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Pros and Cons of Wood Pellet Stoves

10/30/2012 3:18:00 PM

Tags: wood pellet stoves, woodstove, woodstoves, renewable energy, wood heat

Wood Pellet StoveWe are thinking about getting a wood pellet stove to heat our home. What are the advantages and disadvantages of wood pellet stoves? 

“For someone committed to using a renewable energy source and who is away from home for many hours at a time, a pellet stove can be a good choice,” says John Gulland, MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributing editor and wood heat expert.

A wood pellet stove burns processed wood — the logs have been debarked, ground, dried and then compressed into small pellets. (Some stoves can also burn pellets made from other biofuels.) Pellets generally are more economical than heating oil, propane or electricity, and like traditional wood, they are renewable. Compared with a log-burning woodstove, a pellet stove is easier to tend, says Gary Richardson, owner of Open Hearth, a stove retailer in Kalispell, Mont. You fill the hopper in the morning and get heat for 16 hours or more before you need to reload the stove. The pellets burn cleanly and efficiently. They’re also more compact and thus easier to store than logs, requiring just 80 cubic feet per ton versus 128 cubic feet for a cord of firewood, which produces about the same amount of heat.

Because pellets are made from processed wood, however, they are usually more expensive than firewood — but pellet pricing can be competitive for people who live in or near large urban areas where natural firewood can be very expensive. Fluctuations of conventional energy prices can also have a big impact on pellet prices because pellets have higher energy input than natural firewood, Gulland says. According to Richardson, you can currently expect to pay about $200 to $250 for a ton of quality pellets, which provides roughly the same amount of heat as a $125 to $200 cord of wood. If you’re able to cut and split your own wood, the cost difference will be much greater, of course. When figuring the total cost of operation, investigate the cost and availability of the pellets sold in your area as well as the annual cost of electricity needed to operate the stove.

Pellets are sold in 40-pound bags, which can be difficult to manage. Another downside of wood pellet stoves is that they require electricity to feed pellets into the stove and to run fans to emit warm air, so if you get your energy from the grid, you won’t have heat if you lose power. Some models can be fitted with battery backups, says Richardson, but the batteries only run for about eight hours.

If you decide to go with a wood pellet stove, look for a specialist — a dealer who has been in business for a long time and who understands the product, not a mass merchandiser, Gulland says. “A new owner needs coaching — not just about the best stove to buy, but also about its care and feeding.” When shopping, consider how much heat you’ll need. A standard 40,000-Btu pellet stove can comfortably heat a well-insulated, 2,000-square-foot home, even in the coldest regions. Smaller homes or homes in warmer regions can be heated with stoves that produce fewer Btu. Ask how the unit should be cleaned and maintained. Depending on the stove model, quality of pellets, outside temperature and other factors, you can expect to have to empty ashes as often as once a week or as rarely as once every five weeks.

For more information on buying a woodstove, read How to Choose the Right Woodstove.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor 

Above: Pellets burn cleanly and are easier to store than logs. 

Illustration Courtesy of American Energy System 


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



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Post a comment below.

 

LISAF
1/3/2014 4:57:40 PM
We have a Whitfield Profile 20 pellet stove and it has not been reliable. We fix one problem (ignitor) and another problem pops up (auger). Very frustrating.

godson1952
1/3/2014 2:33:57 PM
Like anything else you should have a power bar between the generator set and the pellet stove,As you would have a power bar between your P.C. and you grid power supply.Only COMMON SENSE that little thing that protects what you value most.=====A POWER BAR WITH A CIRCUT BREAKER ON IT.

bensonra60
4/22/2013 7:23:09 PM

does anyone here have any experience powering a Harman Ascentis Insert pellet stove using a gasoline-powered electric generator like a Generac GP7500 Model 5943?  my son has a Harman free-standing pellet stove and claims a a gasoline-powered electric generator zapped the control board on his pellet stove.  he was able to get the board repaired, but he was without heat from his pellet sotve for a few weeks (he had to use his natural gas hot air furnace while Harman control board was being fixed).  My wife and i have used our Ascentia pellet stove the last three winters without any repairs or problems.  we are quite pleased with it.  We want to be able to power it off an electric generator if National Grid ever fails us during a bad winter storm.  al b.


bensonra60
4/22/2013 7:15:24 PM


WHIRLSTON ANDRE
3/11/2013 3:01:52 AM
Unique perspective. My thanks for posting this. I will definitely return back to find out more and tell my acquaintances about it.

whirlston andre
2/28/2013 7:21:04 AM
Your article is meaningful and it helps me a lot.It is a chance for me to give my voice here and I like this very much.

