is the problem of going up a step to the terrace. And then a step down into the dining room.

        We will try it tomorrow, fingers crossed! Will let you know how it goes 🙂

      4. We got our stove in using muscle power and the old land rover. With the stove on a low trailer we reversed the landy down the incline, around the corner of the house and up to the terrace. We removed all doors and metal grates to lighten the load. After lowering the trailer ramp, two guys (incl my husband) pulled the pallet down while two other guys supported the stove in case it slipped too fast. Once down on the ground they wrapped straps around each leg and lifted it off the pallet. Wooden boards were laid on the floor to protect the tiles and the stove then shifted meter or two at a time until it was in place.

      5. Fantastic! You must be thrilled to have it in. The last part of the process you describe sounds very like what we went through here, and four men sounds about right. Enjoy and do let us know how you get on with it!

  6. Can you grab an accurate dimension from the floor to the top of you stoves flue box? the specs online for an ironheart say the cook surface is 900mm high but can’t tell if that includes the flue box connector.


      1. thank you so much! I couldn’t even get a straight answer from the folks selling it to me. now I can order my pipe in advance of delivery. thanks again. love the living room layout.

      2. I’m so glad that I could help! I just want to reclarify: our cooking surface is indeed at about 900mm, and top of flue box is roughly 980. Good luck with everything – would love to see a shot of your set up when your done!

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