Grand Plan to Convert to Coal

General topics about using bituminous coal for residential and commercial heating. Pros, cons, and where to get it.
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Post Wed. Jan. 31, 2007 1:11 am

I apologize for this lengthy discussion, but ever since coming to this site I have become enamored with the idea of burning coal. Also, I have been graduated from SIU since December and jobless (but searching) and I have needed an engineering problem to work on. My background is electronics and my father is a plumber and pipefitter. We have had many discussions about the following.

As you can see in the pictures, my grandmother’s house is heated using an ancient 60’s era gas boiler with series loop hot water heat system. Seeing the gas and electric bill under the new Illinois rate structure this month is making buying a new efficient boiler sensible. At one time my grandmother’s house was heated with some type of coal heat. The coal bin is still there, along with an enormous steel or iron tank. What could that large tank have been used for? As you can see in the pictures, there is a smaller tank that is connected to the domestic water from when the water was supplied by a cistern.

My plan will work in a few phases. I plan on changing over the boiler to a modern efficient hydropulse boiler unit. The second phase is changing over the radiators to under floor radiant heat using pex tubing with 7 individual zones. There have been 3 additions to the house and they use electric baseboard heat…unacceptable. The 6 zones will be the different areas of the house and the 7th will be the existing radiant loop, so heat can be dumped to in case of emergency or overheat condition. Eventually, the baseboard will be moved to the basement as the house is remodeled and reused there to heat it more effectively. I have abandoned the idea of using a boiler in the house. I hope to one day build a shop and heat it with radiant floor heat, so I am considering an outdoor boiler type as Mound City has. This would provide a better way to get the coal in rather than put it in the house in the coal bin, which will invariably be dirty, harder, and not worth the effort.

With my background in electronics, I have decided to control the entire system with Allen Bradley Micrologix PLCs. You can pick up 12 input 10 output 24v models on eBay for around $60. The zone control valves run on 24v and I have power supply readily available to me. I can integrate the thermostats, zone control, gas boiler control, circulation pumps, coal boiler controls (combustion air, damper, etc), low water, etc into a ladder logic program of my own design to fit my needs and change it as the system changes.

One a side note, by asking around I found that at one time my grandfather heated his shop with a Warm Mornings coal stove. I am trying to locate this stove (the property has been sold, but it may still be there) since not only would it be known to burn area coal well, but would have immense sentimental value. My father has expressed interest in replacing the wood burner in his shop with his father’s coal burner so that he can keep it heated more easily and for longer periods since our two labs like to sleep there.

I love the 60's design
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An interior view
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Coal bin filled with junk. Notice the knob and tube wiring above.
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What could the large tank have been for? Also, has all the cistern pump stuff, but we have city water now.
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Mysterious piping and holes on the side of the big tank.
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Last edited by nuke on Fri. Mar. 31, 2017 11:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post Wed. Jan. 31, 2007 8:10 am

You could use that big tank as a heat storage system if it is sound. It would need to be insulated. The Europeans are light years ahead of us in that. I think Tarm has some info on those systems. They are quite easy to install and control. The idea is you can run the boiler at its most efficient rate and store the heat, really good in mild weather and gives you an edge in a cold snap too.

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Post Wed. Jan. 31, 2007 8:16 am

That big tank was most likely a holding tank. possibly for domestic water??? Wouldn't want to sell it would you?? :)
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Post Wed. Jan. 31, 2007 8:21 am

Sounds like a fascinating system to develop! What are the details of your grandmother's house? Sq. Ft., floor plan, how many floors, age, insulation, windows, etc.

Just FYI, Willburt Mfg. still makes a residential coal stoker for bituminous.
**Broken Link(s) Removed**. It might be a little big, depending on the size of the house. You'd also have to find a boiler to stick it in. That would be a lot of work, but could be really neat.

We live up by Rockford, IL. Our house is new, well insulated, and about 2800 sq.ft. Pretty easy to heat with our 90%+ natural gas hot air. I just HATE hot air, though. Got spoiled years ago living on the east coast with hot water and steam heated homes. My grand plan is to custom build a home one of these years with multiple zone hot water combined with a dedicated, properly engineered A/C system for the summer. Trying to cool a 2 story house in the summer by using the heat ductwork is an excercise in futility.

I'm trying to figure out a good way to install a stove, and convince the wife that the gas fireplace we have would really look better with a stove plugged into it. It's not working so far.... :? The other side of the issue is anthracite is $$$ here ($300/ton bagged Blaschak). I can get Illinois bituminous for $88/ton down by Peoria, but nothing will burn it well enough until someone comes out with a small stoker (like the current crop of anthracite stoker stoves). I hear one is being developed by anthracite stove company here, but a year or two away yet.

Too bad they quit making the Warm Morning heaters. Lots of them in Indiana when I was young. They burn that cr*p coal pretty well.


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Richard S.
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Post Tue. Feb. 13, 2007 8:47 am

Missed this post before, if you're still around nuke that large tank may have been/could be used for tempering the water before it goes into the hot water heater. Well water would have been very cold, that would have at give it a chance to get up to room temperature, also help if the coal was the only source of hot water since it wouldn't have to heat very cold water.

My Uncle used a similar setup, first into a holding tank about 1/2 the size of that one that sat right next ot his coal stove, then it went though a small water jacket on the coal stove and into the hot water heater. At the very least the water was slightly above room temperature before it was heated by the hot water heater.
"The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."

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