Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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SouthernLady
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Jul 12, 2012 12:29 pm

Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by SouthernLady »

Is there a difference between coal burning vs. wood burning fireplaces? In the 1895-1900 farmhouse I am on schedule to be in this time next year, we naturally assumed the fireplaces were wood burning as each has the old ash dumps. Currently, gas log lines were run up the old holes and they will need to be switched back. Anyway, we are now curious about the fuel used as we found an old window in the cellar that a friend says reminds him of a coal dump... Is there a difference?

1880 Stick Victorian
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Location: Lyons, NY

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by 1880 Stick Victorian »

i've had both and what i have noticed is that the wood burning fireplaces i've had were always deep... whereas this house we have now the fireplaces are very shallow..maybe 12 inches deep...
Image
Theo. & Alice Fries House
Lyons, New York - 1880

csnyder
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Joined: Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:49 pm
Location: Grand Rapids, MI

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by csnyder »

Could the coal have been for a heating appliance - such as a boiler or coal stove? Our house used to have a coal room, to feed the boiler (the house had hot water radiator heat when built). When a gas boiler was installed - probably quite early, since the house's first owner was a VP at the gas company - the coal room was converted into a den. The house I grew up in (built in the 1910's) also had an old coal room, to feed the furnace.
Chris Snyder, WavyGlass.org

Tom and Jada
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Location: Baltimore, MD
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Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by Tom and Jada »

The coal might have been for a boiler, if that's the kind of heat the house has or had. Our house had a coal-fired boiler up until 1929 and had a coal room in the basement. In the winter of 1929-30, it was converted to fuel oil.

Measure the depth of the fireplace. As 1880 Stick said, coal fireplaces are shallower and often have a grate over them, which may have been removed if they were converted to gas.
Tom and Jada
Current project: Circa 1915 Georgian Colonial Revival
http://www.colonialrevivalrestoration.com

SouthernLady
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Jul 12, 2012 12:29 pm

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by SouthernLady »

I would have to say that these fireplaces are certainly not what I would call deep. I would guess they are about 3.5' wide or so, and maybe 2' deep. I don't have any way to measure for a while. Of course, there is an ash dump in the center floor of each one, and in the cellar there is clearly ash still in the holding area. The holes come out the chimney wall about two feet. off the dirt floor of the cellar. They look to be one foot high and not quite a foot in length. There seems to be no sign of a door for the dump holes. I don't see signs of a grate or anything.

I know for a fact the house was once heated by radiator heat, as there are at least two spots in each room where the radiatora once stood. I wish they were still there. Also, I know for certain there was cookstove right where the electric stove now stands, as ee found strong signs during new appliance install.

I have even wondered if small stoves may have been used in the upstairs bedrooms...

historicalwork
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:30 pm

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by historicalwork »

Given some of the questions we have had on our fireplace I will be curious to see pictures of yours (viewtopic.php?f=5&t=36599). The one we have is only 13 inches deep and has an ash dump (since covered over).

mross_pitt
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Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2005 3:37 pm

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by mross_pitt »

The one we have is only 13 inches deep and has an ash dump (since covered over).
I don't think a 13" deep fireplace should possibly be used for wood burning. Well, anything could be used, but certainly not safe to use for that purpose.

cs
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Joined: Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:33 pm
Location: Dobbs Ferry NY

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by cs »

mross_pitt wrote:I don't think a 13" deep fireplace should possibly be used for wood burning. Well, anything could be used, but certainly not safe to use for that purpose.
Unless, by chance, it's a Rumford. That's an old wood-burning design - colonial times, and TOTALLY safe. Montecello has 'em, as do many other similar vintage buildings. A Rumford is tall (usually as tall as it is wide, or close to it), with angled side walls and a very shallow depth. I added new Rumfords to my house, 36X36" and the total depth is only 14". You build the fire vertically, which coupled with the shallow depth and angled side walls, throws quite a bit of heat out into the room. here's mine, with a "Tin Kitchen" in front, roasting a chicken:
Image

I have seen original Rumfords in buildings from the late 1700's into early 1800's. The stove, when it was developed was even more efficient, and is perhaps why I have not seen many from the later 1800's and the early 1900's.

Chris
http://www.saracenihouse.com

mross_pitt
Posts: 745
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2005 3:37 pm

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by mross_pitt »

TOTALLY safe
Maybe with a fire screen!!!! Big trouble if the teepee fire collapses towards the room or your burning a wood that likes to throw embers.
:)


I see a lot of variation in what are called Rumfords. Some look proportionally like modern fireplaces....not so shallow, not so angled sides, etc. ...except for the rounded breast at the lintel.
Last edited by mross_pitt on Wed Dec 05, 2012 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

cs
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Location: Dobbs Ferry NY

Re: Difference Between Coal and Wood Burning Fireplaces

Post by cs »

yeah... the screen is off in that photo for the tin kitchen, but typically it would be up over the opening. here it is with the screen (plus the dog):

Image

A teepee fire is fairly stable - collapsing inward as it burns. We make a fire practically every night from the fall through the spring, and I have never had one fall outward against the screen since the fire place was installed in 2005, but sparks are a danger (as they are in a standard fireplace). Don't want to set the dog on fire. :lol:

Sometimes people create "modified rumfords"... or call something a Rumford that strictly speaking, is not. The shallow depth, angled walls (Rumford specified 135 degrees) and rounded throats are ALL critical elements. Here is a Wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumford_fireplace

More info here: http://rumford.com/
and plans for the Superior Clay version can be found here: http://rumford.com/classicflyerplan.html
... and for fun, Count Rumford's 1796 Proposal "... for improving [Fireplaces] to save Fuel; to render Dwelling-houses more COMFORTABLE and SALUBRIOUS, and effectually to prevent Chimnies from SMOKING." here: http://rumford.com/chimneyfireplacesa.html

Chris
http://www.saracenihouse.com

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