Dirty Minded, Why I Use Coal in the Cold Weather Months

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NoSmoke
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 6:03 am

I was lamenting yesterday to my wife Katie how I just do not get it...a logging firm had sent me a letter advertising seasoned firewood for $230 a cord. Now I use firewood, but it comes from my own woodlot, and while it is cheaper than that obviously, it still has a cost. There is nothing free about firewood, even off your own land.

But for people who actually buy cut, split and delivered firewood, why would they pay that much? Coal here is $350 a ton, and cheaper if you really shop around and get it in bulk, but a ton of coal is equal to 2 cords of firewood. In other words a homeowner could save $110 for the same amount of heat...and that is only 2 cords of wood, a typical home at least uses 4 cord in Maine, possibly more. That is $220 in savings, or at more than likely $330 in savings just by using coal.

To that Katie just said that the only thing she was ever taught about coal in school was that it was dirty. Having used it, she knows that coal is FAR Cleaner than firewood...far cleaner. And my Grandmother learned this when she was alive. I got my username from her actually as she lived in a house across the road from me and asked me when I was going to start up my stove. It was like -10 degrees out and no smoke was rising from my chimney...and there wasn't, just a heat haze. She was shocked when I told her I was burning coal.

My plan this year has been the same plan I have had for years...burn firewood in the shoulder seasons like fall and spring, but when it turns cold, burn coal instead. This gives my home at least, the best of both worlds. Cheap heat in the form of firewood for when a long burn, hot temp is not required with firewood, and then get those super long, super hot burns in the dead of winter with coal.

I just don't get it. Even my father when he installed a boiler in his house decided to go with pellets. PELLETS! A firewood boiler burned his last house down so I can see be gun shy on that, but coal has every benefit as pellets and is cheaper. As I said, I just do not get it, but suspect a lot of it has to do with the educational system instilling in young people that coal is somehow dirty as Katie always heard.
Last edited by Richard S. on Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 8:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Changed title, please use descriptive titles so other members know what they are clicking on. Thanks.

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Richard S.
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 7:59 am

NoSmoke wrote:... but a ton of coal is equal to 2 cords of firewood.
I've been researching this in depth lately because I'm going to be including this in the new calculator eventually, it won't be included when the new site goes live because it's fairly complex to get it right.

A ton of anthracite may be 25 million BTU's and can exceed 28 million. This variance becomes far wider with wood.

From my research thus far which is far from complete pound for pound different species of wood have the same BTU content and it's about the same as coal. However unlike coal wood is sold by volume which throws a giant monkey wrench into the calculations. One cord of softwood may have half the weight of one cord of hardwood therefore it has half the BTU content. A cord of wood can range from around 15 million BTU's on the low end to more than 30 million BTU's on the high end.

The next issue is the moisture content and this can drastically affect the efficiency. Wood with a high moisture content can cut your efficiency in half.... The 30 million BTU's in a cord of hardwood becomes 15 million and if it's a softwood it becomes a lowly 8 million.

The last and biggest issue is... garbage in, garbage out. While I'm going to try and account for both of these factors without accurate data from the person using the calculator it will never be right and any calculations on wood are going to be a really rough guess.

The new Calculator is online if anyone is interested in taking it for a spin. More here:

The New Fuel Comparisons Calculator

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Lightning
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 9:51 am

Nosmoke, I can relate... When I told friends and relatives I was going to switch over to coal from propane, they looked at me as if I had 3 heads... Now, they come visit in the winter and wonder why I keep my house 74-75 degrees. The answer is of course, because I can hahaha..


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Sunny Boy
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 11:08 am

Yes, I think alot of the "It's dirty" mentality comes from "education", or a better term is, "lack of education". Their views of coal are mostly by way of what they heard from news stories about the power industry having to clean up their exhaust stream. But the power industry burns primarily soft coal.

And then there's old pictures only show part of the story. Historically, when people see pictures of smoke coming from a house chimney, it's wood smoke.

