Traditional Heating (with a modern twist) of a Saxon House in Șomartin Transylvania Romania with Earthway Experience.

April 24, 2018 – Kevin Jarvis

The Barn is on the left.
To the right is the building with the bake oven and a room that was originally a dentists office. 
The house is to right.

In November 2017 we purchased a Saxon House in Somartin. The village has roots back to the 1200s. It is located in the Transylvania region of Romania. Saxon houses have 80 cm thick walls of stone and brick. One main reason is for insulation for warm summers and cold winters. The other more historical reason is that the villages used to be raided by foreign invading forces and brick and stone do not burn.

We were both very excited and we were very lucky to find a house like this one. There is a large barn and on the first level is a stall for 6 horses next to that room is a storage room and lastly a big room for pigs and a cow. The upper floor was used for grain and hay storage.  For people who used to read every edition of Mother Earth News and Backwoods Living and now being permaculturists, it is like having a wonderful blank slate to color and design as we like. Heating system, water system, sewer system and of course the Gardens!

The main floor of the house has three large rooms (street side) a large entry area, food storage room and large bathroom (garden side). The entrance to the basement, which can be seen to the left of the main entrance, has three large rooms like the main floor.

The previous owner had been fixing up the house for almost 12 years prior to us buying from him. His new wife did not want to live in Somartin so her loss has turned into our gain. Even though there was much work done, we still have much to do. The heating system was the first thing we needed to do as well as bring in water, the house had never had plumbing up to this point in time!!! Then, of course, we need to take the water away – grey and black water, so that needed to be addressed as well. 

Before we got going we had to see if the system the prior owner had installed was going to work. The plumber did a pressure test of the old system and the pipes did not hold any pressure, the pipes were plastic and had started to break down! So all the existing flooring in the house and tile work in the bathroom had to be torn out!!!! Even the radiators had to be replaced as the ones he had bought were old and full of rust!!!

As far as the heating system it really was a no brainer for us on what we wanted and that was Masonry Stoves (Terracotta in Romanian). It was just a matter of finding a good company that makes them and of course what model or style of the individual stoves. There are several companies selling Terracotta in Romania and all but one were made in China. It took about 1 minute to understand that the only choice was to get stoves from Terracotta Medias The company has been in business hand making Terracotta in Transylvania for 111 years. Below is an article recently published about the company and their wonderful Terracottas.


It’s hard to believe that in these times, when we’re so dependent on social networks or modern gadgets, people get to long for the simple things they’ve grown up with. So, more and more people prefer to decorate their homes with traditional objects that remind of the times when things were skillfully and painstakingly, not as when everything is industrial, by sophisticated machinery.

Such a place that survived the test of time is the terracotta factory in Medias, the last painted handmade factory in Romania. It has a tradition of 111 years and has gone through many stages over time, resisting the political and economic changes that marked our society in the last century. But the love for tradition and for beauty has remained constant.

Here, in the last Medias factory whose chimneys still smoke, as the employees often joke, alluding to the bankruptcy of the industry in the area, things go back to 1906, when Greff Iulius began to invest in the production of terracotta tiles.

Somehow, time seems to have stood in the dusty halls, for although people have come and gone over the years, the craft of terracotta is still practiced with the same rigor as in the past. Even the recipe has remained unchanged. Cahlele are made of a mixture of cauline clay from Medgidia, white caustic clay Vascău, caulin plk from Ukraine and refractory clays from Şuncuiuş – Bihor. Then quartz sand is added, followed by burning at temperatures of 950-1000 degrees C.

This mix of materials makes the stove warm up quickly and the temperature is kept well for hours after the fire is extinguished. 

The terracotta plate is traditionally obtained by pressing the clay cake into a soft wood mold decorated with decorative motifs. The same technique is currently used at Teracota Mediaş, the negative mold being now manually carved in plaster by the sculptor Iulia Costescu, graduated from Unarte Bucureşti.

After going through several shareholders, including the Romanian State, the factory is again in the management of a Saxon, Uwe Draser, the one who bought it and saved it from bankruptcy. Of course, he has a team of people who help him bring this place loaded with history on the waterline. We are talking primarily by Radu George, the plant manager, and a few months, the team is completed by Alexu Toader from Hello Menthol, the  charge of reviving the brand.

“I still can not believe that in Romania, that in the world, there is still a place where people are stubborn to work at the infinitely slower pace in which they have been working more than 100 years ago. The same materials, the same techniques, the same kind of way to do things. I think Teracota Mediaş preserves best the Transylvanian spirit of slow and well done work. I hope that the market and contemporary life will actually understand what these people are doing on earth and how long it lasts, “says Alexu.

Last year, the tiles made in the Medias factory were exposed in Bucharest and Alba Iulia, and the interest of the people was an unexpected one. And that’s because visitors had the opportunity to discover a small part of the complex and migratory process of producing terracotta. Currently, the factory produces more than 300 models of simple or ornamental cahles, painted by a team of painters.

