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Newbie in search of best solution

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by jwilkinson, Sep 8, 2006.

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  1. jwilkinson

    jwilkinson New Member

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    I purchased a house in central PA last fall that has electric baseboard heat and a Kodiak woodburner (Fischer style) in one corner of the "basement" (Split level). We finished the basement this summer (now a bedroom, laundry room, family room, bathroom) and removed the stove; refinishing the corner with stone & slate on the concrete platform. Now I would like to add a primary heat source solution, but am "second guessing" after reading all the articles on this forum. I got a taste of the "wood" with the Kodiak last winter (occassional) & liked the heat, but not the "wood fire" odor & smoke so much (my damper skills need work). In remodeling, I even installed a 6" grill & duct fan directly above the platform & leading outside through a dryer vent "flapper" with a timer switch; anticipating that I could vent while fixing the fire. Also, the Kodiak had no ash tray so it had to extinguish to allow fully cleaning out the fire box. In addition, I'm not fond of the cutting, carrying, splitting, & bark mess. My thoughts for a replacement are turning toward hard coal & the Harman magnum or Alaska Kast II stokers mainly because of their automation & ability to be "hands off" for a day or three (my wife & I both work & kids at school, dog not trainable). Now I am starting to wonder what advantages these offer over a gravity feed unit? If the power goes off, would gravity feed continue (possibly in radiant heat mode only)? I know battery back-up is a possibility as well for the stoker argument. I am interested in opinions regarding the two stokers mentioned as well as other units that I may not be aware of. Also, any opinions regarding Gravity feed VS auto stoker. BTW, my current flue has an 8" round inlet, can I just use an adapter if the new stove has a smaller flue?

    My total electric bill last year was approx $1200 (and I kept the family pretty cold, except for Kodiak days); without the Kodiak, elect likely would have been $1500 - $1800. Cooking and clothes dryer are propane; water heater is electric. Any guestimates on electricity consumption reduction? 40% maybe?

    Thanks to Hearth.com for a great resource in my quest.

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  2. Roospike

    Roospike New Member

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    Welcome to the forum . As for "wood stoves" most of the modern EPA wood stoves dont have the smoke issues of the older stoves. With an ash pan clean out and bring in the wood with a rubber-maid container gets rid of most of the old wood stove issues you mentioned. I understand "coal" is dirtier in the air and to handle than just the wood ash from clean out . Lots of options for that extra heat. We heat with 100% wood with the modern EPA wood stove and it took our natural gas bills in the winter from $190.-$260. down to $27.-$38. per month and that is the hot water heater.
  3. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Not real familiar with stokers, but perhaps others are. Some may have battery backups.

    I think you will be OK with going from the 6" to 8", but you will have to keep an eye on the chimney if it is metal - coal eats away at this. You will want to clean it well right after the burning season and perhaps pour down some baking soda or other "base" and brush to neutralize the acid.

    If you do decide to line the existing chimney, make certain you use 316 stainless, as it will hold up to coal better.

    Since you live near the coal area, you should be able to save a lot vs. electric heat.

    MAKE CERTAIN YOU INSTALL ONE (OR TWO) CO DETECTORS. People die in PA. every year from coal stoves. The CO produced by them is odorless. The key is to have a good chimney and a detector or two.
  4. trb157

    trb157 New Member

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    Quest,
    I moved into an older (1880) house in Central PA last April. It has modern guts (windows, insulation, etc.). We installed a Harman DVC-500 direct vent coal stoker. We absolutely love it. The heat is impressive as it heats the entire house just from radiant heat and the blower fan. It runs for about 3 days on a hopper load and we have little or no residual dust or odor since it is an entirely sealed unit drawing cumbustion air from the outside. Our other heat is oil and we didn't use it at all, dropping our estimated costs from $2000 in oil to about $550 in coal. We have a small generator to use in case of power failure that will run the well pump and the stove and a fridge. A battery back up on the stove would keep us warm but we still would not have water or anything without a generator. I love a wood fire but it is indeed more more in the long run than dumping coal into a hopper. There is satisfaction in a woodpile and heating with the fruits of your labor but less effort in a family with 2 kids and 2 dogs is better for me. I would say if you have a place to dispose of coal ash, then go with coal. Luckily, I have a convenient gravel township proad that nobody minds if I dump some extra grit and traction on in the winter. Just my $.02.

