Nova Scotia

How this South Shore man stays warm with rotting wood chips

Franz Fraitzl, an artist and special effects technician in Boutilliers Point, N.S., has built a furnace on his property that supplies heat to his workshop, but doesn't require a traditional fuel source.

Franz Fraitzl's unconventional furnace heats his large workshop — and gives back to the land

Franz Fraitzl was looking for a cheaper way to heat his workshop and stumbled upon the idea of a furnace that uses rotting wood chips as a heat source. He said it's not a new idea, but one that's largely been forgotten. (Carsten Knox/CBC)

A Boutiliers Point, N.S., man is staying warm this winter thanks to a pile of rotting wood chips.

Franz Fraitzl has built a furnace on his property that supplies heat to a two-storey steel workshop, but doesn't require a traditional fuel source. The yurt-like structure is filled with wood chips that decompose and generate heat.

Fraitzl previously used a forced air, kerosene heater for heating, but it was expensive and came with another side effect.

"By the end of the week, I was all dizzy from the fumes," he told CBC's Mainstreet.

Now, he's traded his $600 monthly power bill for a heat source that's essentially free, minus the roughly $1,000 it cost to build.

Fraitzl uses about 120 metres of polyethylene tubing that warms up as the compost pile generates heat. (Carsten Knox/CBC)

Building the furnace was relatively simple and inexpensive, he said, but it does require space — and a line on wood chips.

He gets a load of wood, usually from local horticulturalists, "who are practically giving it away." He piles up the wood chips, douses them with water and runs about 120 metres of polyethylene tubing through the middle of the compost pile.

The tubing is full of water that warms up as the wood pile naturally generates heat.

Fraitzl said the process can generate heat of up to 60 C. He then uses a converted industrial furnace to blow the heat into his workshop using materials that were donated to him.

"It's a one-time investment and other than maintaining it ... you never have to pay for it again," Fraitzl said. "And you get free heat out of it, some systems up to a year or longer."

He based his design on the work of Jean Pain from France who died almost four decades ago, but is largely credited with the methods still used today.

The project allows Fraitzl to be self-sufficient for heating, which means he isn't worried about losing heat if the power goes out.

Because Fraitzl is only working with wood chips, the furnace doesn't have the stench that usually comes with compost. 

"Maybe a little bit of an earthy undertone, but that's all there is," he said.

Fraitzl is able to heat his 40- by 60-foot steel building all from the water and wood chips. (Carsten Knox/CBC)

Fraitzl, who's from Germany and moved to Nova Scotia in 2016, is an artist and special effects technician who's prone to building novel things.

Last year, his tractor-turned-ice-resurfacer was a hit at the local rink.

The furnace project saves him money and keeps him warm, and the soil that's created is then returned to the earth. 

"I want to be part of the community, part of nature giving back," Fraitzl said. "We all have a negative footprint. It's just if I can reduce mine and make it as small as possible, I can say I did my part at the end."

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With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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