Yakisoba-style Noodles with a Wood-Fired “Wok-et”!

For wood-fired cooking enthusiasts, the wood-fired “wok-et” is a great and simple addition to outdoor culinary celebration.  It has become a summer tradition for us to throw “Yakisoba parties” where the intense heat produced by this unit allows us to quickly cook batch after batch of this tasty complete meal!

Wok-et Stove

There are now quite a few commercial versions of this kind of stove, generally categorized as “rocket stoves” for their lively and clean combustion. Being stove builders ourselves, we had to make our own, of course!  The L-shaped combustion chamber and insulative ceramic materials used are both defining characteristics of a rocket stove. Ours is dry stacked while we continue to study its performance and function.  For now, we have chosen the simplest design given the insulative brick units that we have.  The two rectangular pieces of steel administer heated secondary air underneath the fuel to the front of the fire and provide the coals with oxygen resulting in a very potent burn rate.  It is surprising how little fuel is used and also how easy it is to maintain a constant flame.



The asian wok evolved to maximize heat exchange between the cooking fire, the pan, and the ingredients cooking.  Wok cooking is characterized by high heat and constant movement of the ingredients.  This is efficient in terms of minimal fuel use and tends to provide an excellent taste to the food which is neither seared nor braised but contains the sensations of both processes.  For Eva’s birthday, we followed this relatively simple recipe: Yakisoba with Pork and Cabbage.



Photos and video in this article by Alex Rosenthal, except last image by Eva Edleson.

If you liked this article and would like to stay in touch, consider joining our mailing list and/or send us a note to let us know your thoughts!  Also, here is some further reading:

The Ultimate Laundry Drying Rack

In our quest to live smartly and well, Eva and I have resisted the urge to use an electric dryer to dry our clothes. Although this common appliance certainly offers some conveniences, it seems a gratuitous use of electricity and energy that is otherwise available to us in free and smart ways. We had been getting along alright hanging our clothes out in the sun during the warmer months and hanging them on expandable accordian-style wooden racks near our heating stove in the colder portion of the year. With the arrival of our new-born daughter and the prospect of many loads of cloth diapers to wash and dry, I figured it was time to up the anti and improve our system or else succumb to the need for an electric dryer. I wanted to build a drying rack that was retractable to the ceiling so that it wouldn’t take up any floor space. This turns out to give it the added benefit of placing it up in the warmest part of the house and exposes all the clothes equally to this rising, circulating hot air.

Watch the video to see more details about how it works.

Materials List:

Qty. Description $/item $
2 2 x 4 (x8′) Lumber 1.39 2.78
8 1/2″ x 48″ Hardwood Dowel 1.58 12.64
4 1 1/2″ Wall/Ceiling Mount Pulleys 9.49 37.96
3 2″ Wall/Ceiling Mount Pulleys 10.99 32.97
4  1 1/4 Pulley Swivel 3.49 13.96
4 1/4 SP Anchor Shackle 1.89 7.56
1  6″ Rope Cleat 3.99 3.99
2  Twisted Nylon Rope 1/4″x100′ 16.49 32.98
Total 144.84

Let us know what you think and join our mailing list to stay in touch.
If you are interested, we could provide the hardware as a package.

Other great resources:


A Summary of Recent Research on Rocket Mass Heaters (and Bell Design)


I have just posted this article about recent research on rocket mass heaters to Hand Print Press with this same title. It is a synthesis that I have been wanting to write for some time since the experiences at the MHA gatherings have been so rich.  I’ve wanted to make sure that others could benefit from the research and discoveries that we have been making there.

Here is the Article’s Table of Contents to give you a sense of it:

Response about Rocket Stoves in MHAmember Forum

This spontaneous essay is a response to this great piece by Alex Chernov, as presented in the MHA News.

From: Max Edleson max (at) firespeaking.com
To: MHAmembers@yahoogroups.com

Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 07:52:43 -0800
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] member news

Indeed, Alex, the article you have written is great and this area of research you are pointing to is very exciting.

The issues you bring up are excellent. I would like to try to add to what you have written.

