Cutting Costs By Choosing Coal: Home Heating With An Old-Fashioned Fuel

Americans are looking for heating alternatives for their homes. Some are motivated by cost savings. Others are environmentally conscious and want to conserve valuable fossil fuels. Either way, more and more people are looking into heating their homes without natural gas, oil, or electricity. One fuel source that modern Americans may not have considered is coal.

Coal is the energy source of the past, in many ways. Used widely for home heat in the first half of the 20th century, now less than 1% of Americans use coal to heat their homes, replacing coal with much less labor-intensive gas and oil furnaces. However, this fuel source may be under-utilized. 

Coal is still used in industrial settings, especially for heating and tempering metals. Many people think that burning coal is dirty, smoky, and sooty. However, most modern coal stoves burn a special kind of coal called anthracite coal. This coal burns much more cleanly than bituminous coal (coal that contains high levels of bitumen). It burns hot and it burns relatively cleanly. It also burns longer than a standard wood fire.

So, what about cost? One ton of anthracite coal costs from $100-300 dollars. The amount of coal you need varies on whether you burn coal alone (without supplementing heat from other sources), how large your house is, and how long your winter is. However, most 2000 square foot homes can expect to use about 4 or 5 tons, depending on how warm you like your house to be. If you calculate the cost, your heating bill for winter would be around $1200 dollars, if you purchased coal at the expensive end of the spectrum. 

Comparatively, heating with natural gas costs about $20 per million BTUs (British thermal units). Coal, at $300 a ton, would only cost about $12 per million BTUs, a 40% reduction in cost for the same heat output. 

Coal heating does come with some extra maintenance. Even though there are huge cost savings, coal fires are not as easy as simply adjusting the thermostat. If you decide that coal cost savings are for you, be aware of the following:

  1. You'll need a place to store your coal. You'll need a shed or some other area to hold your coal supply. You will need to haul coal into the house when you need to add more fuel to the fire.
  2. You'll need to clean your house more often. One of the reasons why people moved away from coal and wood stoves in because they simply aren't as clean as natural gas or oil. You'll need to clean up coal dust, wash windows more often, and wash your walls every few months.
  3. You'll have to clean and feed your coal stoker. Your stoker is like the furnace, and it's a more automated version of old-fashioned hand stoves. However, ashes will need to be removed every 2 or 3 days, and coal should be added with the same consistency.
  4. You'll need to learn to adjust the heat. Because coal burns so hot, it can be easy to burn too much coal at once, and to suffer in house that is simply too warm. It will take practice to get the heat output just right for your family. 

If you have reservations about the cleanliness of this fuel source, it may help to know it burns so much hotter and more efficiently than gas. So, you actually use less fossil fuels for the same amount of heat. Furthermore, if you use anthracite coal, the amount of pollution is minimal, because anthracite coal is nearly 100% carbon. Burning bituminous coal would be cheaper, but less effective and not nearly as clean or environmentally friendly.

Choosing to go with coal is an investment, as you will need to purchase and set up a coal heating system. However, with the savings that you'll have each year, the new system will pay for itself in no time. You local heating service can help you decide which system is best for your home and situation.