As the price of heating our homes with fossil fuels continues to rise, more and more people are considering installing a wood stove to provide supplemental heat and help control their costs. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates the cost to heat our homes will increase by more than 25% this year over last, so it's no wonder many people are looking for alternate heat sources. One choice rapidly gaining popularity is pellet stoves, here's why.
What's good about pellet stoves
* Although they look very similar to ordinary wood stoves and are available in both freestanding and fireplace units, pellet stoves aren't anything like a regular wood stove.
* To start with pellet stoves burn 'pellets' generally made up of recycled sawdust and wood shavings, tightly compressed so they have less than 8% moisture content (dry wood is around 20%). The drier the fuel the more heat it produces, so a pellet stove makes a great heat source. As an added bonus, by turning waste products into fuel, pellet stoves help keep our landfills from filling up.
* Pellet stoves burn very efficiently. Fans in the stove move air around inside the firebox ensuring all the heat is captured and the pellets are virtually totally burned. In fact pellet stoves provide 75 % to 90% overall efficiency and burn so cleanly many don't need to vented vertically up a chimney, but can be vented horizontally directly through a wall.
* Pellet stoves are clean. Pellets are available in bulk or prepackaged in bags weighing about 40 pounds each. While the pellets do need to be stored in a clean dry place, they won't attract rodents looking for a winter home and since they're bagged, you won't end up with bits of wood and wood all over the floor.
* Pellet stoves are convenient. The pellets are generally fed into the stove through a hopper you fill from a bag of pellets. There is no wood chopping, splitting or stacking required. As well, many pellet stoves are thermostatically controlled, so you won't wake up to a freezing cold room (as long as there are pellets in the hopper).
* Pellets stoves won't aggravate breathing problems. According to Consumer Reports, along with being notoriously inefficient, traditional wood stoves can produce up 40 grams of smoke per hour while even newer ones put out around 10 grams. Since pellet stoves burn so hot and efficiently, they produce minimal smoke (in fact so little that the EPA doesn't regulate them).
Is there anything not so good about pellet stoves?
* Cost can be a concern. Although pellet stoves themselves aren't much more expensive than ordinary wood stoves (around $1000 installed), the cost of the pellets can become expensive. Since pellets cost around $3 to $4 per bag, in cold climates or where the pellet stove used a lot, the price of the fuel can become prohibitive.
* Pellet stoves require electricity to operate. The hopper mechanism, the thermostat controls and the fans used in pellet stoves to ensure efficient burning, all require power to work. If the power goes off (not an uncommon problem during the winter in many locales), the pellet stove won't work.
* Battery backups or connection to a back up generator are possibilities, but these obviously add to the cost of the stove.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer over 500 articles published on the web as well as in print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada. He writes on a wide range of topics and is a regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He can be contacted at [email protected]