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Dragon Heaters vs.

Traditional Rocket Heaters

Executive Summary
Dragon heaters offer more efficient heating, in a smaller footprint, with more flexible design
options. Our goal with Dragon Heaters is to bring Rocket Heater concepts to everyone, by
simplifying the build, improving aesthetic choices, offering a range of heat storage approaches
and reducing its footprint.

The traditional rocket heater was developed and described by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson in
their book Rocket Mass Heaters. Dragon Heaters differ from this approach in 2 key areas: the
combustion area and heat capture options.

The Dragon Burner is made with optimized materials and a complex shape that is more efficient
and has fewer emissions than a burn tunnel built with bricks.

Flexible heat capture is the other main difference. The traditional rocket heater uses a steel
barrel for immediate heat and a clay bench with an embedded flue for heat storage. Using the
same J-tube style combustion system, Dragon Heaters facilitate more options for utilizing the
heat. Users can select to release it all immediately, only some, or put all the heat into thermal
storage as in a masonry heater.

Having a pre-built combustion system frees up many of the design constraints associated with
traditional rocket heaters. For example, it is possible to build a heater which radiates a portion of
the heat into a space and puts the rest into thermal mass, without either the barrel or a cob

The Burn Tunnel

Using Bricks for Burn Tunnels

Traditional rocket heater combustion chambers are hand built at every site. Each builder is to use
either antique red bricks (if available) or fire bricks. Both of these will withstand the extreme heat
of wood combustion and are easy to find.

However, to create the most efficient burn, the combustion chamber (burn tunnel) should be as
hot as possible. An insulating material around the combustion area will keep the fire hotter than
a material which is best at retaining heat (such as fire bricks).

The Dragon Burner is cast from a special, more insulative, refractory material which will hold up
to the high temperatures without robbing as much heat from the combustion process.

Burn Tunnel Shape

The burn tunnel design was developed by Peter van den Berg and has several elements that
cannot be duplicated with bricks but which contribute significantly to the overall efficiency.
The heat riser rests
Wood is
on this platform.
inserted here.

This is a picture of the inside of a dragon burner. When combustion begins, the gases traveling
down the burn tunnel are invariably slowed by friction from its walls; this effect is called laminar
flow. The Dragon Burner has complex, specially designed wedges which disrupt laminar flow and
force the exhaust back into the center of the combustion flow. This insures virtually
complete combustion.

The wedge on one side is

visible here.

Further turbulence is induced, without electricity, by a pair of vortex spiral shapes and wedges at
the end of the burn tunnel.

Secondary air
A secondary air intake is included just after the feed tube. This channel is essential for more
complete combustion as well as preventing back smoking. Although most of rocket heaters do
not include such a secondary air intake, it has been shown to greatly improve the performance of
any rocket heater. The air is preheated by the metal feed tube so that combustion is not
negatively impacted by the introduction of cold air.


By offering the feed tube, burn tunnel and heat riser in a package, anyone can build a rocket
heater with confidence that it will work. All the complicated ratios and sizing are already done,
reducing the build time and increasing the design options significantly. Here is a picture of a 4
Rocket heater built without cob or clay. For appearance sake, it was tiled using standard

Heat Storage Options

Having an efficient, prebuilt combustion chamber arrangement with specific space requirements
and capacities (there are 3 sizes) frees up the designer to think about handling the heat created
by the Dragon Burner to suit individual situations. Basically, there is a continuum between
radiating all the heat into the room and storing all the heat (down to about 150F) in fireclay
bricks or similar materials.

Three types of heaters

A cast iron stove where all the heat is radiated into the room is at one end of the continuum and
a traditional masonry heater which stores it all, is at the other. The rocket heater, as originally
designed with a cob bench, is in the middle of the continuum; quite a bit of the heat is radiated
from the steel barrel into the room with the remainder stored in the cob bench. Some
implementations bury the barrel in cob moving the rocket mass heater toward the masonry
heater end of the continuum.
A Dragon Burner can be installed into a heater anywhere along the continuum, without worrying
about the combustion side of the heater equation.

Dragon Heater Cast Iron Stove or Equivalent

For example, the 4 heater in the photo above is a cast iron equivalent, since there is no
provision for storing significant heat. The 30 gallon steel drum radiates heat from the fire. The
round sections supporting the barrel are cast from fireclay refractory material (which will hold
some heat), but that is a very small area. This design could be further enhanced by using a
second barrel or using a Magic Heat (or similar heat exchanger system) installed in the stove

This 4 heater and the 6 version of the same plan use 4 thick concrete blocks as the structure
on the straight walls. These are readily available and inexpensive. The burn tunnel rests on the
ground or floor.

Dragon Heater Traditional Rocket Mass Heater

A Dragon Burner could be substituted for the arrangement of fire bricks (constituting the burn
tunnel and heat riser) called for in any plan for a traditional Rocket Mass Heater. The installer
could route the exhaust into a metal flue buried in cob (clay with sand) as is usual in these

Another approach is embodied by our Dragon Burner with Bell plan. It occupies the same
footprint as the burner only plan. It also has a steel barrel for radiating heat like the traditional
rocket mass heater. However, rather than storing heat in a cob bench, there is a chamber
underneath the burn tunnel which is lined with fireclay bricks. This chamber constitutes a bell
where gases linger long enough for them to thermally stratify. (More about bells later.) This
approach can harvest the same heat as a traditional rocket heater but with a much smaller foot

Dragon Heater Masonry Heater

Masonry heaters are traditionally large with small combustion chambers; their efficiency arises
from storing most of the heat from a burn in surround thermal mass. These designs are
especially good in climates where winters are long and cold. Once the huge amount of masonry
is heated up, there is no quick way to cool it down.

