[Homestead] Burning coal at home

Lynn Wigglesworth lynnw1366 at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 26 17:47:45 EST 2008

I had a small stove in the city that burned coal. It's messy and I never 
knew how to get rid of the ash (it's not good for the garden like wood ash 
is). It's a little different than tending a wood stove, but it isn't 
difficult to learn and it gives good heat.

I also have a coal stove here, in the greenhouse, with a whole bin of coal. 
After one winter of going out in snowstorms to tend the stove, I gave up the 
idea of a heated greenhouse. I got coal because I happened to have a coal 
stove (it was in the workshop when I moved in), but wood is still cheaper 

Lynn Wigglesworth
Tioga Co. PA

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "bobf" <bobford79 at yahoo.com>
To: <homestead at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, December 26, 2008 5:21 PM
Subject: [Homestead] Burning coal at home

> Last week someone on the list said they had coal on their land -- maybe 
> Drew?  This article is in today's NYT about people starting to burn coal 
> again to heat their personal homes...................
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback
> Laura Pedrick for The New York Times
> Problematic in some ways and difficult to handle, coal is nonetheless a 
> cheap, plentiful, mined-in-America source of heat. More Photos >
> Published: December 26, 2008
> SUGARLOAF, Pa. — Kyle Buck heaved open the door of a makeshift bin 
> abutting his suburban ranch house. Staring at a two-ton pile of coal that 
> was delivered by truck a few weeks ago, Mr. Buck worried aloud that it 
> would not be enough to last the winter.
> “I think I’m going through it faster than I thought I would,” he said.
> Aptly, perhaps, for an era of hard times, coal is making a comeback as a 
> home heating fuel.
> Problematic in some ways and difficult to handle, coal is nonetheless a 
> cheap, plentiful, mined-in-America source of heat. And with the cost of 
> heating oil and natural gas increasingly prone to spikes, some homeowners 
> in the Northeast, pockets of the Midwest and even Alaska are deciding coal 
> is worth the trouble.
> Burning coal at home was once commonplace, of course, but the practice had 
> been declining for decades. Coal consumption for residential use hit a low 
> of 258,000 tons in 2006 — then started to rise. It jumped 9 percent in 
> 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, and 10 percent 
> more in the first eight months of 2008.
> Online coal forums are buzzing with activity, as residential coal 
> enthusiasts trade tips and advice for buying and tending to coal heaters. 
> And manufacturers and dealers of coal-burning stoves say they have been 
> deluged with orders — many placed when the price of heating oil jumped 
> last summer — that they are struggling to fill.
> “Back in the 1980s, we sold hundreds a year,” said Rich Kauffman, the 
> sales manager at E.F.M. Automatic Heat in Emmaus, Pa., one of the oldest 
> makers of coal-fired furnaces and boilers in the United States, in a nod 
> to the uptick in coal sales that followed the oil crises of the 1970s.
> “But that dwindled to nothing in the early 1990s — down to as many as 10 a 
> year,” he said. “It picked up about a year ago, when we moved about 60 
> units, and then this year we’ve already sold 200.”
> Dean Lehman, the plant manager for Hitzer Inc., a family-owned business in 
> Berne, Ind., that makes smaller, indoor coal stoves, said his stoves were 
> on back order until March. And Jeffery Gliem, the director of operations 
> at the Reading Stove Company and its parent, Reading Anthracite, in 
> Pottsville, Pa., which supplies coal and stoves to 15 states in the 
> Northeast and Midwest, said the uptick in interest was the largest he had 
> seen in 30 years.
> “In your typical year you might have five, six, seven thousand stoves 
> being sold,” Mr. Gliem said. “This year it was probably double that.”
> The coal trend is consistent with steep increases in other forms of 
> supplementary heating that people can use to save money — most of them 
> less messy than coal. Home Depot, for example, reports that it has sold 
> over 80,000 tons of pellet fuel, a sort of compressed sawdust, for the 
> season to date. That is an increase of 137 percent compared with the same 
> period last year, said Jean Niemi, a company spokeswoman.
> Coal may never make economic sense in areas far from where it is mined. 
> But in places within reasonable delivery range, the price tends to be 
> stable, compared with heating oil or natural gas. Prices for natural gas 
> more than tripled in recent years before plunging in the last few months 
> amid the downturn.
> Coals vary in quality, but on average, a ton of coal contains about as 
> much potential heat as 146 gallons of heating oil or 20,000 cubic feet of 
> natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. A ton of 
> anthracite, a particularly high grade of coal, can cost as little as $120 
> near mines in Pennsylvania. The equivalent amount of heating oil would 
> cost roughly $380, based on the most recent prices in the state — and over 
> $470 using prices from December 2007. An equivalent amount of natural gas 
> would cost about $480 at current prices.
> Mr. Buck said he could buy coal for $165 a ton. On a blustery afternoon 
> recently, he was still studying the manual for his $2,300 Alaska Channing 
> stoker, which gave off an intense heat in the den where he had installed 
