11 Reasons Why Kilns Are So Expensive

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Reasons Why Kilns Are So Expensive

After researching the cost of kilns, you might be wondering why these machines are so expensive. After all, they seem like just a large oven to heat up your clay projects in order to bisque fire and glaze fire them. So how much does it cost to run a kiln and why are kilns so expensive?

To help you understand why, we’ve put together the following list of reasons. While it’s not an all-inclusive list of reasons, it should open up your mind to the reasons why these intricate pieces of equipment fetch the prices they do.

Are you ready to learn what makes kilns expensive to run? Let’s get started.

Reasons Why Kilns Are So Expensive

In no particular order, here are the reasons why kilns cost as much as they do.

1. Specialized Knowledge Required to Safely Manufacture Kilns

Though kilns might seem like oversized ovens, they’re a bit more complicated than that. In fact, there’s quite a bit of technical knowledge that goes into manufacturing kilns for the general public.

For instance, in order to know how to build a kiln, you’ll need to have:

  • Masonry skills
  • Welding knowledge
  • Carpentry experience
  • A background in engineering
  • The ability to perform advanced calculations
  • A knack for putting it all together

While many manufacturers have perfected the formula for their kilns, it’s based on a number of years spent performing many trials with plenty of errors to go along with it.

2. Kiln Releases Volatile Compounds

working ventilation system

Safety is key when working with a ceramic kiln. When you fire up a pottery kiln, the contents within can emit toxic fumes. These must be removed by a ventilation system that pulls air from the interior of the kiln as well as the exterior room air.

The price typically ranges anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around a thousand dollars for a quality ventilation system for a pottery kiln. However, a ventilation system is a valuable piece of pottery equipment and is one of the basic precautions you should take for your safety.

3. Purpose Built

Kilns are built for the purpose of achieving high temperatures in order to fire the materials within. When you fire pottery, this temperature differential can have a large impact on the life span of the components within, so using quality materials that can handle this temperature change is key to longevity.

In layman’s terms, kilns are built to last from quality materials meant to withstand long-term use. They’re meant to undergo hundreds of firings without failing. Kilns ranging in price can go from ambient temperature up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Quality, however, most often translates to higher material costs, which are passed on to the consumer as a higher price tag.

As the kiln cools, components undergo stress as well. The kiln’s power consumption might spike at the beginning of the firing program, but in order for the kiln to cool properly, the kiln must create gentle heating to slowly reduce temperature. Only once the kiln cools can you remove the projects within.

4. Type of Ceramic Kiln Can Dictate Cost of Firing

There are many types of kilns available, from gas and electric kilns to glass fusing kilns and more. We’ll focus mostly on electric kilns in this article, which are most often split into front- and top-loading types. These types will dictate the cost of firing a kiln.

top loading kiln pottery

Top-loading kilns are more common in pottery making since they’re the traditional setup used in most cases. These top-loading kilns are a bit harder to load if you aren’t used to stooping over them, but they’re cheaper than front-loading kilns.

Most front-loading kilns are built to withstand more use and therefore can arguably last longer than their top-loading counterparts. A front-loading kiln will save you from bending over so much as you can load it from a standing position, but there are certain tradeoffs.

5. Permit and/or Insurance Costs

If you plan on installing your kiln in your home studio, you’ll want to check with your local regulations when it comes to any permits you might need to obtain. These permits are meant to address some of the same concerns that insurance coverage will, mainly safety.

Your insurance premiums may or may not increase if you install a kiln in your home. Speak with your local agent to see what they recommend. After all, kilns are both a fire and electrical safety hazard if not used properly, as they could be the cause of accidents (and subsequent claims) later on.

6. Shipping Weight

large object for shipping

It’s no secret that it’s not cheap to ship large, heavy objects. This is where the difference between new and used kilns is negligible since you will likely be paying to ship and/or move the kiln either way.

If you do purchase a used kiln, and are not able to pick it up locally, the shipping may or may not be as expensive as it would be to ship a new kiln directly to your studio. Keep this in mind as you determine whether or not a used kiln is right for you.

7. The New or Used Kiln Dilemma

The long and short of it is that used kilns don’t typically resell well. The fact of the matter is that they may require a lot of replacement parts and TLC depending on their condition, and that’s assuming the heating elements and all the electrical components work as they’re supposed to.

