The Coal Chronicles – Book I

I am going to write several blog entries, documenting my experience with the Hitzer coal burning stove. The following is the first entry. Oh and by the way, names have been changed (sort of) to protect the innocent.

We have been very happy living in Wooster Ohio, but we quickly found that we did not move far enough south to escape winter. No bother, I like to ski anyway. Winter, however, brings the inevitable heating season. Along with the heating season comes the ritual draining of the wallet to keep warm.

We also love our house. However, it was built in the mid 70’s and its builders, having amazingly short sight, decided to endow the house with cheap electric base board heat. Anyone familiar with this form of heat knows its drawbacks all too well. The heating system heats only the air around it so you end up with warm areas of the room near the heater and colder areas further from the device. On the positive side, you can turn off/down specific heaters in areas of the house, but you freeze going into those rooms. Add to that the thin layer of insulation in the house, terrible windows and leaky doors, and you have all the pieces needed to make life miserable during a cold winter. Now tack on the worst part of it, when you go out to the side of the house, you know the side with the spinning wheel that the electric company was nice enough to install, that measures the amount of money that will be extracted from your wallet at the end of the month. You observe the aforementioned wheel spinning with a fervor of a child’s toy top. Honestly, I have no idea how people managed to afford to live in this house. The first winter we just dealt with things, but as the next winter drew near, the time for action drew close.

Needing an alternate source of heat, I explored several options including forced air, hot water, corn pellets, an outdoor heat source, heat pumps, and a wood burning stove. I talked with Alan and Sharon, stove specialists at Lehman’s, many times exploring the idea of installing some sort of stove. We talked a lot about what type of stove would suit my needs. I can cut wood but I do not have access to a steady supply of cheap wood. Besides as one other co-worker pointed out, how economical is that wood anyway, cut, haul, split, season, and constantly maintaining the fire. A winter full of hauling wood into the house does not appeal to me.

Alan and Sharon suggested a coal burner.A coal burner???I immediately thought about the classic movie, A Christmas Story, with Ralphie’s dad fighting with the coal burning furnace. The black soot coming from the basement and the black smoke coming from the chimney. No way! My youth was filled with stories of coal bins the size of a large room in the basement of my grandparents’ house. My uncle told me he had to go into the basement and shovel coal into that behemoth that heated the house and coming out covered with soot.NO NO NO! Not this lazy bum!

Undeterred, Alan told me about the different types of coal. He explained that the bituminous coal is the stuff that created all those problems. This stove uses a type of coal called anthracite! I googled the different types of coal and researched coal stoves, found out that these stoves are quite effective at burning the anthracite coal. Still, it took a bit of convincing, what about firing it, how about maintenance, what is the downside? My work on the Internet came up with some very valuable information on Hearth.com. I even took a trip out to the warehouse where the coal pallets are stored, found a broken bag (happens on occasion), and took a look at the content. You will get dirty if you handle this coal but it isn’t what you would expect, hardly any dust. Sharon and Alan went on about the stove, a Hitzer 5093, the large stove. Explaining the gravity feed chute (this actually confounded me – how could this thing gravity feed?). They explained the blower option, and recommended it. They explained about shaking the grates and emptying the ash. I looked over the web copy and studied the options. Sharon and Alan were completely convinced that this was the right solution for the situation.

Hitzer Coal Heat Stove

Hitzer Coal Heat Stove

There were several hurdles to overcome before ordering the stove. Where was I going to put the stove? The thing needed a chimney, and I needed to put the coal somewhere. Then there is handling the heat. The stove will need to help heat the whole house, not just the basement. How was I going to get the heat upstairs? The house has no way of circulating the air, no forced air furnace (remember the baseboard electric heat).

I reasoned that the basement was the most ideal place for this stove, heat rises (right). I really did not want to haul bags of coal through the house to the stove and worse yet haul buckets of ash, especially since I did not know how much of this I would be doing. Here comes winter, I need to order this puppy yet.

The house does have a fireplace (neglected to mention that earlier), so it has a chimney. Unfortunately, the chimney is nowhere near the proposed location. The fireplace is a prefabricated fireplace with an eight inch flue. After talking with Alan and Sharon, I was not surprised to find out that the flue was not adequate enough to carry the hot gasses out of the house, apparently this coal burns hotter than wood. A new chimney would need to be installed. Now we needed to figure out where the chimney would go, how would we run it? Several ideas were tossed around, including running it through a closet or in a chase through the interior of the house. These options did not appeal to me, I really did not want further intrusion to the interior of the house. The chimney would be run outside, a hole had to be punched in the basement wall. I have never installed a chimney.

Enter Simon: Lehman’s stove installer, bringer of great knowledge – and intestinal fortitude. Simon stopped by the house after work one day and surveyed the situation. We agreed upon a location for the stove and chimney, after Simon explained how the chimney would go through the wall, rattling off part numbers and names of these parts along the way. We went outside and decided on a route up the wall, through the eave and above the roof. Need to get the stove ordered.

Follow the adventure by reading The Coal Chronicles – Book II

13 thoughts on “The Coal Chronicles – Book I

  1. I just bought a restored antique wood/coal burning cook stove and am having trouble finding a source of coal in SE Wisconsin. The only way I’ve been able to get it is through the local Amish community that purchases a semi trailer full each fall for their stoves. If anyone know where else I can find it around here I would be grateful for the info.

  2. I am using coal to heat my log home the furnace is a hotblast

    coal or wood the furnace was bought from tractor supply. The

    stove uses hard coal the chimney is an out side stainles steel insulated.

