Coal For Christmas

The old warning that naughty children would only get a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings never had much effect on me. We really did not make a big deal about the whole stocking thing in my house when I was growing up. But then, we also exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, a Norwegian tradition. Or maybe just out Norwegian family tradition. But now, getting coal in your stocking for some folks is a score, not a penalty. The use of coal for residential heating is on the rise.

Burning coal at home was once commonplace, of course, but the practice had been declining for decades. Coal consumption for residential use hit a low of 258,000 tons in 2006 — then started to rise. It jumped 9 percent in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, and 10 percent more in the first eight months of 2008.

Online coal forums are buzzing with activity, as residential coal enthusiasts trade tips and advice for buying and tending to coal heaters. And manufacturers and dealers of coal-burning stoves say they have been deluged with orders — many placed when the price of heating oil jumped last summer — that they are struggling to fill.

“Back in the 1980s, we sold hundreds a year,” said Rich Kauffman, the sales manager at E.F.M. Automatic Heat in Emmaus, Pa., one of the oldest makers of coal-fired furnaces and boilers in the United States, in a nod to the uptick in coal sales that followed the oil crises of the 1970s.

“But that dwindled to nothing in the early 1990s — down to as many as 10 a year,” he said. “It picked up about a year ago, when we moved about 60 units, and then this year we’ve already sold 200.”

When my wife and I lived in New York, we bought a lovely, old cobblestone house. It was built somewhere around 1827-1835. It was not a “fancy” cobblestone, with meticulous herringbone stone patterns and had been unoccupied for a number of years before we bought it. It wasn’t all that big, but it was well built with massively thick walls. It also had no central heat.

At some point, a previous owner had installed electric baseboard heaters in the rooms of the house. These cost a fortune to run in winter. My wife and I installed a coal stove insert in the old cobblestone part of the house in the main fireplace and a pellet stove in the newer addition that had been put on at some date.

They worked great. A lot of work, but heat was not a problem. Because of the house layout, natural circulation kept the house nice and warm, no matter how cold it was outside. That coal stove put out some serious heat, too. (We had to have a stainless steel liner installed in the old stone chimney to accommodate the stove.) I burned pea-sized anthracite in the stove. A ton takes up a surprisingly small volume and I built a smallish bin to hold it. Yeah, I had to lug coal and ash on a regular basis, but it wasn’t all that bad. It also kept the house comfortable.

Via Memeorandum

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4 Responses to Coal For Christmas

  1. Bob Sykes says:

    When I was a very young boy in Methuen, MA, we lived on one side of a duplex with my grandparents and uncles on the other. It was my uncles’ job to shovel the coal and ashes and bank the fire every night. Coal was every where, and anthracite was preferred over bituminous because it has very little ash. “Look for the Blue Dot!”, was the ad. My uncles used the ash on the drive way and sidewalk to cover the ice.

  2. Sam says:

    Back in the 80’s during a previous energy crisis, I installed a fireplace insert in my house and burned wood in it to try and reduce my natural gas bill. I experimented with coal a bit, but the insert wasn’t designed to work very well with coal, so mostly it stunk up the neighborhood when the air was still outside.

    My dad, on the other hand, had a dandy English stove that was designed to burn coal. He installed it in the basement of his house in Casper, Wyoming and was able to heat the basement without much effort or mess. Since the wind is usually blowing in Casper, the smoke wasn’t too bad.

    Interestingly enough, driving home from church on Christmas Eve, I smelled the smell of someone burning coal in their house. What goes around . . .

  3. Lars Walker says:

    Yes, Christmas eve is the traditional time to open gifts in Norway. Christmas Day is (or was) for church.

  4. Sadly we had to drive across town to a Lutheran Church that actually still had a Christmas Day service. They may have earned my business as I’m about peeved at my current congregation for tolerating no service on Christmas Day.

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