The winters in upstate New York are cold, cold, cold, as anyone who’s been through the latest version can tell you. They’re also expensive. Heating normally requires a good furnace and plenty of fuel, which can set you back a few dollars.
But not in the case of a Buffalo cafe where heating costs are ridiculously low and comfort doesn’t come at a price. The 880-square-foot space, at the corner of Fargo Avenue and Jersey Street, is warmed with no mechanical heating of any kind. Because every bit of heat available is used, all that’s needed for a day’s warmth is six logs of wood.
The wonder device that makes this possible is called a masonry stove, the basic design for which has been around a long time. The idea is to warm a ceramic or brick box that retains heat and passes hot air to a secondary chamber, a flue. The air circulates slowly through the system, warming the room as it goes. Eventually, it passes out through a chimney.
Architects Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis have added their own tweaks, chiefly in the length of the flue. Rather than a standard 8-foot flue, theirs is looped like an intestine and measures 60 feet in all. That means the hot smoky air takes longer to leave and offers more heat for the room.
The trick is to keep the smoke trapped but still moving along. “There is a danger that, because [the air is] kept horizontal in this long flue-loop, it could stagnate,” the pair wrote in an email. “That would be disastrous–the smoke would puff back into the room, the fire would be extinguished, it would be a mess. The challenge was to create a super-strong draw so the smoke would keep moving.”
The flue is covered in tiles and doubles as a love seat. Davidson and Rafailidis hope people will sit together and feel the warmth in their rear regions. The cafe itself is yet to be leased, though it’s fully finished and tested.
Unfortunately, though running costs are low, upfront costs are relatively high. Davidson and Rafailidis, who are on the faculty at the University at Buffalo, say they spent four times as much as what a forced air system would cost and two times as much as a radiant heating system. But then their design is unique, and unique things tend to be pricey.
They also argue there’s a certain “feeling” to a masonry stove that you don’t get with forced air coming from the basement. It’s like having an ever-present friend, warm and dependable. You just need to feed it wood occasionally.