I am going to write several blog entries, documenting my experience with the Hitzer coal burning stove. The following is the second entry. Oh and by the way, names have been changed (sort of) to protect the innocent. I recommend starting from the beginning with The Coal Chronicles – Book I
At this point I am feeling like the purchase of this stove is a good move for the family, especially our budget. I also feel that with Alan and Sharonâ€™s help choosing the stove and Simonâ€™s help installing the stove, that this is going to be a good thing – eventually.
Simonâ€™s advice on where to put the stove and how to run the chimney helped me firm up plans on how to get the heat into the upper levels of the house. We had a plan to handle the coal and the ash, now we needed the stove. I got up the nerve and gave Sharon and Alan the green light to order the stove, this is an expensive move you know! We talked about the options:
How big? The 30-50 seems to be the right model.
You want a glass door? Yes, I like to see the fire!
Do you want gold trim around the door? For what?
Would you like one with a blower? Definitely!
So Alan and Sharon ordered the stove and a few weeks later the stove arrived. I got word about the stoveâ€™s arrival and went out to the warehouse to see it. Not much to see, it was in a box stacked on top of another stove. Oh well, going to have to wait for the stove to make it to the house. Simon was nice enough to bring the stove to our house and put it in the garage.
Now we needed to get the stove installed. With Simonâ€™s help we got the bits and pieces ordered for the chimney. It seemed like a lot of stuff, but Simon Says! These parts do not weigh much, so I was able to get them home without trouble.
The day came to install the chimney, I have to admit to being nervous, after all we were getting ready to pop a large hole in the basement wall of my house. Simon is obviously very good at this, he knew exactly what to do, from where to put the hole in the eave allowing for clearance requirements, to how to line up the chimney pipes, proper angle of the horizontal sections, aesthetics, and above all, safety.
With the chimney installed it was now time to get the stove in position and connect to the chimney. Simon ordered all the right pipe sections to make the installation work and look first class. There are very specific minimum clearance distances from combustibles for every stove, so the positioning took a bit of time. This stove ended up being further away from the wall than I expected. I will say that without Simonâ€™s expertise and help I would have most certainly messed up this project.
I encourage anybody who is thinking of installing a stove to consult a â€œSimonâ€ (stove installer) in their area. The chimney and stove clearances are critical for safety, and I donâ€™t believe any of us want to worry about a house fire. Proper installation is important for aesthetics and operation, think about how bad your chimney would look if it was not plumb.
Now that the chimney is connected it is time to fire the stove. This is where the real learning begins!
Hearth.com has some excellent instructions for firing a coal burner. I would suppose that any reader that is familiar with a steam traction engine, steam locomotive, or is old enough to remember the coal burning furnaces would know how to fire a coal stove, but I have never went through this, turns out is not as bad as you may think.
You can start by lighting a small wood fire in the stove, get it burning nicely, then start slowly adding coal. The web site outlined an alternate method that in my opinion is easier and safer, I recommend it.
First thing I recommend is throw away what you know to start a wood fueled fire, doesnâ€™t work. Second, it takes a bit of time to get the stove up to full firing, so clear your schedule. You will not need to sit in front of the stove tending the fire the entire time, patience is definitely needed though.
Get yourself a bag of matchlight charcoal, or equivalent (the important thing is not needing to squirt lighter fluid in the stove). Arrange a couple of handfuls of charcoal in a pile on top of your empty grates, making sure all the air dampers are open (The Hitzer has a damper in the front and the automatic control in the back – I generally set the control to 10 when starting). Once the charcoal is nice and hot, start adding the coal through the front door (close the door when not adding coal). I generally add a handful at a time about every half hour, you have to be careful not to snuff out the fire. It is important that the coal is starting to burn before adding more coal. Once you have a nice bed of coal, you can start adding coal through the coal chute on top. When adding coal through the coal chute I generally add more than when I was adding through the door in front. The stove holds a lot of coal, once the coal bed is up to the chute, I simply fill the chute. At this point I set the automatic control to 9 and adjust the front air damper (my stove seems to like the front damper open slightly).
I keep a very close eye on the stove through the first day or so of firing, making any slight adjustments as needed to ensure it is burning efficiently. I have watched the chimney, have never seen a bit of smoke coming from the top.
The stove has a very warm comfortable heat, it can easily keep the basement at ninety degrees, even while heating the main level of the house. My relatives visit from Michigan and request to sleep on the sleeper in the basement, just donâ€™t cover up.
Once the stove is running, it requires very little attention, it is fed coal in the morning and just before bedtime. Sometimes it needs a lot of coal, other times hardly any at all. Adding coal is very simple, grab a bag (or if purchasing in bulk – get a pail full), open the top and fill, close top, enjoy.
Once a day the ash gets emptied, again, sometimes there is quite a bit of ash, other times not much at all. If I need to identify a part of having this stove that I dislike it is emptying the ash. Mind you it is not hard, just not a part I want to do. I generally shake the grates and wait for about a half hour, however this is not a requirement. The ash that results from burning coal is light and easily sent air born. The Hitzer comes with a pan in the bottom that catches the ash, this pan is accessed by opening the lower door (which has the front damper built in). I use a heavy pot holder and the hook that came with the stove to get the pan out. I set the pan on the concrete floor of the basement.
Using a fireplace shovel, I scoop the ash out of the pan and place it into a steel bucket that holds the ash until it is cooled. Since I am trying to control the ash that gets air born, we use our handy shop-vac to suck up anything in the air around the bucket. I am sure that most people would take the pan outside and dump it, but this works for us. I would rather not dump hot ash outside.
Several times a day I wander into the basement (if I am not down there already) and shake the grates. The Hitzer has a handle on the side that you yank back and forth. This shakes the ash out of the coal and into the ash pan at the bottom of the stove.
I have come to find out, shaking the grates is a bit of an art, in the same way that stirring a wood fire is an art. It is not a difficult art to learn but it should be learned. Again, depending on how hard the stove is being fired determines how often the grates need to be shaken. I have found that when the glowing orange coal nuggets form a slope up to the chute that it is time to shake the grates. When the grates are shaken the level of burning coals lowers, and fresh coal from the chute falls on the burning nuggets. I rarely need to do this more than four times a day, that is when the stove is getting fired pretty hard.
Other than filling the chute twice a day, emptying the ash once a day, and shaking the grates twice to four times a day, the stove needs no maintenance. As the coal is burned the ash falls into the ash pan through the grates and is replaced by new coal by gravity from the chute. The coal generally comes in convenient forty pound bags that are fairly easy to handle and load into the stove. The coal lasts most of the day if not the entire day (depending on how cold it is outside). Best thing, the little spinning wheel that the electric company was nice enough to install on the side of the house, that measures the amount of money that will be extracted from your wallet at the end of the month does not spin so much.
Now the next challenge to overcome, I need to get the heat into the upper level of the house and learn how to keep the stove running at its best.