A typical family home consists of two or three rooms. These rooms are used by the entire family of 10 – 20 people. The kitchen is often, but not always, separate from the sleeping quarters and often attached by the same roof. To cook, a fire is built on the dirt floor and clay pots are set around the fire, while a large comal (clay cooking platter for tortillas) is placed on top. It requires a large amount of wood to cook meals three times a day. These kitchens are very smoky, though some smoke leaves the room through the open door or gaps in the roof.
Our alternative is an appropriate technology stove called a “plancha”. It is a cement stove that raises the fire off of the floor and contains it in a firebox covered with a large metal plate. This controls and focuses the heat using a greatly reduced amount of wood. The fire is built in the front part of the stove where it is easy to control and maintain. The heat and smoke is drawn toward the back and out the chimney. The large metal cooking surface is used to cook on directly, and there are various sized circles that can be removed from the plate in order to place the clay pots directly over the fire. In addition to needing much less wood and less tending than an open flame, the venting of the smoke has great advantages for the health of everyone living in the house. The contained fire has significantly reduced the number of accidents from children falling into an open fire.