Anyone still burn coal?

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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
Hi -- I'm interested in what you say here about the creosote and corrosion. I got a vintage Tirolia stove (kitchen/heat/water) that is coal burning. Am wanting to swap out a propane heater (since propane is getting so $$$$$) that is vented into a clay-lined flue. Currently, the propane unit is the only thing in this flue, however, previously an oil furnace, propane water heater, and very old wood stove were all in this same flue. Can I hoook up the coal stove without putting in a stainless liner?
If the clay is is good shape and the chimney was built correctly yes. Clay is still the best liner for coal
 

coaly

Fisher Moderator
Staff member
Dec 22, 2007
4,340
NE PA
40 lb bags off anthracite USA coal at tractor supply for $6.50. is this good value? no idea how to compare coal cost/heat output to hardwood.
I have a wood stove that has heated my home and a coal stove that has heated my home different years.
I normally use between 2 and 2 1/2 tons of Chestnut a year. I started when coal was 100 a ton, last year it was 220 picked up in bulk. Never had it delivered for an extra charge or bagged for the extra charge.
If I had to buy wood at 160 a cord now, I would need to buy more than twice that. So coal is cheaper by about 1/2. The big difference is the amount of work involved. This is heating just under 2000 sf. in Northeastern PA. Coal is abundant here.

The main advantage is one match lights the fire started in November. The heat stays more constant depending on how often you can shake it. Less hot/cold cycles with coal. I had a stoked stove, (that means you shovel coal directly onto fire) when I started and changed to a hopper fed Hitzer. One coal hod poured in daily (unless it’s extremely cold when it could use up to 2) and shake at least twice, and empty ash is the only work involved keeping it going.

So years when I don’t take time to have enough wood ready (I have enough land to cut standing dead only) I burn coal. The main difference is much less work involved with coal.

You will have more than twice the ash using anthracite. Remove ash pan daily. This is important to keep good air flow under grates. Air coming up through grates cools them. Ash build up below them is the stove killer. It will warp and melt grates.

You have no creosote, but the emissions burning coal are far worse. The residue in pipes and chimney from fly ash become very corrosive when warm air during summer creates moisture condensing in pipe. I remove my connector pipe in spring, brush it and rinse well with water until it runs clean. Dry the pipe and store in basement with dehumidifier or I need to replace pipe every other year. Barometric dampers are expensive, so keeping it clean is necessary if you don’t want to replace it every few years. (You absolutely need a barometric damper with coal to burn steady and efficient) If I don’t clean my stainless chimney cap it also rots away within a few years. So the cleaning and maintenance is important. If you don’t clean a metal chimney in the spring it will rot the inner liner out quickly.

Using a bin with bulk coal is not only cheaper than bags, it gives you an assortment to use as the temperatures fluctuate during winter. When it warms up, you want to use the fines around bottom and edges, not larger pieces. This will burn longer with less heat output. The colder it gets, the larger the pieces you want in stove. This is due to the oxygen between each piece. You will get the same btu out of each pound of coal, but the larger the coal the faster it burns due to more oxygen going through it. So finer pieces slows it down putting out less heat over the same amount of time. Like wood, you will learn other tricks burning coal with time.

One other disadvantage is airborne ash when removing ash. This is why coal has the reputation of being dirty inside. You need to shake lightly in the morning to get a good draft going and kick up the fire BEFORE removing ash pan. As long as the fire is burning well, the air is rushing into stove and up stack. This prevents the airborne ash when removing pan from getting into house using chimney as a vacuum keeping it much cleaner inside your home. The fine dust will get everywhere until you master this.
 
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coaly

Fisher Moderator
Staff member
Dec 22, 2007
4,340
NE PA
Hi -- I'm interested in what you say here about the creosote and corrosion. I got a vintage Tirolia stove (kitchen/heat/water) that is coal burning. Am wanting to swap out a propane heater (since propane is getting so $$$$$) that is vented into a clay-lined flue. Currently, the propane unit is the only thing in this flue, however, previously an oil furnace, propane water heater, and very old wood stove were all in this same flue. Can I hoook up the coal stove without putting in a stainless liner?
Yes, clay is better than a liner, but there is also a learning curve with coal.

Gas is easiest, wood is work, and coal takes time to learn how to burn it the cleanest (keeping a blue flame above coal bed to burn off coal gas), the size of coal and air adjustment for proper heat output, and ash removal preventing airborne ash in the home.
I would use stainless inside for connector pipe knowing how corrosive it is to black pipe after learning I had to remove the connector pipe yearly to clean it preventing its constant replacement.
 
