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Coal vs Pellet Furnace. Central Heat for home in NH

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by KeepingWarmWithWood, Aug 4, 2013.

  1. KeepingWarmWithWood

    KeepingWarmWithWood New Member

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    I am looking to see what the best route here for me is, coal or pellet furnace for central heat. Any advice would be appreciated. Anyone here familiar with coal as a central source of heat in NH? Any idea of the cost of coal and where I can purchase it? Again, thanks for any info that you can provide!

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  2. leon

    leon New Member

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    There are many coal dealers in New Hampshire.

    Many of them are listed in the coal mining companies
    web sites as well as noted here on the form by its members and
    sponsors.

    A central heating system for your use is going be determined
    by your current heating system and the amount of heat loss that
    you have in your home and what you can afford to pay for from your
    disposable income until you have paid for the new heating system.
  3. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    Take a look at price and price trends. I was a big coal advocate and had a wood/coal boiler. Way up here in Maine rice/nut coal is going for around $300 a ton, and wood pellets for around $230. Do the math (and lets ignore all the other stuff at this point).

    They worked out to be quite similar in price/btu delivered when you consider the efficiencies of the equipment that is used to burn them.

    The BIG drawback for me with coal is it's far away source (from me) and the mess that comes from handling the ash. Coal makes ALOT of ash, no official numbers but I believe it's in the 2/3 volume range and it's toxic, so don't go spreading it on your garden. These were the big deciding factors for me, and I know several people and some light industry that burns coal here, so I am quite familiar with it in both small and large boilers and handfed stoves.

    Personally I like wood because there is no market fluctuation, but there is certainly work involved, whereas pellets and coal are both quite painless.

    TS
    ewdudley likes this.
  4. ewdudley

    ewdudley Minister of Fire

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    Yeah a lot of ash with coal. My boiler fills its bucket about once a day, so change buckets each day and take out two buckets every other day. It's a chore.

    I agree the ash probably wouldn't be a good idea in a garden, but at our place there's an area where ashes have been dumped over the bank for 100 years or more and the vegetation is extremely lush.

    If you can build a bunker for bulk coal you can get it by the tractor trailer dump load and lock in a price for five years or so that way. Also if you've got some place to store bagged coal where the sunlight won't destroy the bags, and you can unload pallets from a walking bed trailer, then you can get tractor trailer loads that way.

    So coal is easy and cheap enough, but burning pellets looks like it might be nicer and easier even if it does cost substantially more.
  5. heaterman

    heaterman Minister of Fire

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    Maintenance wise, there is no comparison between a good pellet boiler and a coal boiler. I had a total ash accumulation of maybe an 8 qt pail from over 3 tons of pellets and cleaned the boiler once in 900 hours of operation.
    Look at the local cost of each fuel, factor in the maintenance part of the equation and make your decision.
  6. Chris Hoskin

    Chris Hoskin TarmSalesGuy

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    my understanding is that anthracite coal is around 12% ash (by weight) and wood pellets are typically less than 1%. While I am not too concerned about the toxicity of the ash, I agree that I would not spread it on the garden. My real concern come with the burning of coal - it is an environmental disaster (CO2, NOX, SOX, etc.). Extraction of any fuel - including wood - can be done poorly, but coal is especially bad. Thanks to coal we have a term "mountain top removal". Ugh. By contrast, the wood pellets you will be burning are most likely produced right here in NH (possibly ME or VT), the fuel source is renewable and NH is offering a generous rebate towards the installation of high efficiency, bulk fuel fed pellet boilers (30% capped at $6000.00). Even with the rebate you may spend more on the pellet equipment than you would on a coal boiler, but it would seem pellets are the way to go - especially in central NH. My two cents.....well, maybe a nickel's worth! :)
  7. spirilis

    spirilis Feeling the Heat

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    I don't think Anthracite is mined by mountaintop removal these days... that's the bituminous coal further west and south of eastern PA where anthracite is found.
  8. Ncountry

    Ncountry Member

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    I am trying to choose between the 2 as well.Here are a few points I have picked up so far.I am not sure about pellet boilers, but there are many coal boilers that have been in service for over 50 years. Initial cost is probably cheaper for an equivalent coal boiler. I would realy like to own one of these new high efficiency pellet boilers, but they are 1/2 again to 2 times as expensive. An in expensive pellet boiler comes with a lot more maintenance. From my experience cleaning my pellet stove vs my father's coal furnace..his is easier hands down.
  9. heaterman

    heaterman Minister of Fire

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    I would agree on the maintenance issue with pellet equipment that is "normal". Pellet stoves, furnaces, and boilers that we typically encounter are primitive when compared to some of the equipment coming in from Europe.
    The Windhager I ran for 3-1/2 months this past winter required one (that's 1) cleaning during that time. It clocked over 1,200 hour of run time and I literally opened the burner compartment once in that entire time.
    When I finally cleaned it I would say the total ash accumulation was less than 10-12 pounds.
    The hopper holds 300 pounds of pellets and I had to top it off 2x per week in my house.
    The European pellet equipment is an entirely different class of product. It is made for 100% continuous service as the primary and often only heat source in homes over there.
  10. leon

    leon New Member

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    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    There are a lot of good coal stokers and hand fired wood and coal boilers.
    Harmon has wood pellet stokers, and hand fired wood and coal boilers- I think close to 15 models in total +- .

