I heat my home with coal using the Harman Stove Mark III stove. We purchase coal in 40 pound bags at a cost of $200 per ton. When the temperature drops below freezing I use 1 bag per day at an average cost of $120 per month.
Savings. My first month of usage cut my electricity consumption in half! Net savings for the first month was $120 after adjusting for the price of coal used. However, even more important than the cost is the fact that the house is warm for the first time! At this rate I estimate it will take me 3 years before the stove pays for itself.
Lighting a coal fire. Coal is much harder to light than a wood fire. Charcoal Match Light is the best "tinder" to get your fire started. Several StarterLoggs also work. Line the bottom of the stove with a layer of Match Light and light it. When the charcoal is glowing red, pour a layer of coal on top (enough to cover the Match Light, or about half a coal hopper). Keep the ash tray door open a crack until a nice blue flame is dancing over the coal. Then add a bit more coal. Each time the flames start to dance, add a little more until the coal is near the top of the fire brick. By adding a little at a time you establish layers of coal that burns at different rates. This way the bottom layer burns out first and gradual moves to the top instead of all going out at the same time. Don't forget to close the ash tray door once the fire is burning to your satisfaction. Leaving the ash door open can cause the stove to get dangerously hot and may damage the fire grates or even start a fire in your home!
Tending a coal fire. If you have been burning wood, you will find that tending a coal fire is much less demanding. Resist the urge to "play" with the fire. Coal does not need to be poked or stirred to burn properly. Simply fill the stove with coal twice a day, shake the ashes down, and leave it alone! Control the temperature with the draft knob on the front of the unit.
Humidity (or lack thereof). Any type of furnance that heats the air robs your home of moisture. To maintain accurate humidity in your home, I recommend you use a humidifier. You can also keep an iron kettle full of water on the top of the stove. I use a piece of ceramic tile as a layer of protection between the kettle and the stove.
Dust. Coal burns down to a superfine ash and it is just about impossible to clean out the ash tray without some ash escaping. The blower fan also keeps the air moving and can help distribute any stray ash. You may want to consider a HEPA air filter unit.
This is the Harman Mark III stove with the optional brass trim. The only fault we can find with it is that the ash tray in the base of the unit is not wide enough. Surely there must be a better way to design the tray!
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