As far as advantages of the rocket stove, the idea for those inclined to do things themselves to be able to build their own heating system without too much expense and without too many necessary tools is one that is very exciting – one that ignites a passion. The relative simplicity of the rocket stove design with few specific and basic parameters, allows for a great deal of customization and flexibility in design which is also very exciting and often practical when placing a heater into a space and further fuels the doers interest and passion in building it.

The particular combination of immediate heat at a usable rate and stored heat at an impressive rate of accumulation is also an area that the normal rocket mass heater design really shines in.

The bench is a wonderful aspect of the design. Both from a comfort standpoint of being able to sit your butt and back on soft, penetrating heat and also from a social perspective. I think most of us who have experienced the benches from the last couple of years at Wild Acres have experienced this.

Novelty also always has its appeal, at least to a certain sector of society!

But then there are many significant disadvantages, most of which you have pointed out. The subfloor: the rocket mass heater, as developed by Ianto Evans, evolved from experimentation in cob buildings where the heaters are built on grade (on some combination of compacted earth, gravel, and sometimes an adobe-like subfloor). Similar to the conditions of a concrete slab on grade that is found in many garages, for example. So you have a nice, solid, load-bearing floor that is also non-combustible that you can spread your design out on. This is essentially the opposite of how most homes are built in north america: light, lofted, insulated and combustible floors. This point, as you point out, ends up being pretty essential to design considerations as an on-grade subfloor generally would suggest the possibility of letting a heater’s design spread out while a joisted wooden floor with a foundation coming through the middle of it tends to suggest a more compact layout to minimize the size of the foundation and related expenses (especially in a retrofit).

Also, as you say, the user experience of a rocket stove can be summarized as finicky, at best. I have seen several rocket stoves that have been the core of people’s homes and worked very well day in and day out. I have seen others that worked ok and I have seen a surprising amount that don’t work so well or at all. The flexibility of design, the do-it-yourself style and, significantly, the fact that many I have seen were built in very-rushed workshops leads to an unpredictability that is often difficult to diagnose once things are sealed up if they don’t work. This can be very challenging.

Also, general rocket mass heater design so far has under-emphasized the importance of cleanouts, particularly in bench designs with bends in them. It is a process to remove the barrel and re-seal it, if and when this is necessary. And a plastered cob bench can require significant maintenance, at least bi-annual.

So, all these things have left me also in search of incorporating the advantages experienced from rocket mass heaters with all of the experience and advantages that comes from masonry heater building.

One note on hardware and expenses. I have come to realize that the door is the significant technnology that fundamentally distinguishes open fireplaces from masonry heaters. eg., that reduces the amount of air entering the combustion chamber so that it can not only be efficient but also be throttled in such a way that the combustion and long tail of combustion can be guided through the much longer channels of a masonry heater. This is probably both obvious and often overlooked. The door, especially metal doors, are a relatively new technology in the long history of fireplace building man(and woman)-kind. Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the rocket stove is to accomplish this reduction of air into the combustion chamber without a door. It does this so successfully that you can even burn the fire upside down as we have experienced. The ideal amount of air is that which generally fits between the split burning wood. A brick is often used to close off excessive air if the firebox is not completely full of wood. This last element, for example, is critical and an example of the very important fine-tuning that is happening in a rocket mass heater burn.

At the same time, this is a very important design limitation since it prohibits sizing up the firebox without important repercussions. Those who were observing may have noticed us “barefoot builders” during wildacres 2009 really experimenting with this aspect. When we re-built the rocket mass heater inside that was eventually plastered with the lime we had made and painted with a naked lady (yes, that one!) we had built the front in such a way that we could make different fireboxes. If you remember, we tried putting a small glass door on the front of the down-draft firebox but found that even this slight modfication in widening the firebox to accomodate the glass door meant that the wood did not stay as organized as it needed to and, I think, allowed more air in than was necessary, especially when the firebox was not completely packed with wood.

As I have begun to experiment with making doors, I have come to appreciate doors a lot more and the care and cost involved in either casting or fabricating them. I have also come to think that in temperate to cold climates, firebox doors should really be thought of as a family heirloom and at the center of a family’s wealth – after all, there are times in history when money isn’t worth much more than paper for starting a fire which people in different parts of the world have experienced in inflationary situations like I experienced in Argentina and that I’m sure people in Russia have experienced. I don’t think that people consider the expense of either a vehicle, a computer (pillars of modern life) nor for kitchen appliances in a remodel in the same way they do masonry heater/cookstove hardware and the other related expenses. This may just have been my previous bias coming through to though I think it reflects the current moment and society’s related values.

