The Water Stove

You may have noticed this hideous monstrosity lurking in the background of some of my photos. If so, you have no doubt asked yourself, “What the heck is that thing?”

water stove

Well, it’s a water stove.

A what? You ask.

Here’s how it works. It’s like a big outdoor furnace. It has a door on the front that opens up into a firebox. Surrounding the firebox, on the inside of the large drum, are pipes that hold water pumped from the well.

When it’s all hooked up to your house and the water lines, and everything is good, it will heat your home and your hot water with fire. It does take minimal electricity, but a small generator is sufficient if we are ever without power.

Sounds really cool, huh? Not lookin’ so ugly now, is it?

We found it on Craigslist and snatched it right up. It came with a few solar panels (which we could do without). We sold them, and actually made a profit off of the whole deal. So, we don’t have any money invested in this thing. Not yet, anyways.

The problem is that we’ve had it sitting in our yard for a year now, and it still isn’t installed. We have no idea how to plumb this crazy thing into the house, nor how to connect it to the heating system.

We got a quote from a professional who could install it for us… oh, for the low low price of $3000! Forget it!

We aren’t sure what to do now. It’s over 20 years old, and has been sitting unused for about three years. We have done a pressure test on it, so we are pretty confident it doesn’t have any places rusted through, but we have no idea how long it will last. It just isn’t worth it to risk such an investment on installation.

I guess we’ll have to pray on it and see what the Lord brings along. If we can get it hooked up, and burn wood to heat our home and our hot water, man, that would be awesome! Hopefully we’ll be able to find somebody who can help us, or instructions on how to do it yourself.

20 thoughts on “The Water Stove”

  1. Hi Kendra, Do you have that thing hooked up yet? We can still come over and help just give us a holler.Blessings from Miracle Farm

  2. I’ve got a friend at work that had one of these built for him. He uses some parts from an old car to pump the water. He does not have a thermostat for it, he just controls the damper to regulate the heat. I load it for him when he is out of town. One tip I would give is make sure you insulate the water lines and put them down deep. He looses a lot of heat from the boiler to his house. He also has a car radiator connected to the water line and uses the furnace fan to blow the hot air into the house. It is not the prettiest set up, but it works.

    • Joel,

      You know, you are the third person I know of who has mentioned using a car radiator with the water stove. Someone else I know knows somebody who knows somebody who can convert a car radiator into one used w/ the stove for like $20. It’s all about who you know, right? Maybe I just need to get out and start asking around for people who have these setups to help us. The heat exchanger coil (radiator) I need to buy is over $300.

  3. Yeah, I’m in more or less the same situation you are: in other words, I’ve got a water stove that I don’t have hooked up yet. I’ve got the radiator installed in my blower unit, though, and I have the plumbing reworked by my hot water heater with a bunch of extra connections and valves, etc., and I bought a pump that I have sitting in a box yet. Just right there I think I’ve spent a thousand dollars already (or very close to it) just on parts, and I still have to buy the water lines, the insulation, etc., the electrical lines, and more plumbing connections for the back of the water stove itself. All those little plumbing parts add up to quite a lot, too. I think I can continue do everything myself except the electrical work, but if I had paid someone to do it all, I could have started using it early last winter. I think doing it myself is a good learning experience/education, but $3000 sounds like a very fair price if you’re going to have someone do all that work.

  4. Hi Kendra and Jerry!
    I think others have made some good points about the drawbacks of water stoves, but on the other hand I do really like the idea of keeping the mess and especially the fire hazard out of the house, as well as providing “free” hot water in addition to heat.

    As for the $3000, does that include some kind of heat exchanger? A pump? The electrical and plumbing lines, insulation, thermostat, etc.? If that’s the case, $3000 really doesn’t sound so bad. Just think what one year’s heating bill plus the electricity for hot water costs you. I bet you could pay that off in a hurry. (If you can do it yourself in a reasonable amount of time, all the better, but if not…) And it’s not really as if you’re investing all that money in an old stove that might not last. Once everything is plumbed and wired and you have the pump and the heat exchanger, etc., you could get another used (or new) water stove and have everything else already there and pretty much ready to go.

    • Eric,

      Yeah, the quote included new pumps (which it needs), a radiator, all lines, thermostat, the works. Everything it needs to get up and running. I think to myself, “Man! That’s a lot of money! I am sure we could figure out how to do it and only spend like $600 in parts!” But then, in reality, it has been sitting here for over a year now and we haven’t a clue where to start. Will we ever get it done if we leave it to ourselves?? But dang! $3000??!! I don’t know.

