Letter Re: Wood Stove Selection, Operation, and Safety

James Wesley,
We have heated our current home with a wood stove and a pellet stove for ten years now. I disagree with one aspect of the recent article on your web site.

Our wood stove in the basement is set up to burn coal as well as wood. Where we live in Colorado there are a large number of dead trees — from pine beetles — that we can and do burn for free. However, with pine wood even the best stove will not hold the coals overnight. Hence the ability to use coal is a godsend. When the weather is only a little bit chilly we can place a basketball sized lump of coal in the stove and the stove will hold the coal — burning slowly — for up to five days. Hence in the mornings all we have to do is toss on a few pieces of wood and they will catch right away.

During the coldest part of the winter we can load the stove with a five gallon bucket of coal and it will heat the whole house for three days. Given the cyclic nature of our weather here (a couple of days of stormy weather, followed by a couple of days of biting cold, then a couple of days of sunny and warmer weather) we can clean out the stove during a sunny day as coal produces lots of ash.

Burning coal does one other thing as well. Pine wood has a tendency to produce a lot of creosote. But by using the coal, the creosote deposits in the chimney are burned off leaving a hard discoloration. Not burned off as in a chimney fire but apparently one of the chemicals in coal smoke reacts with the creosote and chemically burns it off of the inside of the chimney. At least this is how our chimney sweep has explained it to us when he shows up and inspects our chimneys every year.

Our pellet stove (upstairs) is good for those cool cloudy days in the spring and fall when firing up the wood stove in the basement will heat the house too much.

Now one warning — our wood stove is designed to burn coal. Your typical wood stove is not designed to do this and the coal will burn through the sides/bottom of the stove. – H.D.