One more thought before I get out into the cold to organize rock from a mountainside into some semblance of a beautiful heater skin. The issue of code. As I have begun to work building heaters in more code-respecting(/code-enslaved) situations, I have had opportunity to reflect on both its advantages and disadvantages. The only, main and significant advantage of code that I understand is that it ensures safety and formalizes that responsibility between the builder and the people living in the home, especially where this relationship is mostly otherwise anonymous. It also ensures a standard of quality to some degree by ensuring that things are done in a certain way and that certain materials are used.

On the flip side, I have come to understand that the whole issue of building codes and inspections has a lot to do with counties and other jurisdictions ensuring that what you build in your home not only serves you, but really more importantly, someone who you either might like to sell your house to or someone who would like to buy your house (hopefully under favorable conditions). While I can see the benefits of this, I get that uncomfortable feeling that in this situation, as with property taxes, it is really the county that owns your house and what you do with it… and I don’t think this is so conducive to really connecting with one’s home and where one lives.

There is also that element of stilting forward evolution.

These comments, especially the last ones, should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of this is to say, yes!, very exciting what you have written and propose Alex!



The Cabin Stove – A Small Masonry Heater at Aprovecho Research Center

Important note: I have preserved this post as-is for archival purposes.  On-going development of the Cabin Stove is documented at The Cabin Stove Page.

A good part of the month of August has been dedicated to the research, development and construction of a small multi-functional masonry heater I have been calling “The Cabin Stove”.  Eva and I have both been working as instructors in the first year of the Sustainable Shelter Workshop Series at Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove, OR.  The building that is the focal point for this course has been designed to be just slightly smaller than the legal requirements for permitting so that it can at the same time be a teaching tool as well as a laboratory for a basic building system that a group of associated natural builders in the Pacific Northwest considers to be a sound and ecological way of making a home.

The challenge of the design of the Cabin Stove was to come up with something that was very compact but also still resembled and functioned like a masonry heater.  The design criteria included heating the small space, an efficient and clean fire, utility for cooking, heating water, combining some quick/immediate-releaseheat with slower retained radiated heat, relative ease of construction, not too expensive, aesthetically pleasing, and being as compact in size as possible.  A very interesting process to try to combine all of these together.

Our test firings of the prototype in our shop were very promising.  The fire burned well and had no problem making its way through the longer pathway, even notably when the door was open with the beautiful cast fire screen reducing the overall air intake to a moderate amount. I think the design meets most of the criteria listed above well with the exception possibly of cooking utility since this was compromised to accommodate other features.

For the initiated, it is basically a very compact J-loop contraflow with a bi-pass that runs directly to the flu and allows it to function even as an open fireplace.  Rather than insulating the top of the heater as is done often in masonry heater construction, there is a 1/4″ steel plate placed on top that serves as a cooktop and source of immediate heat.  I am optimistic that the proportion of immediate and retained heat will be a good one for our bio-region where temperatures can fluctuate greatly during the day and from one day to the next.  We are within but on the outer limits of the kind of climate that masonry heaters were designed for which explains the need for continued development and innovation.

I did notice in firing the prototype that the big steel plate I had placed on it arced noticeably when hot so I welded a 3/16″ frame onto the Cabin Stove we built at Aprovecho though I am quite sure that the heat will play its funny games and have its own way with the final shape of the steel plate.  Cast iron is almost certainly the way to go for the top although I do not know of a source of affordable custom sizes.

Although the heater at Aprovecho was designed to be a double-skinned heater with a compressed earth block and local stone veneer, I am very excited that we will first test the heater with a single skin.  A neighbor has offered to lend his carbon-monoxide and air-quality monitors to test whether there are any dangers that result from expansion cracks in the single skin.  Given our climate in Oregon, the prospect of building responsive single skin heaters is a very interesting one.  (Note: the variation in the firebrick is because we used firebrick out of an old heater that had been taken down.  The students re-milled each brick to cut away the old mortar to return the brick close to original dimensions).