As we know anthracite doesn't show any smoke, so most likely, If they don't see smoke from a chimney, they just assume it's oil, or gas heat.

However, I find very often that people who are old enough to have been around in the days of coal heat don't make that assumption that coal is a dirty fuel. Plus, there are some who are younger who were introduced to coal heat in the 1970's by their parents who grew up with coal heat, who switched back trying to save money when oil prices jumped. Melissa is in that category.

Paul

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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 11:48 am

I agree that a cord of good seasoned hardwood is close to being the equal of one ton of anthracite.

It also requires over three times the storage space as coal. It also means carrying in about twice the weight of coal to the stove for equivalent heat, and more frequently if the stove is to operate efficiently. Frequent feeding is the only way to burn fairly clean even with the modern wood stoves.

For a seller of seasoned wood, the wood has to be stored to season which requires handling it twice and enough storage space. Most don't do that and what is sold as seasoned is really green. It gets cut, split, and delivered to the customer. There is also the problem of getting an honest cord. Wood like oak needs two years to season.

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Sunny Boy
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 11:56 am

Right. Wet or dry, coal burns well in my stove.

And then there's the fact that bugs don't like coal. But I've had plenty of bugs get in the house from bringing wood in and letting it warm up.

Paul


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Richard S.
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 12:40 pm

Sunny Boy wrote: But I've had plenty of bugs get in the house from bringing wood in and letting it warm up.
Two fireplaces at my Parents place, they don't get used much and the wood gets left outside until it's going on the fire. Threw a lg on the fire once and bunch of those damn carpenter ants came streaming out, DIE, DIE, DIE. :lol: I'm not a psycho bug killer but I'll make an exception for them .

NoSmoke
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 1:01 pm

The ONLY reason I burn wood is because I have so much of it and no coal seam deep underground. If I did, we would be having a different conversation I assure you.

I kind of differ on the 1 cord of wood for 1 ton of coal deal, only because last year our wood/coal stove died and we did an emergency in-the-middle-of-winter swap out with a wood only stove. We also went and grabbed her wood. Not that she minded as she has been dead for about 10 years (Katie and I own her house as it came with the farm so I was not stealing). Anyway that meant the wood was under cover for 10 years, and was super-dry.

Honestly it was too dry. It might have scientifically produced more BTU's, but my fanny sits in a recliner in the house and not atop of a chimney because I am pretty sure that is where most of the BTU's went. Yes the house was warm enough, but we poked the wood to the stove all winter too. So for me, seasoned wood (but not super dry) is ideal. Maybe that is why I put the conversion at 2 cords of firewood to 1 ton of coal? I also seem to be able to control a coal fire much easier than wood, specifically, getting it to hold a steady temp instead of being so up/down like wood.

Either way, I mean no disrespect to anyone. I love the conversion chart on this site, and often refer others to it so I am glad it is updated.

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Sunny Boy
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Post Wed. Sep. 13, 2017 3:22 pm

Richard S. wrote:
Sunny Boy wrote: But I've had plenty of bugs get in the house from bringing wood in and letting it warm up.
Two fireplaces at my Parents place, they don't get used much and the wood gets left outside until it's going on the fire. Threw a lg on the fire once and bunch of those damn carpenter ants came streaming out, DIE, DIE, DIE. :lol: I'm not a psycho bug killer but I'll make an exception for them .
My fireplace has a 4 feet wide and three feet high opening - big enough to have a cooking crane. Our local firewood is face cord "stove wood" sold in 1/3 of a cord lengths. Burning pieces that short and split, in this fireplace, is like using kindling - your getting up from your chair to put more wood in every 15-20 minutes.

To remedy that, the last winter that I used my fireplace, I had a local farmer cut me two cords of 2 foot long pieces. What I didn't know was that he was cutting up all his windfalls. :o I put the wood in the basement "wood shed" to dry out. Once it warmed up we were daily killing mosquitoes throughout the house up until about Christmas time. That ended using the fireplace. :evil:

Paul

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