By John Ackerly & Melissa Bollman
Alliance for Green Heat
This paper was prepared for the Warsaw Stove Summit which brought AGH and scores of experts in coal and wood heating from 19 countries to Poland in May 2017.
The US Census Bureau estimates that approximately 127,000 households used coal as a primary heating fuel in 2015, or about 0.1% of American homes. Residential coal heating dropped rapidly until 2000 and since then has been relatively stable.
More than half of homes using coal heat are concentrated in Pennsylvania and New York, right where it is mined. It appears to be based on cultural traditions and local support for local jobs because its still a very inexpensive way to heat and easy to transport. Most of the United States has no restrictions on coal heating and there have been few attempts to restrict it. Rather, it seems to have gradually died out except in pockets of states where anthracite is mined. Bituminous and sub-bituminous coal is much more widely dispersed but it is used far less than anthracite.
Coal stoves, particularly those fueled with anthracite coal that principally comes form Pennsylvania, typically have less particular matter than wood or possibly even pellet stoves. However, their health impacts may be far worse, as coal often emits high levels of SO2 and oxides from nitrogen. In addition, coal often has poisonous toxins such as flourine, arsenic, selenium, mercury and lead. For more on health impacts of coal and wood heating in the US and Europe, we excerpted key parts of a World Health Organization report here.
Who heats with coal and why?
Homes that heat with coal tend to be concentrated near anthracite coal mines and in homes with lower or mid level incomes. In the wealthier and more urban counties of Pennsylvania that are within 100 miles of anthracite mines, virtually no households heat with coal. High use of coal heat does not correlate with high use of wood heat. Both coal and wood are favored by rural, lower-income populations but coal appears to be favored near anthracite mines, and wood is favored in nearby, rural counties, according to data from the US census. The highest percentage of homes heating with coal at the county level is about 13%.
A prominent 2008 New York Times article reported that residential coal heating was on the rise, but rise was modest, and petered out a few years later. That rise corresponded with a major recession from 2007 – 2009 during which rates of wood heat soared far higher than coal. The New York Times also reported that an additional 80,000 homes use coal as a secondary heat source and the US Census reported 104,000 used it as a secondary heat source in 2005. Only 4,000 homes use it to cook with and 22,000 used it to heat domestic hot water in 2005, according to the US Census.
In 2015, the top five states for residential coal heating were Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Over 50% of US homes that heat primarily with coal are located in Pennsylvania, where anthracite coal is mined.
The primary benefits of heating with coal, compared to wood, is 1. it burns for longer periods of time, so less reloading is needed and a home can easily stay warm overnight; 2. Like pellets, it can be delivered in bags on pallets by a forklift, and does not need the time consuming splitting, stacking and seasoning that cordwood needs; 3. It is even more inexpensive per BTU (assuming you don’t cut the wood yourself); and 4. It is a very dense fuel, and takes up half the space that the same amount of wood takes, per BTU.
The downside of heating with coal is 1. The odor, which most people find moderately unpleasant; 2. The black dust which is harder to clean than dirt and wood pieces from cordwood; and 3. Its hard to light, requiring most people to start the fire with wood, before switching to coal.
While the above pros and cons are widely agreed upon, other less tangible factors play a role. Coal has increasingly gained a stigma as a dirty, non-renewable fuel, whereas wood is regarded as far more environmentally friendly (even though particulate matter from wood can be equally high). On the other hand, the dwindling economic prospects of coal towns and counties tends to make those populations want to support the fuel to combat what they often see as an unfair bias against coal.
Coal and coal stoves
Coal stoves are either stokers or batch. Stokers automatically feed coal pellets (much like pellet stoves) into the stove, require electricity and only use anthracite. Batch stoves are loaded by hand and can take anthracite or bituminous.
Most coal used for heating in the US is anthracite but anecdotal estimates by experts say that no more than 25% is bituminous, primarily in areas where its abundant.
The EIA stopped collecting data on residential coal consumption in 2008. In 2007, the EIA reported that US residents consumed 353,000 short tons (320,171 metric tons) of coal, which represented only 0.03% of the nation’s annual coal use (1.1 billion short tons or around 1 billion metric tons). The overwhelming majority of course (93%) of US coal is used to generate electricity.
Usually coal is sold in 40 or 50 pound bags or by the ton. Coal may be sold directly to consumers from the mine, a fuel supplier, or a hardware store. Blaschak is one of the largest suppliers of bagged anthracite coal and sold 374,000 tons in 2014. Forty pound bags of anthracite coal (any size) from Pennsylvania usually run $ 6-$ 8. A ton of anthracite typically costs between $ 190 and $ 210 per ton, before delivery charges (which can increase price to $ 250-$ 300). One fuel seller, Central Maine Coal, sells about 200 short tons (181 metric tons) of residential coal per heating season.
Bituminous coal is usually considered a better coal for blacksmithing than heating, but can be burned in some coal stoves and is often only $ 80-$ 100 per ton.
Institutional heating with coal is somewhat relevant to residential coal heating and data indicates that institutional coal heating is declining much more rapidly that residential heating.