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rwh63

Feeling the Heat
Nov 12, 2019
284
MA
I have a wood stove that has heated my home and a coal stove that has heated my home different years.
I normally use between 2 and 2 1/2 tons of Chestnut a year. I started when coal was 100 a ton, last year it was 220 picked up in bulk. Never had it delivered for an extra charge or bagged for the extra charge.
If I had to buy wood at 160 a cord now, I would need to buy more than twice that. So coal is cheaper by about 1/2. The big difference is the amount of work involved. This is heating just under 2000 sf. in Northeastern PA. Coal is abundant here.

The main advantage is one match lights the fire started in November. The heat stays more constant depending on how often you can shake it. Less hot/cold cycles with coal. I had a stoked stove, (that means you shovel coal directly onto fire) when I started and changed to a hopper fed Hitzer. One coal hod poured in daily (unless it’s extremely cold when it could use up to 2) and shake at least twice, and empty ash is the only work involved keeping it going.

So years when I don’t take time to have enough wood ready (I have enough land to cut standing dead only) I burn coal. The main difference is much less work involved with coal.

You will have more than twice the ash using anthracite. Remove ash pan daily. This is important to keep good air flow under grates. Air coming up through grates cools them. Ash build up below them is the stove killer. It will warp and melt grates.

You have no creosote, but the emissions burning coal are far worse. The residue in pipes and chimney from fly ash become very corrosive when warm air during summer creates moisture condensing in pipe. I remove my connector pipe in spring, brush it and rinse well with water until it runs clean. Dry the pipe and store in basement with dehumidifier or I need to replace pipe every other year. Barometric dampers are expensive, so keeping it clean is necessary if you don’t want to replace it every few years. (You absolutely need a barometric damper with coal to burn steady and efficient) If I don’t clean my stainless chimney cap it also rots away within a few years. So the cleaning and maintenance is important. If you don’t clean a metal chimney in the spring it will rot the inner liner out quickly.

Using a bin with bulk coal is not only cheaper than bags, it gives you an assortment to use as the temperatures fluctuate during winter. When it warms up, you want to use the fines around bottom and edges, not larger pieces. This will burn longer with less heat output. The colder it gets, the larger the pieces you want in stove. This is due to the oxygen between each piece. You will get the same btu out of each pound of coal, but the larger the coal the faster it burns due to more oxygen going through it. So finer pieces slows it down putting out less heat over the same amount of time. Like wood, you will learn other tricks burning coal with time.

One other disadvantage is airborne ash when removing ash. This is why coal has the reputation of being dirty inside. You need to shake lightly in the morning to get a good draft going and kick up the fire BEFORE removing ash pan. As long as the fire is burning well, the air is rushing into stove and up stack. This prevents the airborne ash when removing pan from getting into house using chimney as a vacuum keeping it much cleaner inside your home. The fine dust will get everywhere until you master this.
thx for taking the time to contribute that write-up.
 

rwh63

Feeling the Heat
Nov 12, 2019
284
MA
Yes, clay is better than a liner, but there is also a learning curve with coal.

Gas is easiest, wood is work, and coal takes time to learn how to burn it the cleanest (keeping a blue flame above coal bed to burn off coal gas), the size of coal and air adjustment for proper heat output, and ash removal preventing airborne ash in the home.
I would use stainless inside for connector pipe knowing how corrosive it is to black pipe after learning I had to remove the connector pipe yearly to clean it preventing its constant replacement.
in my area, propane is about $3.40/gal using their tank (.80 cheaper if i had my own tank), firewood sabot +/-$300/cord for mainly oak delivered. having a tight house (and there are many old ones that aren't or can't realistically be made so) is a best energy cost savings method.
 

coaly

Fisher Moderator
Staff member
Dec 22, 2007
4,340
NE PA
in my area, propane is about $3.40/gal using their tank (.80 cheaper if i had my own tank), firewood sabot +/-$300/cord for mainly oak delivered. having a tight house (and there are many old ones that aren't or can't realistically be made so) is a best energy cost savings method.
I was in the propane business for 20 years and heated with coal. If I didn’t have the need to get rid of so much wood, I would burn coal every year. Coal follows the price of diesel. As oil raises, so does coal. It takes diesel for generators, venting, hauling.