I have recently been very inspired by the Open Source design philosophy so I share the rest of these photos of process in that spirit!  Stay tuned for more on this heater and other research and endeavors.  Click to see any images enlarged.

You can see some other details of the building, including one of the timber frame’s posts; the faswall and stone stemwall; and strawclay insulation packed in between Larsen-truss style framing.

Custom-made heater hardware, made in our shop from scratch.

Details of Hot Water Serpentine.  More on Plumbing for Thermosiphoned Hot Water Systems….

Make sure to read this more recent post on the Cabin Stove 2.0!

The light and surrounding forest were really exquisite when I took these shots of the veneer material.  The compressed earth blocks were made by the students.

Find out more…..

Details of Plumbing for a Thermosiphon Hot Water System

The purpose of this article is to share the specifics of one way to plumb a masonry heater to provide hot water for a home. In this project, a stainless steel heat coil in the firebox was connected to a well-insulated water tank above it which then work together through a passive thermosiphoning process to provide domestic hot water without a pump or any additional systems.

This system was installed in January of 2011 by Alan Cook of Solar Hot Water Plus and the home-owners report that it is functioning perfectly. See our portfolio entry for more on this specific Corner Heater.

The most important thing to begin with is the relative position of the tank to the heater. The hot water tank must be above the heater and not too far away in the horizontal direction. The photo shows a good relationship between the hot water tank (which is in the upper left) and the heater (which is on the bottom right with visible stove pipe.)

Here, you see the stainless steel hot water coil that sits in the back of the firebox. This “Hilkoil Stainless Steel Hot Water Loop” was purchased from Thermo-Bilt, Inc. out of Schenectady, NY. The coil is a variation of their 16T model, modified to accommodate the thickness of the masonry walls (simple custom drawing here). The cost for the custom coil was $275. It comes with a life-time guarantee. We cut two special bricks in the firebox to support the coil and wrapped the two parts that go through the masonry with ceramic wool to act as a firm gasket between the pipes and the masonry. We paid special attention to ensure that the pipes were placed so that they always had a slight upward slope. There is debate about where the best placement for the coil is. Many recommend burying the coil farther into the mass or placing it at the top of the heater in order not to cool down the combustion temperatures in the firebox. Because this heater was built in Northern California where winters are not so cold as elsewhere, we chose to put the coil directly in the firebox since heating hot water is one of the primary functions of the heater rather than a secondary one.

pipes coming out of masonry heaterHere you can see where the coil comes out behind heater and transitions to copper plumbing. It is important to use a dielectric fitting here so that the metals do not corrode each other. Alan put these elbows in to accommodate for the fact that the wall opening turned out to be too high to go straight out. It is significant to recognize that while this upwards adjustment works out fine, the opposite – a downwards adjustment – wouldn’t work because it would go against the flow direction created in a thermosiphoning system. Put simply, you always want the colder water to be going down and the heated water to be going up.

details of plumbing coming out of fireboxThis is a detail of the plumbing just outside of the firebox which is conveniently located under the staircase. What you see are two pressure valves that are plumbed together to a drain that is below and away from the house. They are placed here to ensure that there is a safe release of pressure in the event that steam would be created in the system. Alan, the plumber, made a special point to use pressure valves and not pressure/temperature valves in this location, explaining that a “p/t” valve might release incorrectly because of the heat conducted through the metal. The upper pressure valve is just barely visible behind the upper plumbing. The little literature I have seen specifies only a pressure valve on the top/exit pipe. Alan explained that he plumbs the lower one also in the event that the plumbing might somehow get clogged inside the coil and pressure would build up backwards. A good example of how thorough and competent Alan is.

Here you can see the array of pipe going between the coil, the tank, and the domestic hot water plumbing. Alan transitioned to a flexible, pre-insulated stainless steel pipe to complete the thermosiphon loop (black-covered pipes in the background). In the foreground, you see the cold water “in” and the hot water “out” as well as the pvc drain which services the pressure/temperature valve and the pan beneath the hot water tank. Note: all pipes excluding cold water “in” should be insulated.