    Tim
  5. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    Quest, welcome to the forum. You might want to read the NEPA forums for a bit, they're coal focused. Do a Google on "Coal heat" and you'll find them.

    I remember as a teenager heating with an old wood stove then two coal stoves, and I'll tell you the coal stoves were very dusty. Black dust everywhere. I believe the modern ones are much better than back in the 70's, and stokers are even better. I think they would be a great option for you. That said, one of the big focus's here is the usage of fossil fuels and links to the environment. Now I'm not any sort of eco-nazi, but it sure looks like there is a tie, and wood looks like it contributes a lot less to the environmental problems. Plus it's cheaper, especially if it's free.

    Roo's post is dead on. The smoke and ash problems your seeing are issues with an older stove. If I open the door slowly on my stove, there is absolutely no smoke dumped into the living space at all. Sometimes if I open it quickly just after a fresh load of wood I'll get a quick puff, but that's all. My stove must be shoveled out since it's an insert, but I don't clean it out completely, actually that would be counter productive. I clean some of the ashes out and leave the coals for starting the next bunch of logs. We get a little dust from the cleanout, but not much. I'm positive a stove with an ash pan would be much easier to deal with.

    It sounds to me like a larger stove with an ash pan would do really nicely for you. Look at something like a Lopi Liberty, a Harman TLC2000 (which can burn coal also by the way) or an Osburn 2400.

    Keep the questions coming and we'll all gladly help you spend your money. :)


    Edit to correct spelling of Harman...One of these days I'll spell that guys name right!!! Plus the previous post on the DVC...I believe is dead on. Those are very sweet stoves and can be direct vented. And coal is really cheap and available where you are.
  6. trb157

    trb157 New Member

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    No dust and no smell these days. I don't know how Harman or other companies do it but somehow the blower only produces nice clean hot air. They give you a nice color coded picture of how air moves but I just take their word for it and enjoy the heat. Other than the environmantal impact of the mines, which is substantial, PA has plenty of coal. Plenty. There is about 7 billion tons of coal in Pennsylvania, which is enough to supply anthracite for the next 300 years.
  7. FireJumper

    FireJumper New Member

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    either stove will work well (dvc-500 or mag stoker). it all depends on the heat your looking for. the mag stoker is definately the bigger of the two and actually cheaper because of the simplicity of the unit. the dvc-500 can only be installed with pipe that is manufactured by harman as where the mag stoker can be installed with any brand class "a" pipe.

    webmaster is right about the acidities in the coal in that they will start to eat away at your venting. so don't go cheap with the venting if you can afford it. and always keep the venting as well as the unit clean, especially the unit.... if you leave coal in the unit througout the summer months you better plan on buying new parts for your unit... i.e. hopper, pusher block etc. always make sure these area's are super clean since coal will draw and hold moisture throughout the year. this will hold true for either unit i was just using the mag stoker for the example.
  8. trb157

    trb157 New Member

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    FireJumper is right about the DVC pipe. I did get the actual pipe (Simpson) from another company but the thimble or the piece that goes through the wall was from Harman aand it was pretty salty in price. If you have an existing Chimney that is functional, then go with the magnum or even something smaller. The Magnum is a blaster. Even with the DVC, on slightly warmer days, (outside air 50) the living room temp can get quite unbearable so we try to hold out unti it is going to be cold for good.
  9. FireJumper

    FireJumper New Member

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    the termination should have come with the unit... every dvc-500 sold comes with a black door kit and termination whether is 8", 12" or 16", depending on the thickness of your wall. now you do have options such as a gold door kit that will raise the price a little. the only thing that should cost you anything on a standard black stove is the length of pipe needed to get to the termination. you may want to ask questions if your being billed for the termination.
  10. sweeper

    sweeper Member

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  11. Michael6268

    Michael6268 Feeling the Heat

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    Dont forget Keystoker. I have one and like the fact that it has a heat exchanger in it. Less $ going up the flue. They claim up to 80% efficiency. Check it out at keystoker.com. Ps. The stove really looks ugly on their website, but in person, without the "whitewall tire look" door, its not bad looking at all.
  12. HarryBack