Years ago coal supported itself. It was burned in boilers for generating steam that ran a dyno for electric generation, steam engines for winches, and steam engine delivery by rail. I have receipts for 3.50 a ton I should dig out and post from my parents. That even came with a shovel when you were a good customer. I have a shovel from Peoples Coal Co. (still in business) with 3 numbers for their phone number on it!

Coal trains from Scranton PA would come through our town and stop for water. The trains were 100 cars long averaging 100 tons per car. Town people would run with their shovels to the middle of the train that couldn’t be seen by the engine crew or caboose and shovel off the cars onto the ground while it was loading water. They came back with wheelbarrows to shovel it up to take home after the train pulled out. 3.50 was a lot back then.

Homes had no insulation and many stoves. Each chimney served a parlor stove, dining room, and up stairs bedroom. 10 tons a year was normal usage for a two story home. (2 tons + is the norm now with insulation, energy efficient windows and air tight stoves) That cooked as well on a kitchen stove. Double homes had 2 kitchen stoves into the same chimney with a door next to the stove adjoining the two residences. The first one up in the morning would take care of the others stove. People also left their front door unlocked so travelers could stop to warm up and were expected to tend to their parlor stove before leaving. Coal was a way of life and you can’t imagine the smell in towns. Monday was wash day when the railroad had to run a clean stack with no smoke or cinders while everyone had laundry out drying. Sunday was stove day to let the kitchen stove cool enough to clean and stove black the outside, then oil the top.
 

clancey

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2021
1,710
Colorado
So different that life was and so fascinating too--coal has a long long history and I find your story enticing and it making me want to do some research on those days--what strong people they were in those days---when they gave their word with a handshake they kept it--being honorable people. I grew up in the city Philadelphia but had a few glimpses of how life was back then and to tell you the truth I respect coal and like it just wishing that they could really find a way to make it clean burning. Even the clean burning coal--make it cleaner....and use the by products as well...Thanks..clancey
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
So different that life was and so fascinating too--coal has a long long history and I find your story enticing and it making me want to do some research on those days--what strong people they were in those days---when they gave their word with a handshake they kept it--being honorable people. I grew up in the city Philadelphia but had a few glimpses of how life was back then and to tell you the truth I respect coal and like it just wishing that they could really find a way to make it clean burning. Even the clean burning coal--make it cleaner....and use the by products as well...Thanks..clancey
There were just as many dishonest crooks back then. People just weren't bombarded with it by the 24 hr news cycle.

When talking about coal you also can't ignore the effects and dangers of mining it. Look at towns like shamokin Mt Carmel etc in Pa. Look at lots of areas in WV. Then you have Centralia. Coal was very useful for a long time but it has some major down sides.

That being said I don't have any issue with people using it for heat or the people mining it etc. But in general it is dying out and it's time to move on
 

clancey

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2021
1,710
Colorado
Yea I understand but it helped bring our wonderful nation to where it is today...It has a vivid history of corruption as well as other places but underneath all that it saved many lives and made it possible for our future--same as wonderful wood...Those days were rough and yes there were lying crooks just like today and what a dirty job is was with the mining but those people were different and strong and you see it in your faces if you ignore the poverty of it all in places. Its a lost culture that will never be back and I will have fun checking it out further and I am looking for the humorous things as well...Fun to read up on different things...I respect coal for it is a backdrop that could very well in the future be a sort of a emergency supply that could save peoples lives...Talk about a way to get it to people ---train loads and let them shovel it off in a emergency situation just like in the old days "if they had too"....just thinking of the old and how they made it years ago--clancey
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
1,896
Long Island NY
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
Yea I understand but it helped bring our wonderful nation to where it is today...It has a vivid history of corruption as well as other places but underneath all that it saved many lives and made it possible for our future--same as wonderful wood...Those days were rough and yes there were lying crooks just like today and what a dirty job is was with the mining but those people were different and strong and you see it in your faces if you ignore the poverty of it all in places. Its a lost culture that will never be back and I will have fun checking it out further and I am looking for the humorous things as well...Fun to read up on different things...I respect coal for it is a backdrop that could very well in the future be a sort of a emergency supply that could save peoples lives...Talk about a way to get it to people ---train loads and let them shovel it off in a emergency situation just like in the old days "if they had too"....just thinking of the old and how they made it years ago--clancey
I can agree with allot of what you said there. But I am not really following how coal saved lives. It absolutely fueled the industrial revolution and allowed our country and world to become what it is now.

