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  • Semi-OT Heating Fuels

    Well I'm pretty serious about a house; I've got an accepted purchase agreement and there are just a few more details to be worked out.

    Currently, it has a 100,000 BTU Trane propane forced air furnace. It was installed in 1985 and the heat exchanger is pretty badly rusted. I feel I need to do something so I started looking at options. I'm already investing quite a bit of capital into remodeling the bathroom - not for aesthetics, mind. The tub enamel has chipped and is begining to rust around the drain. Only a matter of time before it starts leaking and damaging the subfloor. Similarly, the kitched counter tops are cracked and chipped (everything is original ... built in 1960).

    My point is this: I'm running out of cash! Naturally, I've been looking at the most cost effective way I can heat my house with the smallest initial investment. I read a couple of studies about heating fuels and found that coal is still an extremely cheap and efficient way to heat a house. Of course, the risk is higher with solid fuel furnaces and coal requires more homeowner involvement than a typical gas furnace.

    I kind of like the idea of using coal, though. It's old-fashioned, cheap and effective. I'm young and in good shape to shovel coal. By the time I move into another house, I'll probably be old enough to not want to mess with it anymore...

    Right now, there is a limestone fireplace in the basement (where the shop will go - it has a garage built into the other half of the basement). The flue tiles are cracked so the chimney would need $$ to be used for solid fuels again. There is no fireplace upstairs, but there is a really spacious living area and the chimney is accessible from there. The only reason I can think of for not having a fireplace upstairs is that the chimney wouldn't be tall enough to pull well. Anyway, if the chimney is tall enough and I can get it fixed with a liner, I was considering buying a coal stove from Harman. I think it would be neat to have a stove upstairs in the living area, but not sure how practical it is without it being tied into the ductwork to get hot air everywhere in the house. It is just a 1 story ranch, about 1600 sqft with 3 bedrooms.

    I was looking at something like this:
    http://www.harmanstoves.com/Products...oal-Stove.aspx

    Much fancier and it quickly becomes cheaper to buy a new propane furnace. What are your thoughts? I could put it downstairs and figure out a way to tie into the blower and duct work, but if I do that, maybe I should just make my own stove/furnace. These are stylish enough that they would look good in a living area. Also, there is an optional water coil to heat water... if it was in the basement, I could use that and the water would circulate via thermosiphon. If I wanted to put it upstairs and heat hot water, I'd have to get a small circ. pump.

    Regarding coal storage, the house has two very large, underground, unused cisterns (it's on county water now). I was thinking about coming up with a way of using them to store a couple of tons of coal. I figured they'd be waterproof and out of sight.

    I don't know ... I'm just tickled by the idea of actually using coal to heat my house. When I was little, I used to say I was going to do that because I was enchanted by the idea, but I never realized it might actually be a possibility. I'm still not convinced it's the most practical thing to do, though...


    [This is semi-OT since I know a lot of guys here have experience with using solid fuels to heat their shops ]
    Last edited by Fasttrack; 01-26-2012, 11:32 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Fasttrack
    I don't know ... I'm just tickled by the idea of actually using coal to heat my house. When I was little, I used to say I was going to do that because I was enchanted by the idea, but I never realized it might actually be a possibility. I'm still not convinced it's the most practical thing to do, though...
    Thats the best part of growing up, Nobody around to tell you that you can't do all the fun stuff you wanted to do as a kid! (Well, at least the stuff that does not break too many laws anyway!)
    Play Brutal Nature, Black Moons free to play highly realistic voxel sandbox game.

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    • #3
      We have a 100+ year old house with a coal fire place & I also use coal or wood in the old cookstove. Here it 10 cents a pound in small quanitles but I lucked up on 500+ pounds for $20. A few years worth. Just south of us is are Amish so it's readally available. I like to burn it, reminds me of burning sod when we visit Ireland.

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      • #4
        Without hijacking this thread, can I ask about the quantity difference between burning coal as apposed to wood? If I now burn 4 cords of wood each winter, what would be a comparable quantity of coal?

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        • #5
          an insulted liner in the chimney can waste a lot of its heat output ..as the whole chimney stack can radiate a good percentage of heat into the house .

          the draft for the fire should be from outside ..as bringing it from inside will cause outside air to come in from outside into the living space .

          some of the stoves sold in the UK are up to or over 80 percent efficient

          so when buying one look at the efficiency percentage ..use 80 percent as a benchmark

          the site you posted is so slow that it pissed me off ..so could not look the stoves up on it .

          all the best.markj
          Last edited by aboard_epsilon; 01-27-2012, 08:36 AM.

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          • #6
            If you already have ducts with the forced air furnace way not install a burner that would put heat into them and heat all the house?

            I have a forced air oil furnace but next to it is a wood burning furnace, could also burn coal, that is connected into the oils furnaces plenum. There is a blower on the wood burning furnace that runs when the fire is hot to push the heated air into the duct system. It will heat my two store house.

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            • #7
              Decisions, decisions. First, I have a Harmon stove similar to your link. Have heated over 25 years with coal and wood. Their stoves are well built and built to last. Priced accordingly, by the current starting at prices.

              Things to consider:

              Around here a new 80-90% efficient gas furnace is ballpark same price, and installation should be pretty close to drop in, as you are replacing like and kind.

              Central air is a possibility that the coal stove will not have.

              Your living room installation will require major change, and you will be surprised how much effective space you loose in the living room. Safety zones around the stove, clearance to the wall, space to store fuel nearby, dirt created ……

              Like it or not, local code and insurance should also be considered. Most will not allow two devices into one flue.

              Moving the hot air in a single floor installation will be an issue also.

              Do not discount the downstairs fireplace though. Its already there, Harmon used to make coal inserts, I have one. Gravity can work for you to move the heat. And probably keep the insurance company happier.