We have pioneered a new approach combining rocket style burn tunnels and masonry style
thermal mass. All the heat is stored in thermal mass without any radiating surfaces, there is no
barrel. This approach uses standard chimney flues as stratified bells for thermal capture.

It is faster and easier to build than a traditional rocket heater, yet is still inexpensive. A 35k Btu
masonry heater can be built in a day for less than $1500, representing a new price point for for
both construction speed and price in masonry heaters.
Flues vs. Bells

What is a Flue?

The most common approach for heat capture of both masonry and rocket heaters is to use flues.
Using flues, the hot exhaust from combustion is given a circuitous route through some form of
thermal mass (clay, stone, or brick). The tricky part is that the path must be long enough to
allow sufficient time for the hot gases to transfer their heat to the surrounding mass, but not so
long it that the stove stalls (losing too much heat and velocity). Many masonry heater designs
rely on this approach, as do most rocket mass heaters.

In the case of masonry heaters, the exhaust is routed through masonry lined flues. Often these
flues or channels are larger than the exhaust chimney to allow additional time for capture of their
heat, but they are still considered flue designs since all the gases move together.

In the case of rocket mass heaters, the exhaust is routed through metal pipe that is matched in
size to the chimney exhaust and is typically covered with cob a clay based building material.
This is the heat capture technique developed and outlined in the book Rocket Mass Heaters by
Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson. The gases heat the pipe which, in turn, transfers the heat to the
cob where it is radiated back into the room.

What is a Bell?

An alternative to the flue approach is the use of chambers which become stratified by
temperature, referred to as bells. A specific version of this approach is called Free Gas
Movement. A lot of the basic research was done by V. E. Grum-Grzhimailo (1864-1928) in Russia
in the early 20th century. Subsequently, Igor Kuznetsov has been developing and implementing
masonry heaters using chambers (also in Russia). He has also written about the physics of gas
movement to maximize heat extraction and put much of his findings in the public domain.

In a bell system, the exhaust is routed into large chambers where the gases are allowed to
collect. They will then, stratify by temperature, with the hottest gases being at the top and the
coldest at the bottom. The exit point for the chamber is then always positioned at the bottom so
that only the coldest gases are removed and the hottest gases remain. If two or more chambers
are put in series, the hottest and coldest gases for each chamber will be successively cooler.
Why Are Bells Better?

This approach has a number of important advantages:

Hot Gases are not swept out with cold gases

In a flue based system, both the hot and cold gases are intermixed and carried at equal speed to
the exit. By allowing the gases to stratify, only the colder gases are being evacuated and the
hotter ones are trapped and remain in contact with the thermal mass until they have cooled.

Prevents damper induced rapid stove cool off

Because flues sweep all the gases together, if the damper is not closed in time the remaining
hot gases are swept away along with in residue heat in the flue. With bells, the hot wood gases
collect and cannot escape until they have cooled, preventing rapid stove cool off from a damper
left open too long.

Gas velocity losses reduced

As gases move through flues, they develop drag. Each turn creates even more resistance
reducing the chimneys ability to pull the gases out. Too many turns or flue runs which are too
long can result in a stalled and failed heater. Conditions are not always uniform, so when
designing a flue system a draft reserve is needed to insure proper stove operation. The
problem is that providing for additional draft margin, often means compromising on heat
extraction capacity.

When heat extraction is done via bells, the travel distances and directional re-routing of gases is
minimized, allowing heat extraction to take place without large frictional losses. Gravity separates
the hot and cold gases without introducing any form of drag on the chimneys draw.
Improved performance during prolonged firing

In a flue approach, the longer the stove is run the hotter the flue walls become, decreasing their
ability to absorb heat. However, a second chamber (or bell) will always be cooler (than the first
one) and thus allow better heat extraction.

Faster removal of ballast gases

Exhaust gases from burning wood are comprised of those gases which were part of the
combustion process and those that were heated merely by proximity to the combustion. Gases
that do not directly participate in the combustion are called ballast gases. For example,
nitrogen, which comprises approximately 80% of atmospheric air, is a ballast gas. Ballast gases
are never as hot and cool off quicker. In a bell system where gravity naturally separates the
temperatures, this allows the ballast gases to be removed first, providing more time for the
higher temperature gases to transfer their heat to the thermal mass while not slowing down the
overall gas velocity. If all gases are expelled at an equal rate, as in a flue system, this is not

Dragon heaters offer people who want to build a traditional Rocket Mass Heater

A more efficient burner

A faster build time
Pre-engineered core using superior material for a longer lasting system

For those wanting the efficiencies of rocket heater technology, but dont have the space, need
different aesthetic options, or different heat storage profiles we offer a range of new possibilities.
We provide the temperature and emissions data for all of our designs.