Here you can see the same pipes from the last photo making their way to different parts of the well-insulated water tank. Further framing will create a utility “slot” that will cover the pipes for aesthetic reasons but allow easy access for maintenance over the years.

A view of Marion (homeowner) and the well-insulated 50-gallon tank.

Alan removed the electrical heating element from this heater in order to plumb the hot water “in” of the thermosiphon loop. He explained that the electric element has a 1″ thread so it is necessary to reduce to 3/4″ thread to transition into the same pipe of the rest of the system. Notice that the passive solar hot water panels have also been plumbed in parallel (pipe coming from the left). The one-way “check” valve to the right of the “T” prevents any possible reverse siphoning as well as isolating the solar circuit from the wood-fired circuit.

This is the detail of the cold water “out” portion of the thermosiphon circuit. Alan has used the normal location of the drain to plumb the cold water “out” portion of the circuit for both the solar and wood-fired systems. Notice that he has maintained the functionality of the drain.

Some clarifications/additions from Al himself:

March 30, 2011
This is very good.

Small items to clarify:
At the exit point behind the stove, the barrier to differing metals (copper pipe and stainless steel coil) can be accomplished either by using a dielectric union or by using brass fittings. In this case, I used brass.
Brass is a nearly inert metal and is therefore minimally subject to decay associated with small electrical changes (e.g. electrolysis). Brass has a distinct advantage over the dielectric union which uses a rubber gasket as the barrier between steel and copper. The rubber capably insulates any electrical current that would be generated in a copper to steel setting however, the rubber will not stand up to the intense heat that is conducted from the firebox to the threads of the stainless steel stove coil. The better choice are brass fittings with both teflon tape and teflon paste to seal the threads.

Hot water is less dense than cold water and therefore floats up. This is the reason to always move heated water in an upward direction rather than risking a thermal lock seen when trying to passively move hot water in a downward direction.

The pressure relief valves near the back of the masonry heater are rated for 150 psi.


?This article is offered in the spirit of encouraging the use of local fuels to meet our basic energy needs. It is important to understand that heating hot water has risks associated with it – which mainly arise when water is over-heated, turns to steam and generates a build up of pressure in the system. The techniques used here including pressure and pressure/temperature valves were implemented by a very experienced plumber. As with all things, we do not hold ourselves liable for your experiences but hope that our collective experience will contribute to wiser ways in the future. To that end, we do not currently have a live comment flow implemented but would greatly appreciate your feedback, stories, and experience to add to the article through our contact page.

This is one in a series of articles on hot water systems for masonry heaters and wood-fired stoves. See also:

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Resources for Domestic Hot Water Systems for Woodstoves and Masonry Heaters

This is part of a series of articles on heating hot water with masonry heaters and other wood-fired stoves:

handmade hot water systems cover image We are currently reading “Handmade Hot Water Systems” by Art Sussman and Richard Frazier.  This book has a really down-to-earth late-70’s approach to using your existing woodstove to heat your domestic hot water.  It encourages the golden combination of using both solar and wood fire systems in parallel to meet your hot water needs year round.  The book offers solutions that do not involve complicated nor costly hardware and has a very good section of “recipes” for designing, making and installing components of the system.  We highly recommend it.  Until we can offer it through another souce, you can find it in Amazon’s used books.

Another interesting, more modern book specifically about the solar component of heating water is: Solar Water Heating–Revised & Expanded Edition: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems .

We also want to strongly recommend that you check out Hilkoil’s Stainless Steel Hot Water Loop which you can install into your existing wood stove or plan into a new masonry heater.  We were very pleased about their product and service in designing a custom-coil to install into our recent corner masonry heater project.

We’ve also learned through Solar Hot Water Plus about Rheem, a company that makes a variety of hot water tanks (the Solaraide series) made for solar hot water systems that have multiple threaded outlets in the right places so that you can plumb a hybrid wood-electric system in the same tank with ease (no secondary pre-heating tank).


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Towards Functional, Beautiful AND Affordable Masonry Heater Construction….

