Friday, November 1, 2013

How glass-ceramic helped realize Ben Franklin’s wood stove ideal

By Karen Elder, SCHOTT North America, Inc.

Benjamin Franklin famously invented bifocals and discovered electricity, but less known is his hand in the creation of the modern wood stove. In a time before gas and electric heat, Franklin sought a better stove, one that allowed homeowners to see and feel heat without inhaling harmful smoke. His desire drove him to develop the Franklin stove, a metal-lined fireplace featuring an open front that heated rooms more efficiently and reduced smoke exhaust. Franklin’s principles remain a benchmark for wood stoves today.

The advent of glass-ceramic and closed stove systems have realized Franklin's ideals in a way he never could have imagined. Fireplaces and stoves sealed using heat-resistant glass-ceramic offer an unobstructed view of the fire, more evenly radiate heat throughout a room, and stop all smoke and particulates from entering the house while trimming emissions, making them better for the environment too. Here's how glass-ceramic has helped to revolutionized stoves and fireplaces.

Ben Franklin came from the Anglo tradition that prioritized seeing the fire and resisted the more efficient Germanic traditions which sealed the firebox.  It could be argued that he set back the movement for high efficiency heating by popularizing a stove with an open front, even though closed stoves had already proved the efficiency and smoke reduction benefits of a closed firebox.  The technology battle between those that favored open fireboxes, including Franklin, and those that favored closed fireboxes went on for over a century and is explored in detail in a wonderful book by Professor Brewer, Priscilla called From Fireplace to Cookstove.

Improved air quality
Older methods of heating, such as open fireplaces and inefficient wood stoves, are notorious for their emissions, both indoors and out, and Franklin was well aware of the problem, adding a complex siphon system to his stove that drew smoke up the chimney and out of the house.
Glass-ceramic has taken the drive for healthier indoor spaces to a new level. Sealed with heat-resistant glass-ceramic, modern wood stoves and fireplaces make it impossible for smoke or particles to enter the home. These fireplaces funnel smoke and other particles up the chimney, leaving homeowners the comfort of an indoor fireplace without subjecting their families to smoke and particles.
And because modern stoves burn hotter and cleaner, few emissions reach the atmosphere. Modern wood stoves are often 50 percent more efficient than traditional stoves, and they can reduce particle emissions by 70 percent, impacting indoor and outdoor air quality.

Both Ben Franklin and modern fireplace designers would agree: Few sights are more mystifying than a fire. In contrast to wood stoves that seal off the fire behind cast iron or steel doors, the original Franklin stove featured an open-front design to offer a prime view of the flames. Modern fireplaces sealed with glass-ceramic inherited this attribute and offer unobstructed visibility through transparent glass fronts -- sometimes from multiple angles. Manufacturers can produce glass in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and designs -- including 270-degree curved glass -- that allow homeowners to enjoy the fire from anywhere in the room.

Stronger safety
While the Franklin stove boasted an aesthetically appealing open-front design, the open flames posed potential fire threats for homeowners. Modern fireplaces enclosed with glass-ceramic solve this problem. Heat-resistant ROBAX glass-ceramic panes, for example, can withstand heat spikes and temperatures up to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, containing flames and preventing sparks and ashes from spilling out and igniting while allowing the aesthetic view of the fire that Franklin envisioned. 

More efficient heating
Franklin’s stove contained a system of baffles and inverted siphons to repurpose escaping fumes as an efficient source of heat. Energy efficiency has new meaning in modern stoves and fireplaces. Closed fireplaces sealed with glass-ceramic burn fuel more efficiently and radiate heat more evenly than traditional fireplaces. Glass-ceramic allows fires to burn hotter, and radiate heat more evenly throughout the room.

The higher temperatures also save fuel. By burning hotter, glass-ceramic-enclosed fireplaces fully consume the wood, and produce a slower burn. Fireplaces sealed with ROBAX glass-ceramic can burn up to 43 percent less wood and can produce up to 26 percent more heat per kilogram of fuel than a standard open, wood-burning fireplace under the same conditions.

The ideas behind the glass-ceramic-enclosed fireplace are centuries old, but modern technology has transformed ideas into outcomes. New woodstoves and fireplaces sealed with glass-ceramic provide aesthetic appeal, better air quality, improved safety, and greater heating efficiency, making them the optimal choice over traditional open, wood-burning fireplaces. If Ben Franklin were alive today, he’d be sure to upgrade.

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