Wood pellets offer an inexpensive, environmentally responsible way to heat your home, but there’s a problem. Pellets won’t burn in an ordinary woodstove and dedicated pellet stoves are much more expensive than regular woodstoves. Pellet stoves are also more technically complicated, more trouble-prone, they need electricity and you can’t burn regular logs in them. But in the true spirit of self-sufficient problem solving, all these facts got a handy guy named Brad Palmer going.
Working in his own home workshop, he created a simple and effective device that allows pellets to be burned safely and efficiently in any woodstove. I’ve used his “Bradley Burner” myself and it works perfectly. But what’s even more interesting to me is how Brad came to create his invention, and how this is an outstanding example of self-reliance for all of us.
Brad is frugal by nature, and that stopped him from forking out thousands of dollars to buy a pellet stove when he and his wife decided that burning their airtight woodstove was too troublesome and messy in their suburban home. Brad tried burning pellets in this stove, but found that a heap of pellets only smolders uselessly -- burning about as well as a phone book or pile of magazines. The problem was air. It couldn’t get into the heart of the pile, so pellets simply sat there and smoldered. At least they did until he invented an elegant and simple solution.
Beginning back in 2002, and after hundreds of hours experimenting with different grates that didn’t work, Brad hit on a design for a grate that sits on the floor of any woodstove or airtight fireplace insert, admitting air into the pile of pellets and allowing them to burn cleanly. He originally used ordinary mild steel angle iron for his device, but found that this metal deteriorated quickly in the intense heat. Brad eventually discovered that thick SS3042B stainless steel was necessary to make a durable grate, and this is what he uses now.
Brad’s idea became so popular with family and friends that he started making his grate in small quantities for sale. This little venture isn’t going to let Brad retire from his day job, but it does allow others to make pellet heating a part of their lives in an easy and economical way.
At $200, Brad’s pellet grates aren’t exactly cheap, but I can’t fault him on that. Thick stainless steel is expensive these days, the TIG-welded joints require fancy equipment, and Brad refuses to go with offshore production. His grate is pretty much foolproof and bullet-proof, so it works out to be a good deal.
You can learn more about what Brad’s been up to with his one-man micro-venture at www.bradleyburner.com. It’s a noteworthy example of what little people can do with vision, enthusiasm and energy, and Brad’s story stands as an encouragement to us all.
Every year as winter descends again, it reminds me how vulnerable many of us are when it comes to energy. Ultimately, we’ll pay just about anything to keep warm in winter, and we shouldn’t put our trust in international politics or questionable foreign leaders in far-off countries to determine the price we’ll pay to keep from freezing. Something as basic as keeping warm is too important for that.
If we sit back and continue to do nothing to reduce our structural dependence on fossil fuels, eventually we’ll be in for serious grief. It’s just a matter of time. In fact, the grief has already begun. Heating with wood pellets is one small shift in the right direction, and it’s an approach that more people could benefit from. Pellet heat reduces our reliance on volatile and finite fossil fuels, it lets us heat without contributing to the greenhouse effect, and it gives more and more people the chance to enjoy an exquisite wintertime pleasure – snuggling up to a warm, glowing woodstove – even when cutting, hauling and handling cordwood isn’t a practical option.
Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on Google+.