> the unit. An automated hopper in the back slowly dispensed fine anthracite 
> coal chips into the stove’s belly, and every couple of days, Mr. Buck 
> emptied the ash. He said he hoped the coal stove would cut his oil 
> consumption in half.
> “Now, somewhere, you’ve got to take into account the convenience of 
> turning up your thermostat, versus having two tons of coal to shovel and 
> the hopper and ashes to deal with,” Mr. Buck said. But if the $330 worth 
> of coal in his makeshift bin “heats the house for the winter,” he added, 
> “you can’t beat it.”
> Wesley Ridlington, a homeowner in Fairbanks, Alaska, bought an outdoor 
> coal furnace for $13,000 in March and uses it as his main source for heat 
> and hot water.
> On a recent evening, as the temperature hovered around 23 below zero, Mr. 
> Ridlington worked to free up the rotating burning plate inside the 
> furnace, which he figured was jammed by a pebble. He did not seem to mind 
> the glitch, or, for that matter, loading the furnace twice a week and 
> emptying the ash pan every night. “It takes a little bit of time,” he 
> said, “but for the savings, it’s worth it.”
> Mr. Ridlington said he was typically burning 1,500 gallons of oil each 
> winter to heat his 3,300-square-foot home. At last year’s prices, that 
> would have cost about $7,000, he said. This winter, he expects to burn 
> nine tons of coal at a cost of about $1,400.
> “The initial cost was expensive,” he said. “But in three to five years, it’ll 
> be paid for, even with prices going down. And if fuel goes back up again, 
> it’ll be even more savings.”
> Rob Richards, who owns a business in Fairbanks that sells spas, pool 
> tables, and now outdoor coal furnaces, said that when oil prices were 
> higher, he could promise fuel cost savings of more than 75 percent and a 
> payback of 18 months for an outdoor coal furnace. With oil prices down 
> again, orders for furnaces have dropped off, and the savings are closer to 
> 50 percent with a few years’ time to recoup the cost, he said.
> “Still, you’re looking at a quick payback,” Mr. Richards added.
> Coal was a dominant source of heat for American homes for much of the late 
> 19th and early 20th centuries. Americans were still burning more than 50 
> million tons of coal for heating in 1950, according to the federal 
> statistics.
> But coal, primarily used today in power plants and steelmaking, has not 
> been used for heating on a large scale for decades. Cleaner and more 
> easily distributed forms of heating fuel — including natural gas, 
> electricity and oil — displaced coal, and residential use dropped 
> precipitously, to 2.8 million tons by 1975, and then to less than 500,000 
> tons by 2000.
> Even with the recovery of the last couple of years, residential use of 
> coal in the United States, at less than 300,000 tons today and 
> representing a fraction of 1 percent of all coal use, is “not even a blip 
> on the screen,” said Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining 
> Association.
> Still, even amid the steep decline, small upticks similar to the current 
> one have appeared from time to time, and residential use of coal never 
> entirely went away — particularly among people who lived near mines and 
> had access to cheap coal.
> In Homer, Alaska, fall storms wash crude coal onto the beach from 
> underwater deposits. In the mountains of eastern Kentucky or the hills of 
> central Pennsylvania, residents can simply dig it out of the ground.
> “As long as people have been mining coal up there,” said John Hiett of 
> Kentucky’s Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, “people have burned coal 
> in their houses.”
> Government data suggest that about 131,000 households use coal as their 
> primary source of heat, with perhaps 80,000 more using it as a secondary 
> source. Those numbers are small enough that issues relating to pollution 
> and greenhouse gas emissions have remained largely off the radar.
> Burning coal does throw fine particles into the air that can pose problems 
> for some people, similar to the problems involved in burning wood — though 
> wood stoves and fireplace inserts are increasingly subject to regulation 
> to cut down on pollutants.
> “Coal stoves don’t have that,” said James E. Houck, the president of Omni 
> Environmental Services, a firm in Portland, Ore., that tests air quality. 
> “And there’s no regulatory pressure for them to have it.”
> In some localities where residential coal burning is becoming a factor, 
> that might be changing. In Fairbanks, air quality experts suspect the 
> increase in coal burning — along with increased wood burning, including 
> green wood — is contributing to concentrations of fine particles well 
> above federal limits.
> “We see it as a real health hazard to Fairbanks,” said Jim Conner, the 
> Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air quality specialist.
> Concerns like these have not deterred companies marketing coal. Back East, 
> the Blaschak Coal Company, a midsize supplier of anthracite in Mahanoy 
> City, Pa., still emblazons company trucks and baseball caps with images of 
> Santa Claus lugging a sack of coal.
> “Everybody’s looking at wherever they can to save money,” said Daniel 
> Blaschak, a co-owner of the company. “Cause guess what? We no longer have 
> disposable income. We are up to our necks in debt. And there’s very few 
> things we can’t live without, but heat is one of them.”
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