    AHS, Keystoker and EFS coal stokers built in coal country are also units that have an excellent
    reputation and many happy owners.
  11. ewdudley

    ewdudley Minister of Fire

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    I liked the Harmon units a lot, but their dealer in my area was patronizing, so went with a Keystoker unit brokered over the phone. For the price of nice European pellet boiler with a bulk pellet handling subsystem I got an affordable coal boiler and a twenty-five year supply of fuel, plus all the controls are off-the-shelf third-party stuff. I may have to tend to the boiler every day, but I'm done spending money for heat for as long as I may be expected to live.
  12. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    It's like most things, different strokes for different folks. There is no clear cut answer, some personalities want to have max efficiency and least cleaning/maint. while others would rather save the $$$$ and buy the fuel. It all works out to those factors, numbers, and personality types.

    An argument can be made for all things, which is why all things exist as they do. Marketing and cost.

    TS
    ewdudley likes this.
  13. Dana B

    Dana B Feeling the Heat

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    I live in NH and recently did resarch into the whole alternative to heating with oil thing.

    Here's what I determined as it relates to my personal situation.

    Solar/geothermal: If you have to ask you can't afford it. I had to ask.

    Coal: Not many coal dealers in NH and the price didn't seem like such an advantage as if you were buying it in PA where it's mined. The transportation cost seems to be factored into selling/buying coal in NH.

    Wood: Seems like it is the most cost effective but also involves a great deal of work between chopping. cutting storing seasoning etc etc I wanted something that my wife and some day my kids will easily be able to do if I am not around.

    Pellets: The newer European pellet boilers are less maintenance and coming down somewhat in cost. Pellets will save me money over oil. They're not messy and my wife and kids can load the hopper. This was the obvious choice for me.

    In the end I decided to purchase a Windhager Biowin 260. It is being installed in late September and I will be writing up the install with pictures on this website to share my expereicne with others.

    I would highly reccomend looking into the Windhagers and giving Marc (the vendor) a call and possibly setting up a demo like I did prior to deciding to make the purchase.
  14. flyingcow

    flyingcow Minister of Fire

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    As boilerman said, where we are, we've got a good conduit for coal. I looked into it yrs ago and sometimes kick myself for not doing it. But in light of Obama's admin in going after coal industry......what's the future on pricing?
  15. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    Holy Schnikes, my thoughts EXACTLY! I try not to get into politics on here as much as I can ;em..........it's hard.

    This was the deciding factor for me, as I was on the fence with coal/pellets thing for a long time.

    This said I have worked on a fellow co-worker's EFM coal stocker boiler a few times for him. He bought it used (manufactured in 1982), it's heated his 4,200 square foot house since 2002 via CI radiators. It's a nice setup, about as bullet-proof as it gets with a nice oil-lubricated ratcheting auger and bottom fed burn pot. The EFM can be retuned and will burn wood pellets flawlessly as well. If I were to go the stoaker route, from what I've seen EFM would be at the top of my list for bullet-proof time tested design.

    I've also worked with some new and old Axmen Andersen coal boilers, they still make the same boiler as they did in 1930. They feed the coal from the top and drop it onto the fire with a suction fan pulling the gasses through the HX, not sure if that setup can be run on pellets. The A-A boilers are a bit dirtier from the coal falling onto the fire, but can burn nut coal (larger) and the EFM needs rice coal (smallest).

    TS
  16. Chris Hoskin

    Chris Hoskin TarmSalesGuy

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    I would suggest that the demise of coal has a lot more to do with low natural gas prices than any government policy. Same reason we don't sell very many wood boilers or pellet boilers where there is natural gas.

    BoilerMan, years ago I used to burn about 125 tons per year of anthracite coal through six or eight A-A Anthratubes - those things are built like a tank! Still making them, I think.
  17. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    What/how many square feet? Institutional setting I presume? We put two A-A in our church (Building built in 2000) three years ago. I'm not sure of the tonnage we burn, but both boilers run for 5 months, then down to one.

    TS
  18. Chris Hoskin

    Chris Hoskin TarmSalesGuy

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    a bit over 100,000 square feet. It was an old woolen building built in 1881 with rows and rows of single pane, steel framed windows and brick walls. Like trying to heat the proverbial barn! The oil boiler was a monstrous Cleaver Brooks burning #6. Steam, of course. The original boilers were still in place and I can remember thinking you could probably play a game of baseball inside them - huge. We were also able to walk into the horizontal passage (smoke pipe) that tied all three boilers together to the 125 foot smoke stack. We hooked up two or three Anthratubes to that and had to use multiple barometric dampers on each because the draft would pull a piece of paper out of your hand and gone! No worries about fly ash build up :)

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