For that reason, many used kilns are worth anywhere from 25-50% of their brand-new counterparts. While this might seem like a great way to save money, be cautious. The cost of replacement parts could put you close to what you’d spend on a brand new kiln that should be ready to plug in and fire once you get it installed.

There are a few key factors you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing a used kiln. These include:

  • Controller type and age
  • Lead glaze use in the kiln
  • Wiring condition
  • Heating element functionality
  • Included kiln accessories

If lead glaze has been used in the kiln, then it’s not safe for firing any pieces that will be drunk or eaten from. The lead from the glaze will still be in the kiln’s interior firing chamber, which could then pollute your pieces, even if they aren’t fired with lead glazes.

inside large warehouse

You should also check whether or not the kiln manufacturer is still in business. If the company is not open and producing replacement parts for their kilns, then the point is moot. Those kilns have thus become obsolete unless you’re able to source another used kiln for replacement parts.

8. Controller Type

As with any technology, last year’s model is already on its way to extinction. This extends to controllers as well when it comes to kilns. An old controller might get you by if you don’t have a complicated firing process, but if you plan on using your kiln for production or classroom use, having a newer controller might be a requirement. Controllers allow for gentle heating that’s controlled when firing a kiln.

There is the possibility to buy an add-on controller in some cases. However, the cost of these controllers can again make up the difference between a used kiln and a new kiln with a controller designed specifically for that particular kiln.

9. Firing Cost

The firing cost of your kiln up is one of the biggest expenses you’ll face, besides the initial investment of the kiln, of course. There are many factors that go into calculating the cost of a firing program, which include:

  • Price of electricity
  • Kiln wattage
  • Duration of firing
  • Firing frequency
  • Temperature at which you fire
  • Type of kiln
  • Size of the kiln you’re using
  • The pieces you’re firing

The average cost of electricity is about 12.70 cents per kilowatt-hour (kW). Check your local pricing to get a better idea of real rates in your area. You may also get a break if you fire at night, so keep this in mind as well.

Most kilns typically have around 5-8 watts for a medium-sized kiln. Larger kilns can be around 11 watts. This is a definite factor in affecting the cost of firing since larger kilns require more power.

Firing program times can be under an hour and up to 20 hours or more, depending on the pieces you are firing.

For example, if you’re firing a lot of pieces, it may take longer for the kiln to reach firing temperatures. The techniques you use to fire the pieces, if they require long and slow firing program times, can also affect how much energy you use.

The fact of the matter is that it takes more energy for the kiln to heat up to the firing temperature than it does to maintain that temperature. More power is expended in the first part of the firing process than is typically expended in the steps that follow.

large old kiln

The age of the kiln can also be a factor since the duty cycle of a kiln gets slower as it ages. The duty cycle is a way of measuring how much electricity the kiln actually uses. The duty cycle is based on the fact that, as we mentioned, a kiln uses more energy to heat up in the beginning than it does to maintain that temperature, so you’re not using the full capacity of the kiln at all times.

Let’s put all this together in a formula that Soul Ceramics offers:

Energy cost (kilowatt-hour) x Wattage of kiln x Duration of Firing x Duty Cycle of kiln

If you don’t want to do the math yourself, you can always use a firing cost calculator to determine all these costs. In this particular calculator, you’ll need to input the watt rating of your kiln, the voltage, amps, cost of a kilowatt-hour, bisque firing time, glaze firing time, as well as the time adjustment factor (also known as the duty cycle). The duty cycle has defaulted to 50% as an average but you can adjust that according to your particular kiln model.

10. Maintenance

Purchasing a kiln and firing it are two main costs. However, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of maintaining your kiln. This could include replacing certain parts over the lifespan of the kiln, depending on whether or not your kiln comes with a warranty and if those parts are covered under said warranty.

11. Cost of Consumables and Accessories

Kilns may be sold with furniture and shelves included, but that’s not always the case. Even if your kiln does come with the accessories you need to fire your projects, you may or may not break a few during the course of using your kiln.

For example, you may have an accident where a piece explodes in the kiln and destroys whatever furniture was in there at the time. Even though you paid for those furniture pieces with the initial cost of the kiln, replacing them will cost you a bit more.

Consumables for the kiln include items such as kiln wash. Glazes could also be considered consumable.

