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Freedom Heating

Energy project based in the Northern Appalachians and New York Catskills, exploring free heat systems for indoor spaces from combustion in organic breakdown
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About this project

Date started:
September 2010
In planning
Number of people involved:
Number of people benefitting:
Goals or benefits:
Related Transition stage:



Freedom Heating is a project based in the Northern Appalachians and New York Catskills, it's goal is the experimentation and implementation of free heat systems for indoor spaces by utilizing the energy created in carbon-nitrogen combustion reactions found inside organic breakdown.

The project is small and in it's infancy. Any help is welcome. No information is proprietary, this is free heat, not a gimmick. Love is gonna find a way, look around. Estimated time for implemntation of an average system is 2 days for a heat reaction to begin. Maintenance and addition of material is required just like a stove, but much less frequently (estimated to be every three days or so, 20 minutes of work)


Real world experience.

Outcomes so far:

Cansolair style heat system, easily availble in any area where people drink soda or beer. can be morphed into and combined with the technology of a compost pile system. The cans can be heated by hot waterm as well as sun. Can also combine it with the idea of a solar oven, to add additional light into the heater.

Lessons learned:

Moving forward through this project saw many obstacles arise, Litttle work was done at first because of low funding, which actually worked out in the end because it required more ingenuity to complete the goal. The end product is now a set of solutions for home heating that are cheap, and easy.

Sources of funding:

Resources coming in from Stantec Engineering out of NYC, who are providing cans from their recycling to help build a Cansolair style heater on the east coast. Cans will also be collected in Chicago for building a design in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

Sources of materials:

mother earth, everywhere.

Further information:

The goal is to create free heating system demonstration site during the winter of 2010-11, implementing various real world apps on a handful of demonstration sites, and testing them through all weather conditions this winter. The project makes use of permaculture method known as stacking functions, because of it having multiple outputs to it's system, not simply...heat.

Further information


Primary point of contact: 
Alexander Ihlo

Is this a Transition group project or other?

Not a Transition project
Last updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Judith's picture


 I mean hot!  Or at least warm, right?

Seriously, this looks very interesting, Alexander, if sketchy.  Let us know how it goes.  


Alexander Ihlo's picture


Well it's simple, take a compost pile and bury a hot water hose through it, run pex tubing under your floor in your home, attach the two and fill with water...  With a few more steps of course.  It can be done using thermosyphon principles, or for real cheap using a pump of some kind.  It could get too steamy, and might have to have a shut off valve to prevent house from heating up too much, some piles get up to 300 degrees inside.  a good steady temp is around 160 at the core.  Piles of a cubic yard are easiest to heat for long periods, and perforated air tubing is hypothesized [in a Composting manual written by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden] to offer a pile that doesn't require constant turning.  So it's pretty simple.

Freedom lies here in my opinion, I find it with permaculture design principles and its' general mentality.  Save your leaves this fall and start your 50/50 compost piles, add water and watch it heat up within a couple hours.  Within a day or two it should be at operational temps.   Must be in a box in cold climes so that you can insulate it with...whatever.  Insulators that come to mind with me are: earth, straw, hay, wool, construction insulators.  I am building my first pile with wood chips [for browns] and kitchen scraps/manure  or millfoil from Candlewood Lake [for greens]  

Pictures to come by the way, along with more in depth testing throughought the fall, and of course, winter! I feel wood chips will take longer than leaves to break down and stop heating.  The greens will of course break down before the chips do, so may need to reload them once or twice per winter, first with millfoil, then later with manures as winter takes hold and green plants go hiding away into mothers warmth in the earth.

Christopher Dews's picture

House heating with compost

Great idea! and of course one which works even without sun. We should build one in our model eco centre here in Ibiza to try it out. I'll let you know how we go on, so we can exchange some info ok.

Alexander Ihlo's picture

 awesome.  sorry I was not

 awesome.  sorry I was not notified of your response and have not checked this page in a few weeks.  I have begun trials and so far the pex tubing is proven to be too expensive for my ability level, and am seeking alternative means to heat.  Right now is back to basics, using the ideals of a solar oven to focus light through windows.  Gets pretty warm.  Just using tin foil as a reflective surface, and cardboard as a backing.  Very simple to do, can be retrofitted to any south facing window, maybe east and west facing windows too.  this mentality, combined with compost (outside of house... unless you can seal/ventilate it in a way to prevent smell)  can heat any house I am sure of it.  compost provides boost at night, sun provides day heat, and if done properly is retained into most of the night.


We are also working on super insulating outside of the house with various materials, against the North Wall, to help retain heat and deflect cold north wind.

Phil Slade's picture



Phil Slade's picture

Trombe Walls

  Though not exactly congruent with your project the Trombe Wall is a possible add-on to existing buildings.



Possible Impact's picture

Compost Heat - History


Look at the work of Jean Pain from the 1960's. The Mother Earth News also tried his

techniques in the late 70's.

Compost Energy Jean Pain Part 1 :


And a more recent technique to heat homes with compost heat:

C Johnson from Chicago with his HeatGreen 3a system

(You will spend hours reading everything on his site, both theory and step-by-step

instructions are included)


Alexander Ihlo's picture


hey this is great, I'll be taking freedom heating on the road this Winter to South Dakota, maybe these will help there too, i sent the link to to my Father and his brother, who will be staying behind to work on free heat in the Northeast US.  I'll keep people posted as it unfolds, so fars looking like cansolair style heat is winning the popularity contest in terms of attention grabbing, but I think compost heat has that beat in New England because of too much cloudcover.  In the end though, it would just make more sense to have underground houses, or earth bermed up on at least the north sides of homes, though straw bales/leaf bales could make some short term difference

Alexander Ihlo's picture

tankless hot water

Free heat for outdoor showers, 100 feet of poly pipe is like 30 bucks, compost is free.  plumbing fixtures hook †he poly pipe into a garden hose, turn the hose on and you have tankless hotwater.  here's the video, peace 

Tom Vogel's picture

Hi Alex, I've been an

Hi Alex,

I've been an official member of the transition network for 7 1/2 minutes and I'm anxious to jump in!

I've eagerly studied the Jean Pain method for some time. The nitty grit behind the model is that it requires 18+ tons of finely shredded biomass- sawdust or shredded wood waste. It's like having an overturned muffin in your back yard 10 feet tall with a top diameter of 18 feet. Thermophyllic composting reaches temperatures of roughly 140 degrees. Hot water boilers heat in the 160-180 range. So you may be dissapointed in this as a whole house heating system. The mass will produce roughly a gallon a minute @ 140 for 18 months. What began primarily as carbon will decompose into a nitrogen rich material for premium compost. Definitely under the heading of unwieldy! Pain passed away in the 80s and I have not found sources on the net who have successfully replicated his work. Many on youtube have attempted smaller models with improperly sized feedstock and wonder why they don't get the same results. If only I had the space!

Another possibility is to employ Joe Jenkin's "Humanure Thermophyllic Composting" as a heat source. The pile is definitely smaller. The temps will touch 140 degrees but range down to 80 over a one year cycle. Yes, that's right... "humanure." He is adamently opposed to turning the pile. You defeat nature's efforts to produce pathogen killing heat by opening the pile and turning it over. This is definitely a sanitary system. Jenkins is the granddad of composting human waste.  His book is very entertaining and contains all the science necessary to take to the public forum, if you have the nerve. (I'm working mine up.) My perspective on drawing heat from the pile is to build a sturdy immovable coiled piping configuration, in which the pile can be developed over time around it and then when properly decomposed-- shoveled or raked away.

Best of luck on everyones' transitional efforts!





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