The Coal Chronicles – Book II

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

Hitzer Coal Heat Stove

Hitzer Coal Heat Stove

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 Sharon’s help choosing the stove and Simon’s help installing the stove, that this is going to be a good thing – eventually.

Simon’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!

Stove in the Warehouse

So Alan and Sharon ordered the stove and a few weeks later the stove arrived. I got word about the stove’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 Simon’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.

Chimney Inside

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 Simon’s expertise and help I would have most certainly messed up this project.

Stove Installed

Stove Installed

I encourage anybody who is thinking of installing a stove to consult a “Simon” (stove installer) in their area. The chimney and stove clearances are critical for safety, and I don’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, doesn’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).

Chimney with no smoke

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 don’t cover up.

Filling the coal hopper

Filling the coal hopper

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.

Ash Door

Ash Door

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.

Ash Pan full of ash

Ash Pan full of ash

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.

Shaker Handle

Shaker Handle

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.

Coal bed before shaking

Coal bed before shaking

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.

11 thoughts on “The Coal Chronicles – Book II

  1. You mentioned that the coal last all or almost all day. Is that per fill or per bag? It’d be interesting to know how long a bag lasts to see how much the stove costs per day.

  2. Thank you very much for the comment.

    This is something I was thinking could be covered in the next post (The Coal Chronicles – Book III. The answer is not as simple as I would like it to be. Obviously on warmer days we use less coal and more on colder days. The current rate of consumption (it has been darn cold around North East Ohio) is estimated to be about 60-80 lbs a day or 1.5 to 2 – 40lb bags. Depending on where you live, what you are using as your primary heating source, and the cost of that heating source, this turns out to be a bargain. Another factor is how warm you need (or more specifically in most cases, your wife needs) the house. We typically like the house at about 68°. I will dive more into this topic when I post Book III.

  3. I had the privilege of teaching for a time in the coal mining region of Ukraine. I recall stepping outside on the first cold morning, taking a breath, and suddenly being transported in my mind to the home where, as a child, I “helped” my Dad tend the huge coal-burning furnace which, with its plenum and huge ducts, dominated the basement.

    It’s hard to imagine the many improvements which have apparently reduced the space and labor demands of wood and coal heating systems, but even though “hard” coal has significantly replaced the “soft” coal we grew up with, at its heart coal is still coal. But I have to wonder — does it still spice the air with that memorable scent?

    I look forward to “Book III” with anticipation. From the photos it appears the Hitzer is an especially decorative stove; I’ll be interested to see if it’s as effective as you hope for whole-house heating, and to learn what adaptations, such as registers or ducts, you might find useful in adapting your home to this venerable and reliable source of heat.

  4. Thanks for the comment gafisher

    I have a pretty good start on Book III.

    That must have been some experience in the Ukraine, I have been as far east as Eastern Germany, not quite that far.

    I mentioned the stories that I heard about the coal burning furnace in the basement of my Grandparents farmhouse in Book I. My Uncle told me those stories and they caused some negative feelings about the idea of a coal burning stove in my house.

    The “hard” or “anthracite” coal is definitely still coal, just greatly improved in my humble opinion. This stove stays hot, it is a steady heat, very comfortable bordering on a bit too hot in the basement but not uncomfortable.

    Regarding the “memorable scent” of the coal, I am a very avid lover of old agricultural iron. I am absolutely fascinated by steam traction engines. I actually enjoy the smell of the coal burning in those machines, this coal does not have quite that smell. I would characterize the smell as slightly less appealing but not objectionable.

    I have seen photos of the monstrosity that graced the basement of my Grandparents home, I can tell you the Hitzer takes up considerably less space and is much easier on the eye! :).

    In Book III I plan to detail the way I am circulating heat in the house. It should prove to be a fairly interesting post. I am hoping to finish it over the weekend and possibly post it by mid next week, but don’t hold me to it, I am working on a video too.