I am also not just talking about poverty in those areas (which yes there is allot of). I am talking about very very serious environmental issues caused by mining coal. Many creeks are still completely dead and run bright orange. They are getting cleaned up but still have a way to go. And then there is Centralia which has had veins of coal burning under it since 1962.
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
1,896
Long Island NY
The industrial revolution cost a lot, but saved a lot of lives too as it facilitated research, medical knowledge gained, better protection against weather etc. How do we know this? The life expectancy has risen dramatically since the (coal fueled) industrial revolution.

However, all that knowledge now allows us to do better, and hopefully do away with the human cost of many things, including coal.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
The industrial revolution cost a lot, but saved a lot of lives too as it facilitated research, medical knowledge gained, better protection against weather etc. How do we know this? The life expectancy has risen dramatically since the (coal fueled) industrial revolution.

However, all that knowledge now allows us to do better, and hopefully do away with the human cost of many things, including coal.
Well said
 

ChillyB

New Member
Oct 15, 2021
56
TN
The house I moved into has a coal stove. I dont (yet) have a bunch of seasoned wood. My alternatives are heat pump (yeah, NO), kerosun heater, and a Little Buddy propane heater. I guess I'll be learning to burn coal once the chimney is inspected.
 

thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
43
Coal Country
coalpail.com
thx for the replies. does coal burn lower and more steady than wood? i've read that it "lasts longer", esp. good for overnights. is waste disposal a challenge? does it burn clean out the chimney, or dirty? the loading seems a little like a pellet stove set up; load it and just keep topping it up.

It will certainly last much longer than wood. When loading you completely fill the unit, this is about 3 times the energy density for same volume of wood (this also applies to storage). Adjust the heat output with the air. What you set the air on will determine how fast the coal is consumed and the maount of heat produced. Most people with hand fired stoves use them as "supplementary" heat and will get on a schedule of loading in the morning and evening.

How much total heat really depends, the sf250 for example is safely operated up to 120K BTU. Most if not all will exceed the max but you don;t want to do that. If for example you left the ash door open after loading you can easily turn many stoves cherry red. I mnetion this because a lot of people will open the ash door after loading to accelerate initial lighting of fresh load. Give yourself a reminder to close it if you do this.

A clay lined chimney will last indefinitely with coal. There is just a small amount of fine grey fly ash, most of which will settle in horizontal connector pipe runs and the bottom of the chimney. Two imporatant things to be aware of if you the chimney is utilized for wood. The coal will dry out the creosote and it drop down in big chunks potentially blocking the flue. The other "gotcha" is barometric dampers are often recommended for coal stoves, be aware this is a perfect source of air if the chimney is packed with creosote..... If it catches fire your chimney fire is now on steroids. This of course is not a concern when using chimney for coal alone.

As disposal can be problem but it's considered clean fill at least here in PA. It's mostly silica, there are heavy metals etc but these are slightly elevated above dirt.

It leaves allot of ash. When I was burning coal I easily had 10 gallons a week. Wood might be 5 gals a month

Depends on the type/quality and how it's being burned. A white ash coal with low ash content will burn up to powder with a low and steady burn. On the other extreme red ash has a iron content and will even produce clinkers if it's buned too fast. Generally speaking though you can probably expect about 15% by weight, the volume is going to higher because you'll get a granola like ash that is easily crushed, it takes up a lot of space though.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
A clay lined chimney will last indefinitely with coal.
Everything else is your post is very accurate and informative. But clay lined chimneys absolutely will not last indefinitely with coal or anything else for that matter. Without a doubt clay is still the best liner for coal but it is still effected by coal ash especially if that ash is exposed to any moisture at all. We typically see 30 to 40 years out of clay in our area.
 

thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
43
Coal Country
coalpail.com
That was just a bag price. No idea what a ton would be. I read one ton equals 2-3 cords of heat output.
You are probably mixing up the energy density, 3 ton of coal will fit in about the same space as one cord of wood.

Comparing the costs can be problematic. Firstly wood is sold by volume instead of weight. If you knew the weight of the wood(species is irrelevant when using weight) and the moisture content you could get a pretty reliable comparison.