Pottery Wheel and Pottery Clay

Both pottery wheels and pottery clay are equipment you’ll need to invest in as well. For example, though a wheel might not be consumable in the same way clay is, it’s yet another machine that requires upkeep. Clay, on the other hand, is what you’ll need in order to fill the ceramic kiln with your projects.

pottery wheel clay project

Having a kiln and pottery wheel will set you up for great success in a home studio. Your pottery kiln will be able to fire pottery you throw on the wheel.

Common Questions

Why Are Kilns So Expensive to Run?

Pottery can be an expensive hobby in some cases. Firing a kiln can be expensive and depends on a variety of factors. For instance, the frequency at which you fire can most definitely affect how much it costs to run your kiln. The duration of the firing cycle affects costs as well, along with the size of your kiln.

There are some clays you can invest in that are baked within a home oven. However, in order to bake pottery clay, you’ll need a kiln. Firing a kiln up is one of the main reasons why kilns expensive reputation is prevalent, but it’s a tradeoff many prefer.

clay pottery class

Many people take pottery classes in order to avoid having to buy a kiln. However, pottery classes are a great way to experience different kilns without having to invest in them. That, and pottery classes are just a great way to meet other potters as well, especially if you’re just starting pottery.

How Much Does a Good Kiln Cost?

You can easily purchase a decent kiln for anywhere from $700 to $1,500. Kilns with more features and typically more space within the firing chamber can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. Most professional or classroom kilns run anywhere from $7,000 to upwards of $10,000, depending on the firing chamber size, the temperature range it’s capable of firing up to, the digital controller it comes with, as well as a number of other factors.

Generally speaking, paying a bit more for a kiln should get you a kiln that will last longer. Now, this all depends on the manufacturer, the parts from which the kiln is made, and the features associated with that particular kiln. Costs tend to increase for name-brand kilns, which may or may not be as effective or long-lasting as kilns with lesser-known brand names.

What is the Lifespan of a Kiln?

Most kilns are manufactured to last about 10 years or so. This is with proper care and maintenance, as well as a moderate firing schedule. Changing any of those factors can cause premature failure, though kilns will degrade naturally as they age.

Can I Make My Own Kiln?

custom kiln

There are craftsmen and women out there who make a living building custom kilns for potters. While you may be inspired to go out and create your own kiln, there are certain technical aspects you’ll need to be aware of before doing so. When you’re dealing with high temperatures and combustible materials found in many of the pieces you may fire, it’s important to know exactly what you’re doing in order to protect your safety.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Kiln?

Building a kiln can cost quite a bit, depending on what materials you choose to use. The availability of these materials can also affect how much it costs to create your own kiln. In many cases, kilns ranging in cost around $1,000 per cubic foot to build could put your total bill anywhere from $25,000 to upwards of $100,000.

The cost of putting in proper flooring could also drive up your price. Smaller kilns won’t need a large flooring area, but a big kiln will definitely need to be lifted from the ground on a platform.

Is it Better to Buy a New or Used Kiln?

The answer to this question depends on how much you know about kilns. There are certainly used kilns out there that were purchased on a whim and are in near-new condition. They may have been fired once or twice, but don’t have the mileage other used kilns may have.

parts inside kiln

If you are someone who is mechanically inclined, purchasing a used kiln might be a good way to save some money. If the parts are readily available to you that need replacing, you could come away from a deal with a cheap kiln and more funds to put into supplies.

However, for most potters, it’s best to purchase a new kiln with the features you want. While it may be tempting to save money, kilns are one of those purchases that favor those who bite the bullet and pay a bit more upfront, rather than paying it all at a later date to refurbish something that might be on the cusp of going out of date.

Where Can I Buy Kilns?

There are many places where you can purchase kilns, including Amazon and DickBlick. Soul Ceramics offers kilns as well. The kilns at Soul Ceramics can fire many different materials, from ceramics and porcelain to glass and precious metal clay. Soul Ceramics guarantees a low price and a large selection. Check out Soul Ceramics if you’re in the market for a new kiln.

Wrap Up

We hope you’ve found this article on the reasons why kilns are so expensive useful in determining how your money is spent when you purchase a kiln. It’s certainly possible to invest in a used kiln if you know what you’re looking for. But when it comes to making the most of your time, knowing that you’re paying good money for a new kiln that should work as advertised can be more calming to your peace of mind than anything else.