              My opinion, given what you have described, I’d opt for a new gas unit, maybe discontinued model or scratch and dent. Use the fireplace insert to supplement the gas when you are around to keep it fed and burning. It can be added later after your finances recover from the initial shock of buying a place.

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              • #8
                Things to think about.
                Luging coal in and ash out.
                Coal and ash dust in your house.
                Same goes for wood.

                A few around my area have been puting out door coal or wood boilers(water heaters) in. Hopper bottom storage beside the boiler, all you have to do is clean the ash out for the coal. Put a heat exchanger in your furnace and you are nice and warm.

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                • #9
                  For me one of the first considerations would be whether you intend to be away from home for more than a day or two at a time. If so, I think you're going to need something that's automated. If you have a gas furnace now, it's probably wise to repair or replace it first, make sure you have reliable heat, and then at leisure you can work out supplements and alternatives.

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                  • #10
                    I dabble with coal, even though I have a multifuel furnace. 97 year old house, unfortunately un insulated for the most part. Here, bagged coal is running $00.175/lb. I stuggle keeping the fire going for more than a few hours is the little coal stove, and generally the heat is not too high. I can't spend $20/day or more for the little stove at this time, nor the same in the furnace. Get a little frustrated trying to determine who's doing well heating with coal, me or the coal dealer. A well insulated house, with maybe a self feeding stove might be fine, but its still more work than a pellet stove.
                    gvasale

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                    • #11
                      IMHO the biggest issue typically isnt finding a cheaper method of heating a house, its managing the heat that is generated in a house beyond simple insultation. Dividing heat flow into zones and getting into the habit of closing doors to seal off rooms can help a lot, especially if you typically dont spend much time in bedrooms during daylight hours, or common living areas at night. If you have thermostats and seperate zones, I would highly encourage a bit of semi-scientific experimentation to find the best cost/pita balance.

                      The house Im bidding on now is within city limits and on the municipal gas supply, which I absolutely love as I tend to travel unexpectedly and the system is ultra low maintenance. Its also ridiculously cheap (~$100 in winter) to keep the house at 75F.

                      I would suggest seeking out neighbors and comparing costs vs house size vs fuel types.
                      "I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer -- born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow."

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                      • #12
                        Ive found that just heating rooms ..doesnt quite work.

                        works well for the first 2 days ...then...

                        well ..then your temperature of the other unheated areas goes to approaching outside temperatures...and every time you leave a room it feels like you're going outside ..

                        and the rooms you're trying heat are loosing heat to the other rooms ..so you have to put more energy after those 2 days into keeping the room you are in warm ..

                        best ..heat the rest of the house to 12 degrees c..and the rooms your in to 19 degrees c ..that's the only way Ive found it works.

                        you do save something by heating a couple of rooms alone ..but you cant justify it ..it just gets too uncomfortable in the end .

                        all the best....mark

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                        • #13
                          Thanks for all the good advice. I woke up this morning and basically decided what everyone here is saying ... I better just stick to fixing/replacing the propane furnace for now. Later I will puruse coal a little more seriously.

                          Justanengineer - Hah! I like the cost vs pita measurement. I agree that heat management is a big issue, too. That is one reason why I'm curious about coal stoves. Naturally, all the manufacturer websites report how great they are, but I wasn't entirely convinced that they are the best way to heat a house. Maybe if it's a one bedroom cabin ...

                          All my neighbors have propane tanks, except one that used to be on fuel oil. Wish we had natural gas available. My parents are on nat. gas and they're heating costs are very reasonable, considering the stove, oven, water heater and furnace use it.

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                          • #14
                            Switch to natural gas. I did some calculations last night for my own purposes and here we pay about $11.40 per gigajoule for natural gas. That includes all extra charges such as transportation and various taxes. With 100% efficiency it equals electricity at 4 cents per KW hour. A new gas furnace will approach 98% efficiency and only requires a plastic pipe for a flue out the side of the house. That allows you to use coal or wood as a backup using the existing flue.

                            Natural gas is a good choice right now because the availability is increasing rapidly. Within 5 years the US will be a net exporter of LNG. Huge new reserves are being developed using the fracking technique in deep shale gas formations in the Bakken and other formations in the north east states even including New York. The same is happening in Canada and this continent will be floating in wet gas for decades to come. Wet gas is methane that also contains a high percentage of light fraction petroleum liquids such as propane and butane.

                            Another reason to switch to natural gas is the development of all in one energy systems for household use that provide heat, electricity and hot water all from one NG powered unit. No grid connection required.
                            Last edited by Evan; 01-27-2012, 12:48 PM.
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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Fasttrack
                              Justanengineer - Hah! I like the cost vs pita measurement. I agree that heat management is a big issue, too. That is one reason why I'm curious about coal stoves. Naturally, all the manufacturer websites report how great they are, but I wasn't entirely convinced that they are the best way to heat a house. Maybe if it's a one bedroom cabin ...
                              Glad to hear you have a plan. Call me a nerd, but I often look for opportunities like this to experiment and attempt to learn something. In college I helped renovate my brother's house where I was living at the time. Bc electricity is dirt cheap (thanks hydros) there, we put in electric baseboard heaters with individual digital thermostats controlling each room. I then proceeded to do several projects/studies for school credit studying various heat control strategies. I found that aboard_epsilon is quite right - keeping rooms at a lower base temp and closed off that you arent frequently using did help quite a bit, and with the electric baseboard heaters 5 mins preplanning will have a room at 70+F. The only "difficult" part is remembering to close doors within the house.

                              To me though, there is definitely something to be said for cost/pita comparison. I grew up "fetching wood." Never again. I enjoy manual labor, but only when its on my schedule, not a furnace's.
                              "I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer -- born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in the steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow."

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