How to build a compost heating system

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Compost Heating System Samples

Do you need an extra source of heat for your home during the winter? How does a free heating system that comes with a rich soil for your garden sound? :)

Compost Heating System
A compost heating system is great for having a more self-sufficient home!

Create a heating system while composting!

This method is known as “Jean Pain Composting” or “Jean Pain Method” as it was invented by a French farmer named Jean Pain in the 1970’s. He developed this system using compost materials such saplings, branches and underbrush to generate all his energy needs! He was able to produce hot water and heating using the temperature from the compost, plus power an electric generator, his cooking equipment and his truck by distilling methane from it.

Though some expressed doubts as to the quantity of methane Pain was able to get, his system has proven to be an effective way to create heat for the cold seasons.

It is built with woodchips and sawdust, together with other compost materials and animal manure insulated with hay bales. As it starts to decompose, it will also produce heat which you can use through a hyrdronic setup.

This system usually lasts up to 18 months before the entire compost pile breaks down. You can then use the compost to enrich your garden soil and to keep your free heating system going, build another one!

This compost heating system is definitely a great idea if you want hot water to use during the winter or if you need to heat your greenhouse or home!

Just some things to keep in mind: Setting it up as near as possible to where you need the heat to be is important so as not to lose the desired temperature. However, a mound of compost can also catch fire so be sure not to build it too close to your home. The maximum height allowed for a compost pile is usually 8 ft., but of course you will have to limit your compost pile height depending on the amount of space you have in your yard!

Want to learn how to build it? Follow the step-by-step tutorial below!

Materials:

  • Hay Bales
  • Fallen Trees and Branches
  • Sawdust
  • Animal Manure
  • 15′ of Perforated 4″ Tubing
  • 1/2″ Plastic Pipe (to be connected to water source)
  • Cinder Blocks

Tools:

  • Woodchipper
  • Measuring Tape
  • Shovel
  • Temperature Sensor (Hobo Data Logger)

Click on any image to start lightbox display. Use your Esc key to close the lightbox.8-)

Steps:
Compost Heating System

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.

Compost Heating System

Lay about 15′ of perforated 4″ tubing at the bottom of the mound, with each end protruding out of the perimeter.

Compost Heating System

Create a “backstop” of haybales to catch the woodchips as they are thrown from the chipper into the mound. Chip a layer of woodchips approximately 1′ high into the mound on top of the aeration pipe.

Compost Heating System

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.

Compost Heating System

Chip wood into the pile, intermittently stopping to throw shovelfuls of sawdust in.

Compost Heating System

The high carbon content of both materials create a lot of heat when decomposing.

Compost Heating System

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 woodchips and sawdust.

Compost Heating System

Throw in some manure – any animal will work – if you have any.

Compost Heating System

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.

Compost Heating System

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.

Thanks to katrinaspade for this great project!

 

  • Lea Mack

    instead of hay bales , could i put this right in a trench 8 ft. deep, 8 ft. long, and 8 ft. wide . Would it stay warm enough like bales and what would i cover it with or could i have a mobile green house on top

    • David Wilks

      Hi Lea. The bales act as thermal insulation stopping heat loss. A pit would achieve the same effect. If you want super efficiency you could use bubble wrap as the cover since it will let the sun in to aid heating but the bubbles then prevent that same heat from escaping! Let us know how it goes :)