In bygone years, many homes were heated with coal, but that practice has fallen out of favor for several reasons. For one thing, coal is a messy fuel, and pollution is created when it burns.
In areas where it is abundantly found, however, it is the cheapest fuel for heating, and that is enough to get the attention of a lot of people in these days of high priced fuels.
For North Americans, coal begins to look good also because it is “made in America” which means using it for heating reduces our dependence on foreign oil. So what are the possibilities of heating with coal these days?
First, there are two main types of coal. Anthracite coal, such as is mined in Pennsylvania, is the type used in home heating. It is the harder type. Modern coal burning stoves are designed to burn efficiently without creating air pollutants.
And like wood, coal makes a very warm fire. In fact, some people who heat with coal find that it makes an even warmer fire than wood does. The new coal stoves are available with a variety of features that make them cleaner and easier to use than ever before.
A truly versatile type of coal stove is one that is made to burn wood as well as coal. This would be a wonderful investment if you aren’t sure you will be staying in an area where coal is abundant, and you want to take your stove with you.
It also offers an option in case heating costs change, and more options are always a good idea. A glass door allows you to enjoy the fire just like you would with an open fireplace.
One of the problems with heating with coal is stoking the stove every day or so. Some new stoves are designed to stoke themselves. Coal is added to the hopper on the top, and feeds into the burner based on a thermostat. But you can save a little money on the stove and do the stoking yourself.
Coal burning stoves do require a certain amount of maintenance. They create ash and dust, so you have to clean a coal burning stove with a stiff brush every week or so.
You also need to check the stovepipe periodically to see that it is not getting filled with soot. Coal burning produces a lot of dusty ash, so a stove with a HEPA filter can be a big help in cutting down the amount of housework you have to do.
Coal fires are harder to light than wood fires, so be aware of that. One way to light a coal fire is to start with charcoal briquettes. Line the bottom of the stove with the charcoal.
Use a good brand that is easy to light with a match. Get the coals glowing first, and then add a hopper of coal to the stove a little at a time, getting each new batch to burn before adding more.
You do not need to poke a coal fire like you do a wood fire to keep it burning. You do need to shake down the ashes and remove them from time to time.
Your home will be dry when heating with coal, so it is a good idea to keep a kettle of water on the stove to add humidity. For further help, follow the instructions that come with your coal burning stove for best results.
See Also: Pellet Stoves
Photo by Henrique Pinto, Creative Commons Attribution License