Coal Stoves: Pain in the Ash?

Because coal stoves are an old technology, many assume that they are inefficient and environmentally unfriendly. Additionally, coal has the reputation of being messy to burn and leaving soot in the home.

Why Coal?
The primary reason people choose coal stoves over gas, wood, oil, or electric stoves is that coal is an extremely efficient and economical fuel.

Coal gives off the highest amount of heat at a lower price than any other fuel. It burns steadily and reliably.

There is a new type of coal called anthracite that is commonly used in household stoves. This type of coal is cleaner to burn than coal used in the past, and produces much less ash than past fuels.

When combined with modern stove technology, it is easy to find an efficient coal stove that can be cleaned in just ten minutes a day. This does away with the primary consumer complaint about using coal for a home fuel.

The ash that is produced is excellent as an aerator for soil and as an anti-slip substance for icy sidewalks and driveways.

Coal in the past had to be ordered and delivered by the ton or truckload, but modern suppliers process anthracite in small sizes (pea and rice sized, in many cases) and package it in easy to handle bags of 40 or 50 pounds. This makes coal a cleaner and easier to handle fuel source, eliminating the major complaint from homeowners about coal stoves-storing the fuel.

This modern coal also causes much less creosote and ash buildup in chimneys, so homeowners can go longer between chimney cleanings.

Considerations With Coal Stoves

There are specific chimney requirements for coal stoves and there are some safety issues with burning coal that are not present with other types of stoves. You will need to have a professional examine your chimney and home layout to be sure coal is a viable option for you.

Ventilation and cleanliness are two of the factors to consider, as is ease of cleaning.

You will need to clean the ash pit, even if only once a week. Any stove that uses a solid rather than gas fuel will have this type of maintenance, and coal is no exception.

An annual inspection of any fuel-burning stove can ensure safety and prevent part failure at an inconvenient or dangerous time. Coal stoves burn hot, and will likely need replacement of grates and liners more frequently than similar wood stoves.

Although in the past you could easily find stoves that burned either wood or coal, the EPA regulations in recent years discouraged these type of hybrid stoves, so most coal stoves now are single fuel.

Coal can be stored indoors or outdoors, and dries quickly if it gets wet. An exterior window leading to a wooden basement bin is a common configuration for a coal storage setup.