  5. Tancy,

    Unless you have very dry air, like the dessert, you do NOT want to run cold water through PEX in your floor. The pipe will draw condensation and you will have water all over the floor and dripping from the downstairs/basement ceiling- not a good idea for a number of reasons.

    The solar water heating is a great idea though, the payback is only 4 years for many people who are using electric to heat, then after that all your hot water is free! Most systems have few moving parts or things to wear out so it should last for a very long time with practically no maintenance and no fuel cost! It is so easy to heat water or food for free using the sun. I have made solar ovens from old fishtanks, coolers, haybales even. Heating water is the same, only basically you coil some dark pipe in the “oven”. Most people don’t realize that they work in the winter as well.


    • Michelle,

      Actually, Addy’s husband was the one to hook this thing to his truck and haul it for us!! They do have one that I’ve been meaning to look at. Her husband is entirely too busy working to have time to help us install it. But I will ask his advice though, the next time we are over there. I’ve asked before, but he wasn’t too sure about our setup.

  6. We heat with hot water. I think the bottom line is this is going to end up costing a bunch more money than perhaps you realized. Since you have nothing in it currently, that is good. To heat your house with water you need either a water to air heat exchanger system, radiators or a PEX radiant heat system. All will cost money if you don’t already have them.

    We have the latter as that was the most economical when building new.

    But a few thoughts… You have said you own only 1 acre. Unless you have access to lots of free wood and know you always will, a stove that big will be very expensive if you ever have to pay for wood.

    Also it is most probably much more stove than you need for your house size. Outdoor stoves are often used on farms where there is lots of wood and outbuildings to heat. It may not even work without a huge fire. Most likely your best bet is to sell that to someone who has the expertise and need for such a big stove.

    A smaller indoor stove by contrast will be a much more efficient use of wood and you don’t need any special system to get the heat into the house. I even have one that is made for homes with children- the outside isn’t hot to the touch, so if a kid falls or touches it on purpose they don’t get badly hurt. (It is up for grabs if you want to come to VA to get it.) Another useful choice might be a cook stove, many have a water heating attachment as well. (We find cook stove fireboxes to be too small for heating our large house as you have to fill them too frequently for our tastes.

    Retrofitting an existing house to be off grid can end up being quite expensive. Retrofitting anything can be actually.(Working on a shed project that may end up costing more than buying a kit…sigh.) Think carefully what your goals actually are compared to your personal resources. I have about ten years experience balancing frugality and self-reliance. Some assumptions and mistakes can end up quite costly, you can email if you want to discuss some details or have questions.

    • Caroline,

      Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of. We do have lots of wood available, as we are surrounded by my father’s 33 acres. And our house is the same size as the woman we got the stove from, about 2200 sq ft. So, I think it would be okay. We thought about a wood stove indoors, but that wouldn’t reduce our hot water bill. And the cook stove we have will not fit anywhere in our home, so that option is out too. It stays in the work building out back. Yes, we will need to purchase a new radiator, and thermostat. Money money money!

  7. What a rig!! I can totally understand the lack of money, but hey, that’s what breeds creativity, right? 🙂

    Sure hope y’all get it working, that would be great. My husband wants to rig a solar water heater with the pex in the floor for the winter, and have a disconnect so we can also run cold water from our well thro’ the pex for the summer.

    Wish you the best… God loves to arrange situations for us:)

  8. I have seen lots of these in the past, but not in this shape. Probably works on the same principle though.

    See here:

    many folks here in New England have these, but there are sometimes ordinances that prevent their use. They do produce a lot of smoke. Since you seem to be out in the middle of nowhere, guess that isn’t going to be an issue for you.

    Do you have hot water heat in the house? If not, you will have to plumb for that.

    We are installing a wood furnace in our place when the day comes. There is a boiler for hot water and it does produce hot air heat as well which would be much better since we are already set up for that. I think there may be some way for you to convert yours to hot air too, but would require a blower.

    There probably are some good materials out there on how to do this yourself.

    I like the idea of having the fire box outside. Less soot and pollutants inside the house and less fire risk. I think the insurance companies love these heating systems.

    You can also burn junk wood in these, pine and rotten stuff. Helps to clean up the woods if you can use this for heat rather than just have a bonfire… though they are fun too.

    Hope you can get some information and get it hooked up and running.

    Mrs. D

  9. Is that a picture of the water reservoir?
    Do you know the manufacturer, model number, etc? You might be able to find some manuals online.


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