I've been lurking here on and off for the last four years. After the winter of 2008 when heating oil prices went north of $4, I seriously looked into installing a coal boiler to use as a primary heat source with my oil boiler as a backup. I even purchased a hand fired Tarm. Well, oil prices went down, and I tabled the idea (the Tarm is still sitting in the basement but will soon be for sale). Now I'm back and am seriously considering coal again, but only a stoker this time.
My home is approximately 6000 sq ft, of which we've been heating about 4000 square feet. The current boiler has a capacity of roughly 300K BTUs. The burner is a Riello 40 F10 (firing rate range 1.45-2.95 GPH). I am not sure what it is actually running at. I haven't tracked what we've spent on oil(too painful to add it up:)), but I'd guess it's been in the $5-$7K range per year. The HVAC system is hydronic with seven zones including five air handlers, a hot water heater, and a pool heater. Our family is growing, and we will be heating more of the house this winter, so our oil usage will increase. The house was built in 2002 and is well insulated; although, I do have some air leaks which need to be addressed.
I am considering having a stoker installed which would supply the majority of the heating in the winter. I don't know if I would run it during the summer or not. The room where the boiler would likely be installed (and where the current boiler is installed) does not have access to an outside wall, so an external coal bin feeding an auger is not an option. I could potentially build a small bin under a stairwell, but most likely I'd be relying on a hopper only. I have two unused flues in my chimney. Unfortunately, the access points are on the wrong side of the chimney, so a relatively long connecting pipe to the boiler would likely be required. The chimney is probably on the order of 45 feet high.
We live in central/eastern Massachusetts. I've contacted Jim at Patriot Coal about the Coal Jack boiler, but it may be too small for our home (I'm waiting to hear back from him). The AHS S-260 looks interesting, and they are currently running a 10% sale, but they have no dealer or support that I am aware of in our area.
Budget is not my primary concern; although, it is certainly a consideration. With our heating loads and the current prices of coal and oil, I think that we would have a relatively short payback period on the installation. My primary concerns are ease of use and reliability, and I'm not interested in sacrificing either to save a few thousand $ on the system price. I would also likely be looking to have the system installed by a third party.
FWIW, here is a picture of our current boiler.
I would greatly welcome any and all feedback and suggestions from the forum. Let me know if I've missed any important information. I'm happy to provide any info about the house I have.