Matthew Powers
1/25/2013 11:32:27 AM
My wife and I purchased a pellet/grain stove this year to heat our 2000 square foot home. One of my top concerns was spending a lot of money on a stove that would only burn one fuel. Weather you lock into petrol, electricity, coal, or pellets, unless you produce your own you are locked into the market price for the commodity. We spent an extra 30% on our stove to hedge against an increase in pellet prices. While grain prices are high this year, living in an agricultural community, I feel safe that a fuel supply will be available under most any circumstance. Before purchasing, we looked at all of our options, and for insurance and code reasons, it was highly impractical to install a wood stove as this would have meant a brand new chimney with 2 flues or installing an expensive power venter on the existing oil furnace. The pellet stove only took a 4 inch hole in the side of the house and uses a 4' flue pipe bolted a few inches away from the side of the house. The concern about a power outage is a real issue when the nights are long and cold, but my stove runs on 80 watts of power on full tilt so I am able to run indefinitely by running an extension cord out my window and into an inverter running off the car battery. With careful monitoring, I would expect I could get a weeks worth of electricity off a tank of gas with power enough left over to turn on the satellite TV. The best part of the purchase is the cost savings. We have $1600 into the stove and are on track to recoup the cost during our first heating season. For those concerned about the putting small logging operations out of business, I can appreciate the concern, but remember the outfits that produce the pellets are small businesses as well. All business cycles ebb and flow, and the there will be winners and loosers, but the market will decide who has the best product for the given situation and this affords opportunity for those that are willing to take risk.

Pappy Longford
12/8/2012 5:09:55 PM
I can only contribute my own experience with wood vs propane stoves. I had a wood stove for 8 years. It did a good job of "heating" a 1,200 sq ft house with central blower assist (on an old furnace). I also had a propane stove in a 1,100 sq ft house (same assist) It also did an adequate job but the propane was cheaper to run over the season, it also drew outside air for combustion and was a whole lot cleaner to run and service. Just my observations, But it does depend a great deal on the house layout and exposure. There are a whole bunch of "what ifs" and external conditions that can effect the efficiency of both. DHL housexpert Blind River ON CAN

Robert Merritt
12/4/2012 6:02:35 PM
A few years ago, I purchased a stove that burns corn or wood pellets. Corn at that time was two dollars and seventy cents a bushel. The very next year, an alcohol plant was built just a mile from my house and corn shot up to over seven dollars a bushel and now it is even higher. So, I burned straight wood pellets for while. I found that a pellet stove was much cleaner to use than a regular wood stove. You just fill the hopper with pellets every so often and empty the ash bin. Occasionally, you have to disassemble the burning assembly and give it a good cleaning which can be a little messy but not terribly difficult. After burning pellets for a couple of years, my stove broke. Corrosion ate through the exhaust fan and it fell apart. I found a different different fan to replace it, but I just didn't feel that I had saved much money compared to burning propane. To me, the stove seemed like more a gimmick than a solution. I found that my first investment should be to insulate my house to the max to reduce the amount of energy I need to heat it. It is an investment that will outlast a pellet stove and be a lot more practical. If after insulating, you still want a pellet stove because you like the feel of heating with wood, that's OK too. Insulating first will also save you money because you won't need as many wood pellets to heat your house. I want to clarify one thing here. The pellets I used were made from hardwood sawdust that was leftover from the manufacturing of furniture and other wood products. I am not aware of any wood pellets being made directly from trees. I don't think it would be very economical or environmentally conscious to do so. I suggest that reading the bag might disclose the source and allow the user to choose.

ALI KOSIBA
11/9/2012 5:51:02 PM
I am very interested in this...but feel like this article failed to address a number of other considerations when thinking about pellets vs cord wood. First, switching to pellets could weaken the local wood industry, especially for those of us who buy wood from small businesses that wouldn't have the means to convert to pellets. Second, though research is still on-going in this realm, whole tree harvesting (ie: harvest for pellets) does remove more nutrients and habitat spaces from the forest as compared to traditional forestry techniques. This is not to say it is worse than non-whole tree harvest, but these considerations should be addressed. Along these lines, producing pellets is a more labor intensive means than producing cord wood (ie: transporting wood to pellet processor, etc.). These are some of the nuances that we need to think about an address as we move further into the pellet/biomass industry.







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