In our continual search to come up with functional, beautiful AND affordable solutions for sustainable living, we are very excited about and currently experimenting with the use of Compressed Earth Blocks (CEBs) for masonry heater construction.  As natural builders, we decided that masonry heaters provide the very best solution for heating homes.  It is the cleanest and most efficient way to burn wood which we consider to be a vital renewable source of energy in comparison with alternatives such as natural gas or electricity which come from more abstract and complex sources.

We love using earthen materials because of how sculptural they allow us to be, how healthy we feel using the materials compared to others and because of their low embodied energy.  We have been experimenting with using cob and adobe for masonry heaters and have found that both leave room for desired improvement in their thermal capabilities. Cob does work well for rocket stoves but it is still not the perfect dense material that we want to be storing the heat generated by the flue gases traveling inside masonry heater channels.  The denser and heavier the material, the greater the rate at which it can transfer the heat from the gases passing by its inside surface towards it outside surfaces.

CEBs allow one to make bricks with a very dry mix.  When using a press like a CINVA-Ram… one notices that whereas water is usually what gives clay its cohesiveness…. the compression that results from using leverage  mixed with only a very little bit of water activates the binding quality in clay and makes strong unfired bricks (also know as “green” bricks).  Because there is not so much water in the mix, the density of the material does not change so much in drying.

We are currently beginning experiments with producing and using CEBs for masonry heaters and look forward to sharing these experiences..

Links to heaters built with unfired earthen bricks to understand the combination of functionality and aesthetics we are going for:

Rainwater Heater, faced with the bricks made in the video above
Rio Azul Masonry Heater
& CIDEP Rocket Stove – built by Firespeaking in February and March of 2010
The Outstanding Work of Vuurmeesters in Europe
The Inspiring Work of Holger Laerad in BC, Canada

Further Reading on the Web:

An excellent general overview about Compressed Earth Blocks (CEBs)
A hands-on project led by Tom Trout at the Masonry Heater Association 2006 Annual Gathering
For those interested in really going deeper into the subject…. follow this link to a thorough and thoughtful guide to making CEBs.

Related Ideas and Terms:

Rammed Earth Construction, Sustainable/Green/Natural Building, Using Local Energy, Using Local Resources, Ecological Responsibility, Fireplaces, Adobe, Cob, etc.

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Mark Twain on European Masonry Stoves

Mark Twain“Take the German stove, for instance – where can you find it outside of German countries? I am sure I have never seen it where German was not the language of the region. Yet it is by long odds the best stove and the most convenient and economical that has yet been invented.

To the uninstructed stranger it promises nothing; but he will soon find that it is a masterly performer, for all that. It has a little bit of a door which you couldn’t get your head in – a door which seems foolishly out of proportion to the rest of the edifice; yet the door is right, for it is not necessary that bulky fuel shall enter it. Small-sized fuel is used, and marvelously little of that. The door opens into a tiny cavern which would not hold more fuel than a baby could fetch in its arms. The process of firing is quick and simple. At half past seven on a cold morning the servant brings a small basketful of slender pine sticks – say a modified armful – and puts half of these in, lights them with a match, and closes the door. They burn out in ten or twelve minutes. He then puts in the rest and locks the door, and carries off the key. The work is done. He will not come again until next morning.

All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable, and there will be no headaches and no sense of closeness or oppression. In an American room, whether heated by steam, hot water, or open fires, the neighborhood of the register or the fireplace is warmest – the heat is not equally diffused throughout the room; but in a German room one is comfortable in one part of it as in another. Nothing is gained or lost by being near the stove. Its surface is not hot; you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt.

Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day; the cost is next to nothing; the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns; one may absorb himself in his business in peace; he does not need to feel any anxieties of solicitudes about the fire; his whole day is a realized dream of bodily comfort.

America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? The American wood stove, of whatsoever breed, it is a terror. There can be no tranquility of mind where it is. It requires more attention than a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time; and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half. It warms no part of the room but its own part; it breeds headaches and suffocation, and makes one’s skin feel dry and feverish; and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano.

We have in America many and many a breed of coal stoves, also – fiendish things, everyone of them. The base burners are heady and require but little attention; but none of them, of whatsoever kind, distributes its heat uniformly through the room, or keeps it at an unvarying temperature, or fails to take the life out of the atmosphere and leave it stuffy and smothery and stupefying….”

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