I Tried the Terra Cotta Heater

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Terra Cotta Heater Guy

You know, the one going around Facebook.*

* The video doesn't seem to exist anymore.

Let me explain. Our furnace broke two days ago. We noticed it in the morning when the house was fricking cold and the thermostat was at 57 degrees. Brrr!

Having breakfast wearing all the things

I sent the landlord a note, and he gave me the number for his furnace guy, so I got on the horn and the guy knocked on the door and he looked at the furnace and said the ignition was out. Parts were due to arrive the next day.

The landlord offered to reimburse us on a space heater, but we weren't feeling it. We figured it would be just as easy to wait till the furnace was fixed. I mean, we have blankets. We don't need a heater to get us through the night.

Next day, email from the landlord telling us the furnace folks wouldn't be coming that day after all, and the offer of a space heater stands. We still weren't feeling it. Cold is uncomfortable but discomfort isn't a problem per se. I didn't want to run an errand. Call it laziness. What seemed more interesting to me, and didn't require running any errands, was to make one of those terra cotta heaters and see if the Internet was telling the truth about them or not. When evening rolled around, I decided to try it.

Thermostat showing temperature of 61 degrees F

Boots was skeptical. How much energy does a tea light store, and will the thermal mass of a couple plant pots really radiate that much heat? I said, well it's not thermal mass; it's convection. Who knows, maybe convection is a more efficient way to disperse the small amount of energy that the tea light does store. Maybe it increases perceived heat, even if the total heat it has to offer isn't much to speak of. Point being, I was curious.

Terra Cotta Heater Collage

I set up another one on the mantle. It was tricky to get the candle to stay lit. Took some fiddling. King Sturdy was fascinated and wanted to check on it often. It was his job to blow out the match each time we relit.

Terra Cotta heater on the mantle

The terra cotta heaters were up and running around 5pm. The inner pots were quite hot, the outermost pots were warm to the touch, and if you held your hand over the hole at the top you could feel a nice little stream of warm air.

At 6 or 7 o' clock, the thermostat showed no change. I went grocery shopping. When I got back, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A whole degree of difference!

Thermostat showing temperature of 62 degrees F

Except it doesn't mean anything. While I was out, Boots was washing dishes with whole floods of steaming hot water and also cooking things for the boy, and a hot stovetop generates so much heat. I often drink tea standing next to the burner in the kitchen because the warmth is so delicious. One day I'll have a woodstove.

Anyway, there you have it. Two little terra cotta heaters are not enough to heat a house. Fun, but useless. Of course, there's no saying it couldn't work if you added more candles and tried it in a smaller space, like the guy in the video; then again, he had a computer or two in that office, didn't he? That's where his heat was coming from.

We'll be going with the space heater.