Sources:The most helpful site we've found is the Masonry Heaters Association of North America. Their site is:
Green Technologies: Fire
We will surely need a reliable heating system – one that can heat the large common area of the house. In our research we've discovered a "new", old-world technology called a Masonry Heater. Essentially with a Masonry Heater you build small, controlled fires that burn at a super hot rate (they say it burns at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit) which in turn stores the heat in the masonry thermal mass, and then slowly radiates the heat back into your house for the next 18 to 24 hours.
Masonry heating is not a new concept. Dating back to the days of the Romans, this technology has been in use. Reportedly, the Chinese and Koreans have used masonry heat for centuries. Europeans began developing masonry heaters about 400 years ago and Russian & Scandinavian immigrants were building them over 100 years ago on the prairies, where winters are long and cold and fuel is scarce (very similar to what we'll experience in Alberta).
On our site, wood is a renewable resource and finding wood to burn is not difficult to do. And, the masonry heater will have the added advantage of being a large body of mass that will be used in our passive solar operation (the large mass will absorb radiant sunshine during the day which will be released at night).
Although we have not yet selected the design of our masonry heater, we're working with a mason from Saskatchewan to come up with a design that fits our needs. We've listed some useful links if you want to find out more about masonry heaters.