When using cord as measurement the factors that need to be considered are species, moisture content and other things like creative stacking. :)

Generally speaking a cord of well seasoned hardwood is about the same or little less BTU than your average ton of anthracite. I know some people will mention they cut their own and that can cut the costs if you don't consider your time. My advice is sell the wood and use the proceeds to buy coal.
 

thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
43
Coal Country
coalpail.com
Everything else is your post is very accurate and informative. But clay lined chimneys absolutely will not last indefinitely with coal or anything else for that matter. Without a doubt clay is still the best liner for coal but it is still effected by coal ash especially if that ash is exposed to any moisture at all. We typically see 30 to 40 years out of clay in our area.
Probably depends on utilization, I know at my old house it was in perfect condition after 30+ years but that boiler was ran 24/7/365.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
Probably depends on utilization, I know at my old house it was in perfect condition after 30+ years but that boiler was ran 24/7/365.
Absolutely running 24/7/365 keeps it all perfectly dry so the formation of acid is at a minimum.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,243
Downeast Maine
Coal is $350/ton here, I got a flyer in the mail with fuel prices, but that might be a ton in plastic bags, not loose. Bulk loads are probably cheaper by the ton, but most people can't store several tons of nut coal.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,073
central pa
Coal is $350/ton here, I got a flyer in the mail with fuel prices, but that might be a ton in plastic bags, not loose. Bulk loads are probably cheaper by the ton, but most people can't store several tons of nut coal.
Storing coal is easy. We see lots of exterior coal bins here. As well as many interior ones as well. Most old houses here have coal chutes and a bin in the basement.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,243
Downeast Maine
Storing coal is easy. We see lots of exterior coal bins here. As well as many interior ones as well. Most old houses here have coal chutes and a bin in the basement.
That's fair, bins would make it easy.
 

thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
43
Coal Country
coalpail.com
If you are using a stove most people go through about 3 tons per year. This can be stored in 8*8*4 bin. Ideally you have basement bin and can get it delivered via high lift. Easy storage is one of the benefits for coal over wood. It's only 1/3 the space and it can be stored anywhere... You can even just dump it on the ground however I would recommend a tarp top and bottom.

This is one of my old trucks, it's a 7 ton lift (could be modified for 10). BTU for BTU I could deliver faster than any oil/gas assuming it was easy access. I had about 30 foot of chute and it could come straight off the back or at an angle. Gravity is a cool thing. :)



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thecoalman

Member
Jul 18, 2008
43
Coal Country
coalpail.com
I don't know how many lives were saved because of coal, but that has to be offset against the 7500 (to 52000!) lives ending early because of coal every year, in the US alone.
There isn't 50K people dying from coal each year. Ever wonder how they calculate that?

Setting aside the dubious data the EPA uses let's suppose we perform an experiment and have 10 people jump off a 20 foot ladder and 2 die. From that we can assume that when a population of 10 falls 20 feet 2 will die, extrapolate from there. If 20 people jump off a 10 foot ladder 2 will die... if 40 people jump off a 5 foot ladder 2 will die. When 300 million jump off a infinitesimally small ladder 2 will still die.

In other words some guy that lives hundreds of miles from any coal activity that eats chicken wings all day while smoking a carton of cigarettes and downing it all with a case beer will have a small percentage of his death attributed to coal. The aggregate of that is where the 50K deaths come from.
 
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SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
6,243
Downeast Maine
There isn't 50K people dying from coal each year. Ever wonder how they calculate that?

Setting aside the dubious data the EPA uses let's suppose we perform an experiment and have 10 people jump off a 20 foot ladder and 2 die. From that we can assume that when a population of 10 falls 20 feet 2 will die, extrapolate from there. If 20 people jump off a 10 foot ladder 2 will die... if 40 people jump off a 5 foot ladder 2 will die. When 300 million jump off a infinitesimally small ladder 2 will still die.

In other words some guy that lives hundreds of miles from any coal activity that eats chicken wings all day while smoking a carton of cigarettes and downing it all with a case beer will have a small percentage of his death attributed to coal. The aggregate of that is where the 50K deaths come from.
So their lives didn't matter? The science is pretty clear on coal, burning it produces toxic ash and sulfuric acid. If those things could be figured out I don't have any other beef with coal aside from it being unsustainable. You have to realize the negative health effects from coal are not limited to the extremely hazardous fumes/combustion contaminants, but the ash is so hard to properly deal with. When buried in the ground it contaminates local ground water by leaching heavy metals into aquafers. NC is having a very hard time cleaning up all the coal ash that Duke Energy just landfilled everywhere.

You example with the ladder is foolish. You also just made up statistics on the spot. Stop trying to act like coal has not killed millions of people over the years. Everyone wonders why lung cancer is so common despite humans having used tobacco and other smokeable herb products for thousands of years, but couldn't be the coal!