Just one heater
An entire house kept warm by just one heater! – Interview
It has to be possible, thought Fetze Tigchelaar, to keep a whole house warm with only one heater. Can’t be done! said the serviceman. What do you mean – can’t be done? This Reduzum resident has managed to prove the contrary. With a Swiss brochure as his guide he built his first Fin-oven in 1981, a wood-fired ceramic tile stove which warms an entire house with a gentle, evenly radiated warmth. He built another one and another, and little by little it became his occupation.
In 1996 the brick Fin-oven gained a companion in the form of a portable tile-oven known as the Tigchel-oven.
Fetze Tigchelaar throws a piece of wood on the cheerful flickering flames and with a satisfied look on his face closes the little glass door of the white-washed Fin-oven. It’s an eye-catcher, splendid and robust in form yet graceful in outline. So! One hour’s solid stoking up and the temperature in the living in the Haedstrjitte in Reduzum is comfortable right until the following morning. Straightaway he launches into an elaborate discourse on the pollution of steel wood stoves, how people use the ‘ordinary’ open fire as a status symbol, the tons of tree prunings which the local government council aimlessly snips away every year but which could keep at least two hundred houses warm. Isolated stationary air that heats much more comfortable than circulating hot air in convectors, savings in heating costs, CO2 emissions, the greenhouse effect and care of the environment are all on his list. And naturally he feels compelled to ‘educate’ about the principle and the efficiency of the tiled stove.
The tile stove originated in Finland, hence the name Fin-oven. The first stone stoves were being bricked together more then a thousand years ago. They are still being built according to the same age-old principle though these days the stoking chamber is made from high-quality fireproof concrete and air is injected in causing the flames to start dancing. The heat is driven efficiently round the firebox and this enables approximately 90% of the energy to be stored in the stone mass before the residue escapes into the outside air. The latest developments in thermodynamics have meant that the performance just keeps getting better.
Only one disadvantage accompanies the Fin-oven and that is that the masonry work takes a whole week and is a very messy business. This drove Fetze Tigchelaar to design a stove which is both easy to install as well as easy to shift. This is how the stove with movable prefab components known as the tigchel-oven came into being.
It is a success story as the Tigchel-ovens have meanwhile come to represent half of the turnover. The Tigchel-oven is based on the same principle as the Fin-oven but is put together with simple dry stackable prefab elements: tigchels (tiles). “These tiles are smooth and rounded and their thickness allows a great deal of heat to be retained in them. Putting them on top of floor covering or a wooden floor presents no problems. Installation involves one hour of fitting together, then plugging it in and lighting it.”
Fetze Tigchelaar’s passion for the tile stove came into being when he was still very young. The four sons in the farming household in Reduzum were each assigned a task on the farm. It was Fetze’s job to gather up all the rubbish such as paper, string and cardboard, and to burn it once a week in a little corner of the yard. ‘The youngest boy got the best job for is there anything a boy likes more than to light fires?’ He began experimenting and burnt the rubbish in old stoves. He even tried to melt lead, aluminium and glass at high temperatures. The teacher at his Junior Tech approved of the hobby and suggested that he make fireproof pots. And that is what he started doing, together with a friend. ‘At the brickwork we bought bags of fire clay. Expensive it was too! It cleaned out the piggy bank. The first pots were failures but we muddled on and bit by bit we managed to achieve what we had set out to do.’
The hobby had to take backseat for a while, partly due to his work as a carpenter, but then he and his wife bought a house and he started to dream of a central single stove, which could heat an entire home by itself. The serviceman responded with ridicule but a friend who often went skiing in Switzerland didn’t think it was such a strange idea. He brought back a brochure and Fetze used it as a guide to build his first tile stove in 1985. ‘My former boss – I had started my own handy-man business by this time – shook his head in disbelief: ” Eighteen bends! That will never burn.” The first match was blown out straightaway so there had to be a supply of air. I knew right then that this was the product for me. These stoves are what I want to make for the rest of my life, with utter conviction.’
Any scorn that came his way was quietly ignored. Comments such as ‘we already have earth’s gas and, anyway, we soon won’t be allowed to stoke wood anymore’ didn’t bother him. ‘Not at all: and even less after I took a course in building Fin-ovens and made the acquaintance with Heikki Hyytiainnen, a Finnish engineer. He provided me with enormous stimulation. We keep in touch and together we want to try to make even better stoves that are just as efficient as gas heating but without the greenhouse emissions! There is so much good, clean, dry waste wood on earth, also in the Netherlands and so much could be done with it. A Fin-oven is capable of the same sort of performance as a high-performance boiler and wood heating is much kinder to the environment. When wood is burned at high temperature it gives off no more CO2 than is used up by a growing tree, so it represents a closed natural cycle. Renewable fuel!! I am well aware that a heater like this is not a cheap option but the investment pays for itself in less then ten years. It is a pity that wood heating still has an old-fashioned image attached to it. That is something we need to address because a Fin-oven has so many advantages. It is the heater chosen by those who care for the environment. It is worth noting, for instance, that ninety percent of Fin-oven owners read the magazine VPRO (more forward-thinking) radio and TV guide.’
Text ROELY BOER