  5. Thanks for your reply. While I’m currently living in an apartment right off of Lake Erie, I’ve been looking at purchasing a house in the same area, and the costs associated with a house. $300 a month in coal seems like alot to me, but I’m just spoiled with my $40 natural gas bill. Natural gas doesn’t even come close though to the ambiance and whatnot of a real fire though. I look forward to your next article!

  6. Emmo213 This weekend I will carefully monitor the coal usage, this would be interesting to post.

    Information like coal (by weight), temperatures (inside/outside) would be useful.

    My options for heating are limited, the house is all electric (heating, water heater, stove, etc.). I looked into putting in a forced air system, some type of boiler, etc. Turns out the cost would probably not be recouped.

    You are right the ambiance is nice, the same rational is used to run our fireplace! :)

  7. The Coal Truth!

    Toward the end of the weekend (January 27,2008) I am finding that my original estimates of 60-80 lbs of coal in a 24 hour period are a bit high (sorry about that). I started on Friday at 5:00, measured the bucket of coal and loaded the stove after cleaning out the ash. My son and I started a spreadsheet of coal usage, basement temperature, house temperature and outside temperature. We came up with this chart. I will continue to update this till Monday when I get home.

    day coal basement temp house temp outside temp
    Fri 5pm 27lbs 80° 68° 27°
    Sat 7am 21Lbs 84° 68° 18°
    Sat 4pm 15Lbs 80° 68° 30°
    Sat 9pm 12Lbs 80° 67° 25°
    Sun 11am 18Lbs 86° 67° 30°

    Turns out it is around 40Lbs a day not 60-80Lbs. I have not been measuring the coal usage as closely this year because the coal I have is stored in large barrels not in the bags. Turns out the bucket I have been using to fill the stove will hold between 12 and 18 Lbs of coal.

  8. Ah, good to know. That makes a huge difference! Thanks for looking into it. I look forward to your other installments.

  9. Hi, I have a hitzer coal stove(the 30-95 which Lehmans sells) set in front of our fireplace and this is my 1st year with it. I live in Trumbull county in NE Ohio. Since October I have used 1-1/2 tons of nut coal for a cost of about $300, about 30# a day, $75 a month. Bought it in bulk, hauled it myself in my truck and store in a bin in my garage that doubles as a workbench top. Living room is 74* and upstairs is 65*. 1500 sq/ft cape cod. The stove will easily pay for itself this year over the cost of oil heat, and 2 years over for when we used to burn wood and oil for when the wood fire died down. Love the stove and ease of use. Greg, you have a great blog and I am looking forward to part 3. Also saw your video on the stove on You tube, good one and helpful. Thanks again-Bobby

  10. Thanks for the very nice comment Bobby, I do hope the Hitzer has been working out well for you. Ours will cook us clean out of the basement. Absolutely love that thing.

    A bit of history and explanation for the stove. We are originally from Michigan, we moved to Ohio in 2003. We moved from our duplex to our current house in December 2004. A week later the enormous ice storm hit NE Ohio, I am sure you remember it. Power was out for the better part of a week. Keep in mind the house is almost completely run on electricity, heat, hot water, stove, etc. For a week we had just about nothing. The fire place had not been used in the house for a long time. I did have it inspected before we moved in and it got a clean bill of health. We went to the local Lowes and got a screen for it, paid the long dollar for a load of wood, and huddled around the fire just about the whole time. All of us in one room for five days.

    After that I wanted to ensure our warmth and reduce the heating bills. Unlike many of the corn/pellet stoves the Hitzer does not need electricity. Sure it has a fan, but it will keep us warm without the fan.

    The Coal Chronicles – Book III is done getting written and is in draft, needs some touch ups. The Coal Chronicles – Book IV is half done. I was writing Book III and had some thoughts for Book IV so I put them down. Just a hint, Book IV tells about some of the challenges that are faced with the stove. There are a few. Hope you can read it.

    Again, thanks to all of you who have commented so far.

  11. Wonderful blog! Thanks for the info and I eagerly await the future Coal Chronicles! We hope to order the same stove very soon and we’ve gotten much knowledge from your experience!