According to the EIA, US educational institutions consumed 700,000 short tons (634,900 metric tons) of coal in 2015, down from 2 million short tons (1.8 metric tons) in 2008. Twenty of the 57 US educational institutions that used coal in 2008 reported not using it 2015 due to sustainability initiatives. It is likely that most of the coal consumed at educational institutions is used to generate heat. Most US schools no longer heat with coal. Recent (2015-2016) news articles report that only five public schools heat with coal in West Virginia and four schools heat with coal in Cumberland, Maryland. One of the Maryland schools uses 517 tons of coal annually at a cost of $ 120 per ton.
Coal stove companies
Most coal stoves are made in Pennsylvania except for one big producer, Hitzer stoves located in eastern Indiana. Sales of coal stoves are reported to average 4,000 to 7,000 a year, but in 2008 they may have topped 10,000. In comparison, about 140,000 wood stoves are sold each year. There are about a dozen companies making coal stoves and one notable trend is that the larger wood stove companies are getting out of the coal stove business. Vermont Castings, Harman and Moreso used to sell coal stoves and now don’t. The one company that still focuses on both fuels is US Stove Company, based in Tennessee. Coal stoves cost about the same as wood stoves and range between $ 2,000 – $ 3,500.
Coal stoves remain exempt from EPA emission regulations. Coal stoves have never had a certification program at the EPA or at any state level, although the federal government and some states have indicated an interest in developing emission regulations. Regulation would likely drive up the cost of coal stoves and may reduce sales of coal stoves but other strategies may reduce their use faster and more economically. But without emission regulations, there is little data on coal stove emissions from various types of coal stoves, and there is little incentive for stove companies to try to produce cleaner stoves. Tests conducted in the 1980s suggested that wood stoves emitted higher levels of particulate matter than anthracite stoves, but lower levels than bituminous stoves (Houck, 2009). Of course, wood emits fewer other toxic chemicals than coal.
One significant policy change in 2015 was the ban on advertising dual coal/wood use in stoves unless the stove was certified with wood, and the company also tested for coal emissions and provided that data to the EPA. To our knowledge, no company has done this so no stove should advertise the ability to burn wood and coal any more.
The EPA is currently funding research on coal emissions and has developed an unofficial, draft test method at Robert Ferguson’s lab. However, this is being undertaken only because of an EPA program to change out coal stoves on the Navajo Indian reservation, not because it has any apparent mandate or serious plan to start regulating coal stoves.
It is unlikely under the Trump administration that any certification program would be initiated by the EPA, and the only state with enough coal stoves to justify the effort would be Pennsylvania, which is unlikely to do so.
Restrictions of the use of coal stoves
Unlike the United Kingdom, there has never been any national effort in the US to reduce reliance on coal stoves. Krakow, a major Polish city is banning coal stoves in 2019, after a multi-year effort to provide subsidies for alternative heating sources.
Two states – Washington and Oregon – effectively ban them because they only allow stoves that meet specific emission requirements, but those states would have very little coal heating anyway.
Many air districts that have poor air quality and high particulate matter levels employ temporary burn bans apply to coal stoves and well as wood stoves. A few jurisdictions, such as Fairbanks, Alaska, offer homeowners financial incentives to recycle their solid fuel burning appliance (including coal stoves) or replace it with a less polluting appliance (coal stoves are not eligible). However, most change out programs only remove old wood stoves and do not allow coal stoves to be replaced with wood stoves. A Pennsylvania county offered $ 200 to trade in old wood or coal stoves, but that program has been suspended.
Oregon is the only state where it is illegal to sell a coal stove, or any other uncertified solid fuel burning appliance. Oregon also requires uncertified solid fuel burning appliances, including coal stoves, to be removed and destroyed when a home is sold. According to the latest (2015) Census data, only 143 homes rely on coal for primary heat in Oregon.
At the local level, there may be a number of cities or counties that do not allow coal stoves, but the only one we could find is Summit County, Colorado that forbids the installation of a coal stove (uncertified solid fuel burning device) in a new home or as a replacement unit for an existing non-certified stove.
Dr. James Houck, “Let’s Not Forget Coal,” Hearth & Home Magazine, December 2009, pp.
World Health Organization, “Residential heating with wood and coal: Health impacts and policy options in Europe and North America,” 2015.
Tom Zeller, “Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback,” New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008
The EPA’s new wooden heater regulations has left far more than ten states with outside boiler restrictions that now want updating. Most point out rules refer to Stage 1 and Stage 2 boilers, a voluntary plan that has now been superseded by certified boilers in new EPA rules.
At the moment, at the very least New Hampshire and Maryland are updating restrictions and the province of British Columbia presently integrated language for the new EPA accredited boilers.
The wording in these laws is frequently difficult and several states have produced accidental results in the earlier, these kinds of as Maryland whose laws only permitted Section two outside boilers to be set up, effectively prohibiting the installation of considerably cleaner and more effective indoor pellet boilers.