    The coal is in 40lb bags and one bag lasts 12hrs . The stove is made

    by US STOVE company if you go to usstove on the internet you

    will find several sizes. I get my coal from abuchon hardware at

    present one bag is arround $5.00 per bag and 60 bags to the pallet.

  3. I live in NE ohio and Burned wood with a Waterford stove for years. Got up at 3am every night to refill it with wood so our wake-up would be warm. This year I bought a Hitzer 30-95 and it is great. It will still burn wood if you remove the coal chute from the top which we do when temps are in the 55-60*+ range. 1400 sq/ft cape cod, upstairs 68*+, downstairs 73*. New windows and doors with attic properly insulated, no wall insulation. Called Hitzer and got Ok to use existing 5″ stainless steel flex chimney liner from wood stove, which sat in our living room. Have used a little over 1 ton of the nut coal so far which I bought in bulk(loose, cheaper that way and use a coal bucket to bring it in from bin in garage) from Thompsons in New Springfield, oh and also from Bushes in Lordstown oh. Hauled myself in truck, about $200 a ton. I love the stove, shake the grates 2x`s a day until you see a solid glow in the ash pan and then add coal in the top chute, no smell inside or out and no more mess from the wood. I can now sleep all night and the house is always warm, no cold spots. Go to Lehmans or Bushes and buy 1 of these, cheaper than a harman and will save you a ton of money as well as increase your homes comfort.

  4. I have a big old Hitzer that isn’t airtight anymore (smoke puffs out at the top seams sometimes). I burned one sack of coal in it a couple years ago that I got from an Amish friend, and I liked the results. My 8-inch chimney is stainless steel from Menards–is that enough for the hotter coal smoke? also it said that 8 inch was too small–is it? I’m in West Central Wisconsin, anyone know where to get coal around here?

  5. Coal avalibility is a problem in a large part of the country: Many blacksmiths have gone back to using charcoal because it is just too difficult and/or expensive to obtain mineral coal in large swaths of the US.

    Anthracite availability is even more limited than bituminous coal.

    Here in Kansas just about all the coal mining has been shut down since the ’80s, since it is cheaper for the electric companies to ship low-sulphur coal in from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming than it is for power plants to meet emmissions requirements with the local high-sulphur coal. And that is with some of the power plants having been constructed within conveyor-belt range of coal mines so the shiping costs approached zero.

    We get nearly 100 trains a day through here on the Union Pacific, and most of them are coal trains. We must see a good half million tons of coal go past most days, but there isn’t a retail coal dealer in a hundred miles.

    – John.

  6. Let us know when you get this stove fired up in the basement and how you get the heat moving upstairs.
    We put in a wood burning Country Stove, Step Top, in our basement, large stove.. and the basement stays 70deg.. upstairs 64 65..
    Any ideas on how to move the heat? We leave the basement door open and the laundry shoot door open but I think it should still be warmer upstairs.
    Our house is a small 1300 sq. ft. insulated well, have a fan behind the stove, just about ready to give up. We wanted the stove upstairs but the rooms are made to where there is no room for a wood stove upstairs, we wish there was.
    Any ideas??

    Plowboy

  7. I have plans to share all the experiences concerning this stove with the readers. I am enjoying writing these chronicles. Just an FYI, The Coal Chronicles – Book II is in Draft (need some more pics and fix up some links). It is due to be published with the next newsletter, which will be sent on Friday (January 25th). This next installment will cover the installation, firing, and daily upkeep of the stove.

    Honestly I am trying to catch up the Chronicles, this is our second season with the stove. Late fall we put a lot of insulation in the attic of the house, this helped considerably (again this will be in the chronicles). Book III should cover the problem of getting the heat to the upstairs, the solution I came up with really works for our situation. If you have a furnace with a blower installed, it seems the answer is obvious, but may not be. I have the base board heat, this presented a major problem. When I woke up Sunday morning (yesterday) the temp outside was 5° the house was still 65° the electrics had not kicked on. That was huge.

  8. Greg,
    I have baseboard hot water heat.. No furnace, I should have bought a wood or coal fire hot water boiler.
    Well I guess I could trade this new stove off but I really hate to.

    Plowboy

  9. I have a suggestion for Plowboy on how to get the heat upstairs. In my old house I put in a few cold air returns with closing grates to let the heat flow upstairs through the floor. For me, I just cut a hole through the floor between the joists in one of the common vent sizes. I made a metal duct that would fit the hole so the heat didn’t just flow through the floor joists, but came all the way upstairs. You put a grate on the ceiling side and the floor side, and you’re set. In summer, when you’re cooling, you just shut the levers and the grates close. It really helped to get the heat from the wood stove downstairs up into the living room.

    Dawn- Narrow Gate Farms

  10. Essentially that is what I did. I will get into more detail in the next post. Since the house has electric heat the choices are limited. However there are two electric heaters that are installed in the floor of the house. The first year I took one of the heaters out of the floor leaving the cavity. I needed to remove the ceiling tile in the basement for the area, and do some finishing work.

    The problem is Fire Safety. Check with your local codes of course, but, generally it is unsafe to have an opening in your floor to between levels. Most modern houses have 2 x 4’s installed between the wall studs of the house to act as a fire stop. Also, in my case the movement of air just wasn’t enough. My solution was to gut the heater that was removed and install a blower in the empty shell.

    Another issue is that a return is needed to keep air flowing. I will go into this further in the third post. The unique construction of the split level house that we live in allowed for me to install a register on the other side of the house with a piece of duct work installed. this empties the cold air back into the basement for reheating. Essentially the basement is a giant plenum. The bad part; keeping all the doors shut. With little children this is a challenge.

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