How to Use Compost To Heat Your Home

Compost Is A Great Way To Get All Natural Heat

When most people think about using food scraps, leftover animal poop, wood shavings, and other bio-degradable products for extra heat hardly any of them ever think about getting that heat from compost.

That’s because many are much more familiar with the idea of burning biomass for the purposes of heating as opposed to composting for heat.

Both methods work well, but composting for heat offers some distinct advantages fire doesn’t.

I’ll explain what those are here in a moment, but let me first tell you about the way compost generates heat so you can get a full understanding of how the process of using it to heat a home.

The Weird Way Compost Creates Heat

Most people who do some kind of home gardening know the value of using extra food and yard scraps for their gardens.

And many of them are aware their piles of degrading scraps produces heat. If you have any doubt about this yourself then the next time you’re beside a pile of compost stir the pile and you’ll see billows of steam come out.

It’s that heat you’ll be able to harness for heating a home.

Where exactly does that heat come from though you might ask?

During the breakdown of organic material powered by bacteria, fungi, and yeasts the chemical composition of the material is changed.

This process releases heat.

It’s a simple chemical reaction.

Now it’s not just as simple as throwing food scraps in a big pile and expecting to have a volcanoes worth of heat in a few days. It’s not that easy, but at the same time it’s really not that hard to get working.

That’s because to get heat out of a pile of compost (and really to effectively compost anything) you really only need:

  • 1 – Air
  • 2 – Moisture
  • 3 – The right nutrients

That’s it. The air helps fuel the bacteria and the fungus, the moisture gives them an environment they can survive in and the nutrients are what act as their food.

To understand how exactly this works take a look at the simple video below.

Now that you’ve seen that video it probably all makes sense, right?

Ok, now that you’ve got an understanding of how the bio-degradation process works it’s time to turn your attention to how this is used to heat a home.

The Fascinating Way Compost Home Heating Works

About a half century ago a Frenchmen by the name of Jean Pain theorized that an average sized home could be heated by a giant pile of compost (50 metric tons).

Through his calculations he estimated the heat produced by the pile could be fed into a home, or another building or establishment for sufficient heating.

His theoretical mounds are known as “Pain mounds” and with the right attention to detail he knew they could produce harnessable FREE energy.

And boy was he right.

Thanks to technological advancements it’s now been shown you don’t need something quite as large as he believed for efficient heating of a home or other building.

This is because when you use a pain mound to heat water it actually turns it into one of the most effective and efficient ways of heating a home. That’s because hot water heating only requires water to reach 120 degrees to adequately heat a home and pain mounds can produce temps in excess of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

With the advent of flexible, durable plastic tubing the reality of pumping water through a pain mound into your home is easy.

Here’s how this works.

From Instructables.com

Step 1: Lay Out the Mound

Picture of Lay Out the Mound

Stake out a circle approximately 12 feet in diameter. Purchase hay bales from a local farm, collect fallen trees and branches, and rent a chipper. A load of sawdust can usually be procured from a local sawmill: they will often deliver for a nominal fee.

Step 2: Create a Hay Bale Backstop + Add Aeration

Picture of Create a Hay Bale Backstop + Add Aeration
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Lay about 15′ of perforated 4″ tubing at the bottom of the mound, with each end protruding out of the perimeter. Create a “backstop” of hay bales to catch the wood chips as they are thrown from the chipper into the mound. Chip a layer of wood chips approximately 1′ high into the mound on top of the aeration pipe.

Step 3: Lay the Hydronic Loop

Picture of Lay the Hydronic Loop

Coil 1/2″ plastic pipe at the bottom of the mound and hold it down temporarily with cinder blocks. Run the end of the pipe outside of the ring of hay bales, to be connected to your water source.

Step 4: Chips and Sawdust!

Picture of Chips and Sawdust!
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Chip wood into the pile, intermittently stopping to throw shovelfuls of sawdust in. The high carbon content of both materials create a lot of heat when decomposing.

Step 5: Continue Laying Water Pipe + Building Up the Mound

Picture of Continue Laying Water Pipe + Building Up the Mound
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Once you get started, this project should take 1-2 days of labor. Keep looping in water pipe and building up the hay perimeter as you add wood chips and sawdust. Throw in some manure – any animal will work – if you have any.

Step 6: Fill Line with Water

Picture of Fill Line with Water

The Pain Mound can be used to heat hot tubs, greenhouses or hydronic heating systems. Plan out your location carefully ahead of time so that you are close to the thing you will be heating. In the diagram shown here, we hooked up a pain mound to a greenhouse. We buried the water lines so that we would not lose additional heat to the outdoor air.

For more information, CompostPower.org has an excellent detailed installation guide, which can be found here: https://www.compostpower.org/node/24

Step 7: Track the Heat Output

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If possible, consider including a series of temperature sensors with your water pipes, so that you can track the BTU output along the way. Our mound produced more than 6 million BTUs over a period of 12 months, including a freezing New England winter.

 

Pretty crazy isn’t it?

This is something you can do on both larger and small scales.

In terms of how you’re supposed to get that heat into your home here’s what was written by Chris Black:

“You can use fans for blowing air over the heated plastic pipes, hence acquiring a space heating system for a building such as your outdoor greenhouse. Another idea is to use the hot water heated from composting for your household, therefore saving big on your energy bill (hot water generally accounts for 14-25% of the costs associated with the cold season).

In Europe, people are actively using compost for heating their homes by building compost piles over coiled water lines made of plastic that use the heat from the biodegradation process.

The only moving part in this setup is the water pump. That makes this a very reliable heating system as you can imagine, requiring next to nothing to maintain. The compost pile is able to produce heat for a year and a half up to two years, providing enough heat during its lifetime cycle to warm 80% of the hot water required for a 1,500 square feet residence. Impressive figures, don’t you think?”

Now if you’re curious what the best size for a pain mound might be is it really depends.

As you saw in the instructions above their’s was quite large.

Most people who use a pain mound estimate you’re going to need a mound which is 16 feet wide and 8 feet in height to effectively heat a home. These piles are the ones able to generate heat in excess of 160 degrees Fahrenheit which is the amount needed to run a pain mound inspired set up.

They can be larger or smaller depending on the amount of heat you need to generate as well the size of the space being heated.

It’s estimated if you want to generate at least 140 degrees worth of heat you’ll need a mound that’s 5 feet in both width and diameter.

Something like this is perfect for a smaller application.

And in terms of sourcing your biomass this can be done for cheap.

You can source all you need with scraps taken from places like cafes, grocery store dumpsters (produce only) along with lawn trimmings from landscaping companies, leaves and wood chips from your local area and other free sources you could make this work quite easily.

Not too bad for a bunch of dying leaves and scraps huh?

Perhaps the best part about all of this is all of your compost can now be used for planting in the spring.

Some of the best items to plant for a survival garden are survival seeds.

These plants are bred specifically for their hardiness as well as their nutritional value.

Plus when they die you can use them in the next winter’s compost pile!

To see a full collection click this link or on the picture below.

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