Scott Nichols, operator of Tarm biomass in Orford New Hampshire, is functioning with New Hampshire officers to steer clear of unintended benefits.  1 concern, for example, is his advice to preserve the exemption for out of doors pellet boilers from residence line set again principles, an exemption in area considering that 2010.  Most states that regulate outdoor boilers have established set backs, from fifty to a lot more than two hundred feet.
The Alliance for Green Heat is urging states to retain or set up property line established backs for out of doors wood boilers, like the new certified kinds, given that they can nevertheless emit abnormal smoke if they are loaded with unsplit, unseasoned wooden.  “We suggest a least of fifty ft from the property line and a hundred and fifty ft from the nearest neighboring residence for qualified wood boilers and far more for non-certified kinds,” explained John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Environmentally friendly Heat.
As of mid-February, 2017, New Hampshire is proposing 50 foot established-backs for certified wire wooden boilers, but Maryland’s draft did not include any established backs.
Yet another concern that retailers of present day indoor qualified wooden and pellet boilers are anxious with is the definition of outside boiler. “The EPA definition is improperly written and is a dragnet that catches each and every boiler in existence given that any boiler can be installed outdoors or in a framework not typically occupied by humans” Scott Nichols said.  New Hampshire agreed and altered their rules to specify that outdoor boilers are people boilers that are needed to be set up outside, so as not to incorporate indoor boilers that happen to be put in in a garage, for instance. Nichols is urging “all states to adjust their definitions for OWHH as New Hampshire has.”
The EPA’s former voluntary qualification software and current certification program for outside wood boilers (hydronic heaters) has helped to minimize particulate subject when the boilers are operated responsibly.  In addition to stricter emission standards, most certified boilers now have controls that assist make certain much better combustion through the burn cycle and lessen the impacts of biking.
However, a lot of professionals and condition and neighborhood air good quality agencies continue to be involved that EPA-qualified Section two and EPA qualified boilers can make extreme smoke in the hands of many operators.  One particular key plan reaction has been to set up set backs from house strains and/or nearby residences.  Most states where outside boilers are well-liked—with the exception of the Excellent Lake states where most outdoor boiler producers are positioned—sustain set backs.  set backs help make certain that outside wood boilers are not installed in densely inhabited regions and even in rural regions, they offer a buffer with the quick neighbors.
Home line established backs: The most frequent sort of established backs are property line established backs.  They usually assortment from 50 to 200 toes, with a hundred ft becoming the most frequent.  Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and British Columbia all use residence line established backs.
Established again from closest neighboring home: Connecticut and Vermont are the only two states that use set again from the closest neighbor’s home.  They each require 200 toes, symbolizing stricter guidelines.
The two residence line and nearest home: Maine and Massachusetts use the two property line and closest residence.  For EPA Stage two boilers, Maine needs fifty feet from the residence line or 70 ft from a neighbor’s home.  Massachusetts requires 50 feet from a property line and 75 feet from nearest property.
Seasonal limitations: Two states, Indiana and Massachusetts, do not let outside boilers to work in the summer season as they can result in even far more air pollution in hotter temperature when they are very likely to cycle on and off far more regularly.  In addition, Maryland just lately wrote draft regulations that would limit use from May 1 to September 30.
Stack heights: Most states that demand set backs also call for minimal stack heights.  (This memo does not address these.)
Sunset clauses: Most point out guidelines only apply to foreseeable future installations, but some, this kind of as Vermont and British Columbia, have sunset clauses for conventional boilers.  In British Columbia, only EPA accredited and Phase 2 boilers can be operated soon after November 1, 2026.
one. are put in at minimum 200 ft from the nearest neighboring home
DEP Details SHEET Regulation of Out of doors Wooden Boilers , Effective Date: November nine, 2007 Contact: 1-800-452-1942 or 207-287-2437 Amended: July 4, 2008
OWB Emission Score
(in lbs . per million BTUs or lbs/MMBtu)
Minimal Setback Distances
from Residence Line OR from Dwelling
50 toes OR 70 toes
100 toes OR 120 toes
>0.sixty lbs/MMBtu (such as uncertified OWBs)
250 feet OR 270 feet
ADOPTED RULE – Powerful Date: July 5, 2014
Company OF Organic Resources                               Montpelier, Vermont
ENVIRONMENTAL Security Regulations                                    CHAPTER 5                              AIR Pollution Manage
- (A)  Is found more than two hundred feet from any residence that is neither served by the OWB nor owned by the owner or lessee of the OWB and,
PROVINCE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Purchase OF THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR IN COUNCIL
Purchase in Council No. 650 , Sept. 19 2016
Boilers -setback and operational requirements
(four)  Despite subsections (2) (a) and (3), if the qualified boiler is made to bum only pelletized gasoline, the boiler need to be set up not Jess than I0 m [32 feet] from each of the parcel’s boundaries.
(five)  A individual need to not work a boiler installed contrary to subsection (2) (a) or (b), (3) or (four).
(6)  On and right after November one, 2026, a person have to not operate an set up boiler except if the boiler is a accredited boiler or a phase two certified boiler.
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