Through collaboration with sculptors, graduates of Unarte Bucharest, and various painters, the Medias factory has the ability to reproduce any model and to ensure the necessary production patterns in series. Thus, restoration projects are possible, starting with old or advanced degradation.

Not accidentally, the factory is constantly working with restorers, foundations and investors in the cultural heritage. Moreover, there is a large collection of Transylvanian cahles and molds, including rare stoves from the Astra Museum in Sibiu.

More information about the history of Teracota Mediaş can be found on and on their Facebook page . I keep you up to date with the news when the dates of the next exhibitions are established. Maybe you can see these wonders alive, and, who knows, you decide to invest in a stove to leave to your offspring.

Published 7 February 2018 –

There are soooo many models to choose from at Teracota Medias.  As we were deciding the factory informed us that if we were ordering custom painted tiles it would take some extra time. We finally decided on three Terracottas for the main house and on custom painted and colored tiles.  They have already made models in a standard color.

“Pile of Tiles” After several weeks of waiting our Teracota’s were finally delivered!!!

 Each tile weighs appx 5kg. They are put together with cob and bricks and pieces of broken tile for mass and to make the stove stronger.

Here is a link to an educational and very interesting 4 minute video of the making of tiles at Teracota Medias

For the kitchen we decided on a cookstove style. We wanted to be able to set a large pot of stew on the stove on colder days and to be able to do some baking as well. We have been interested in rocket mass heaters ,we plan on building one elsewhere on the property though and the idea of being able to sit upon it and warm up was appealing to us. Like the rocket mass heater, after being warmed up, only a few pieces of firewood are needed daily or less depending on the temperature. Teracota Medias had several cookstove styles but none that fit these needs. They told us to look on the internet and they could build whatever we wanted and that is what we did.

Teracota Medias recommends sobars (craftsperson who “installs” Teracota) and only three who can install the hot water heating system. The man we chose told us he had built the stove we liked in a bakery in Austria! He made some additional changes to this stove, like adding the bake oven and like the other two stoves in the house he made it with larger glass doors. Terracottas usually have small metal doors.

Cooking Terracotta in Kitchen.

Just to the right of the cast iron cooking area is a small bake oven with glass doors. Cleanouts are covered with hand made tiles fitting into holes in the stove.

Bench to come and sit on those chilly winter days!!!!

In our bedroom, we chose one called “Saxon” and it weighs over 750 kg. The sizes of the stoves are matched to each room. This room is about 4 meters x 4 meters.

 First layer of tiles in the bedroom teracota.

What differentiates the two bedroom models is that one is much larger and has a water tank installed above the firebox that is connected to radiators in each room including bathroom and food storage room.  This will allow us to heat the house, mainly, with the one Terracotta! 

In the largest room of the house 6 meters x 4 meters there is, of course, the largest terracotta. It is about 50%  larger than our other masonry heaters.

The kitchen one will be used in fall, winter and early spring when we wish to cook or bake and heat the rooms a bit more. The smaller bedroom one used for when it’s really cold outside.

This water tank sits inside the terracotta over the fire and is connected to insulated copper pipes connected to radiators throughout the house (see below). There is a holding tank for the system in the basement.

Snakework of insulated copper pipes through the house, connected to radiators under each window.

Sign over Bake Oven / Spare Bedroom House

 “Cooperative of the Craftsmen – Dentist Section”

There is a very large bake oven in this building. It had been mistreated and over time had been falling apart. We are planning on having groups and friends and neighbors come over to enjoy our permaculture place and we were really glad to have a bake oven. From the beginning, we had thought it needed only a little bit of work but upon further inspection, we ended up having it rebuilt literally from the ground up.

The bake oven before being rebuilt.

The Bake Oven after being completely rebuilt. It will hold over 15-2kg loaves and 10 or so 5kg loaves of bread. The bricks used to reconstruct it are handmade “gypsy bricks” as well as specially shaped handmade bricks for the floor of the oven.

The chimney in front/over bake oven also make this a smoker. Bricks can be inserted/removed in the face of the bake oven to convert it from smoker to bake oven and back. 

A small drying fire.

Look at the pattern and artistry of the brickwork!!!

 Back side of rebuilt Bake Oven

In the room next to the bake oven is a room that was originally a dentist office. We found an old teracota and we did not know much about it. The sobar told us it is a 100 plus year old teracota originally made in Austrian. It was hardly used and had sat in the barn for a decade or more. He found a firewood and ash door also antique and made in Austria.

It weighs about 750 kg (1650lbs) and cooks us out of the room it gets so warm. 750 kg is a LOT of mass!!! 🙂

It has been quite an adventure so far and we have just started! We look forward to putting in new wood flooring and redoing the bathroom. That and lots of fun work outside in the growing areas. 

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Thank You Antal and Teracota Medias!!!!

 Fruit trees behind the houses

 Our street in Somartin

Our barn, house and spare room “house”.

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