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Anthracite, pellets, or wood?

True story:

Sixty years ago in New England, in order to keep warm, most people–if employed and having enough money–would treat themselves to burning high quality, low-sulfur anthracite coal, though in more difficult times they relied primarily on wood-burning methods. Nowadays, when considering alternative heat sources, we tend to automatically consider wood, or wood pellets; therefore, many people start out with a wood stove, but after a season of brutally hard work cutting, splitting, and stacking, (then un-stacking), not to mention fetching the wood by digging it out from under the snow, bringing it into the house while kicking off all the snow and mud, and then repeating this scenario every few hours, is simply not worth the effort!  Nonetheless, perhaps you are thinking, “We can put the wood on the porch and stack it all the way up to the ceiling, or in the garage!”  But by the time springtime rolls around, you may discover that you are in serious need for an exterminator.

But to get on with my story, at one point I decided to sell our $2,000.00 slow-burning, creosote accumulating wood stove, cleaned out the chimney and set out to purchase a pellet-burning type.  “Out with the old,” I thought, “and in with the new.”

After a considerable amount of shopping, we eventually decided on a stunning, auger-fed, ginormous storage hopper and pellet-burner. But after installing the direct vent chimney, and purchasing the pellets, we found ourselves into the commitment to the tune of almost $4,500!  Nonetheless, we felt that we were all ready to go.


As autumn turned to fall and the chill arrived, we pressed the easy-light pellet stove button and were pleased to see that it was working just like they said it would! What a pleasure!  What’s more, bringing in the pellets was much less laborious than had been with the wood stove prior.  Thus, the stove worked beautifully–that is, until the real cold arrived!  To compensate, we turned up the feed to the burner and it produced more than adequate heat, but then the unit began eating up pellets voraciously.  In fact, they were disappearing so quickly that it became apparent that we needed to build up a greater supply.  However, to our astonishment, the task proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated originally, and certainly not as easily accomplished as had been advertised.   Bottom line is, they were nowhere to be found! Anywhere!

Needless to say winter matured and as the lowered temperatures set in, we were forced to ration pellet use in order to conserve on what we already had in storage.  One night though, during a very bad rainstorm, temperatures plummeted, and later on that night, there was a power outage.  Of course we had considered at one time installing either a standby electric generator, or a backup battery system, but a generator wasn’t practical for us, and the battery backup idea was thrown out when we ascertained that it only worked for 12-15 hours.

However, we were still without power three days later!  But to make matters even worse, when we went downstairs to the basement to retrieve more pellets for fuel, to our utter dismay, we discovered that the basement had leaked, and all of our pellet supply was devastated by the water, which had morphed them into a useless substance that resembled frozen pasta!

By the time spring finally arrived, we had firmly decided that the pellet stove option was certainly not for us.  So now we had both a wood stove and a pellet burner for sale, but there were no buyers. Hmmmm; I wonder why?


But our story changed dramatically, when we later decided to switch to an anthracite burner.  In the first place, as the salesman pointed out, no electric power is required for an anthracite burner, and secondly, wetness has zero effect on its flammability, unlike pellets, anthracite has an unlimited shelf life, given the fact that it already is millions of years old.  Finally, a wood stove requires fuel every two to three hours, but an anthracite burner can go 12-15 hours on a single fill, not to mention its superior BTU factor. As for coal being dirty, we were told to simply empty the ashes daily by first shaking the grate properly with the ash door closed, and by so doing, would find that it would actually be a cleaner procedure than in the case of burned wood. We were sold.

Comes the Coal Chubby!

Having had a few seasons of hard-learned wisdom behind us, it now became abundantly clear to us why 75 years ago high quality anthracite was the fuel of choice. Had we had purchased a Coal Stove Chubby in the first place, we would have saved thousands of dollars.

Happy in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.!

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