Coal Vs. Firewood

Written by patrick mott
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Coal Vs. Firewood
Comfort by the stove (Old Stove and Antique Chair image by bawinner from Fotolia.com)

In many of the colder and more rural parts of North America many homeowners are faced with the choice of heating their homes with coal or wood. Both wood and coal can evoke memories of getting toasty warm as the snow falls outside, but there are real-world considerations to keep in mind when selecting the heating method that will be right for you and your family.

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Cost

If coal is readily available in your area (in Pennsylvania, for example), it can be a very inexpensive heat source. The price of a coal stove is about £845, with a £325 installation fee. A wood stove can be expensive but variable--between £520 and £1,950, with installation costs of several hundred to several thousand dollars. (All cost estimates are as of March 2010.) Depending on insulation, dwelling construction materials, and other factors, wood is generally less expensive than coal.

By-Products

Coal is not as environmentally friendly as other fuel types. Burning coal produces sulphur and fly ash. These can corrode some metal pipes. More expensive stainless steel venting pipes are necessary to counteract this effect. Wood does not burn as cleanly as coal, but the ash produced by a wood stove makes a good addition to garden soil.

Availability

Coal is not available in all locations. It is also a non-renewable energy source. Wood is readily available and is a renewable resource.

Efficiency

Coal stoves burn a long time. Depending on the model, they can burn for 18 to 20 hours on one load of coal. There are also "self-stoking" models that require less work to operate. Wood burns more quickly than coal, but if a single wood space heater is placed in the main living area, it is possible to heat an entire modern house.

Maintenance

The grates on manually stoked coal stoves need to be shaken out twice a day and the ash shovelled out once per load. Self-stoking models need to be cleaned about once a week with a stiff brush. The vent pipes should be checked for corrosion every six months, and a technician should service the stove once a year. A wood-burning stove is dirtier than a coal stove and needs to have the ash emptied regularly and the glass doors cleaned. A chimney sweep should clean it once a year.

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