    HarryBack New Member

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    ALL CO is odorless.....its the same compound, be it from gas, coal, wood, pellets, corn, oil, etc. Its the other compounds generally emitted with the CO that causes any "smell" at all.....for instance, with coal, you get a fair amound of Hydrogen Sulfide gas (H2S)...sorry, dont know how to put the 2 where it belongs!...Actually, Hydrogen Sulfide is a poisonous compound in itself. In high enough concentrations, H2S isnt detectable by odor, and causes immediate respiratory paralysis.....one of the biggest killers in the oilfields....i got gassed by this stuff in Wyoming in 1986....pretty incredible stuff.....one minute you are standing there, and the next, if you are lucky, you are waking up......most dont wake up, I got lucky. You never feel a thing either....not getting woozy, lightheaded....one minute I was working, the next I was waking up. Funny thing too...the H2S detectors on site never even went off, till later.
    Coal gas has a definite odor tho, and it catches you in the throat...anyone ever burning coal never forgets the smell. As for detectors, get a good one, situate it near the stove. Id reccommend using CO detectors irregrdless of what you are using for heat...can be produced by coal, wood, gas, oil. Just a good idea to have one. In MA, they are now being REQUIRED. Elk? Anything to add?
  13. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Certainly you are right, harryback, about ALL CO being odorless. My point is that very clean anthracite - in certain stoves and during many parts of the fire - is difficult to detect. I think the sulfur stuff burns off pretty quick....during the last 1/3 of a coal fire I think there is hardly any telltale smell.

    This is my guess given that:

    1. I had coal stove customers who continually set off the CO detectors, but yet there was no smell in the house.
    2. As mentioned, there are usually quite a few deaths in PA each year due to CO from coal stoves.
    3. Some third hand stories from others, including a chimney sweep who installed a multi-fuel cap on a coal stove chimney and ended up sending the entire family to the hospital....the CO came up one chimney and down the other! In this case, a coal stove in the basement provided the CO and a fireplace in the living room with flue reversal brought it back down.

    Anyhow, my point is that Hard Coal CO can be less detectable than wood CO or automobile CO (although cars are getting so clean, they probably are more dangerous this way).

    In even other words, a person can easily be struck down by CO (from oil, gas, kerosene or hard coal) and not even have a warning. That is what worries me and would make an investment in a CO detector a good one!
  14. jwilkinson

    jwilkinson New Member

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    All,

    Thanks so much for all the input & warm welcome. The CO detector "heads up" was especially appreciated & will do! I recently came across an Alaska Stove, Kast II coal stoker: used, but with a replaced motor at a local fife place shop who happens to be a dealer for that brand. The price is $1000. Any comments on the stove or the price (good or bad?)
  15. trb157

    trb157 New Member

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    I almost bought an Alaskan Stove before I went with Harman. The only thing I didn't like was that the thermostat controls or the fire and combustion fan controls are very arbitrary settings. This is according to the Alaskan dealer. The settings, if I remember, run from 1-5 and the stove on 1 produces almost no fire, and the stove on 5 wastes a lot of unburnt coal. So that left very little options as to how hot you wanted the stove or the room. The Harmans operate on both stove temp and room temp depending on how you want it. The Harmans just give you a little better touch and control. I don't know if it is worth the extra cost having never owned a Alaskan to see how good/bad the controls are.
  16. trb157

    trb157 New Member

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    The Alaskan stoves are very well built and good looking too. That's what made it a tough decision.
  17. jwilkinson

    jwilkinson New Member

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    Thanks for the input TRB. I read a similar report in the forum or possibly reviews on this site. Something to the effect that on 1 or 2, almost no heat, blast furnace at 5. Do you think an aftermarket control system like the Coal-Trol (http://www.automationcorrect.com) could rectify this issue? Even at the list $399 + the $1K stove, it's still less than a new Harman Magnum ($2800?). I havent found a used one of these (Harmans) yet. Also, I also found a used Alaska Channing at the same dealer. Pros & Cons of Channing Versus the Kast II?
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