A Wood Pellet Stove Turns Waste Wood Into Home Heat

For a convenient, eco-friendly, and potentially money-saving method of home heating, give some thought to using a wood pellet stove.

| February/March 2009

wood pellet stove close-up

Pellet appliances come in three main types: stoves, fireplace inserts, and furnaces/boilers, with stoves being the most popular by far.


Wood is a great renewable heating option — widely available and clean burning (in EPA-certified stoves). But for some of us, handling the firewood and tending the fire require too much time. If a traditional woodstove isn’t right for you, you might want to consider a wood pellet stove; as the name implies, they burn pellets made of compressed wood byproducts and other biomass.

The pellet-heating lifestyle fits somewhere between the automated convenience of gas, oil, or electric systems and the hands-on requirements of a woodstove. Pellet appliances vary from designs that are lit manually, with heat output controlled directly by the homeowner using a dial or buttons, to those units that ignite electrically, with pellet supply and heat output controlled automatically by a wall-mounted thermostat.

Another reason to consider switching from fossil-fueled heat sources to a pellet stove: It can reduce your carbon footprint. Wood pellets produce almost no net climate-changing carbon dioxide if they are used as fuel — although some fossil fuels typically are used in the manufacture and transportation of pellets.

The technology for modern residential pellet heating systems was invented back in 1983. This technology is now reliable, mature, and effective. The main question left to answer is whether the pellet lifestyle makes sense for you. And to answer this question you need a glimpse inside the process.

Life with Pellet Heat

Starting a pellet stove takes about five minutes. Even without a thermostat, you can choose the amount of heat you want, because heat output is variable by changing the setting of a single control that adjusts the exhaust fan speed and the speed of the auger that feeds pellets to the burn pot.

Pellet consumption ranges vary, depending on settings and circumstances. Manufacturers list input in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr). Maximum input ranges from 30,000 to 48,000 Btu/hr, with many stoves claiming around 40,000 Btu/hr. (Actual heat output will be less because not all wood energy ends up as heat delivered to a building.)

1/1/2015 7:29:47 PM

Get a good one that burns corn too Corn is cheaper this year to burn 378 bushel and burns hotter than pellets.Get a good stove. You get what you pay for at the dept stores We've had a Countryside made by American energy systems for over 6 years now and had no problems with it! We just got another for the basement ! We have a 2 story farmhouse and it keeps it very toasty!

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Tim Sefton
11/17/2011 3:18:41 PM

We working on a project developing and building a low cost stirling engine for electrical generation that would work well with wood pellet stoves - We are targeting a building cost of $110 for a 1KW output - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/672465444/low-cost-sterling-engine

1/8/2011 4:00:49 PM

Several of my neighbors have pellet stoves. I have two problems with them: 1) If they are in the living area, they can put out a lot of heat and it is uncomfortable to sit near one. 2) If you like your wood stove you won't like the sound and looks of the flames in a pellet stove. It is like switching from a symphony to an old tv with static white noise. Just awful. I would never be able to have one in my living area. Fine for a basement heating system. But I will keep my soapstone for my living area. Much more comfortable and pleasant. Daisy

1/8/2011 11:50:18 AM

We installed a pellet stove in 2008 in our basement. The contractors hemmed and hawed that the wood burning chimney access port would not work well with pellet stoves because of the number of turns-- one pipe out from back of stove then turning upward and then turning inward to access and then again once inside the chimney with a stainless steel liner- it would turn again. The practicality of keeping the direct vent away from windows and doors is absurdity. Most code in most states follow egress rules with or without basements. Our stove is direct venting but when my neighbor built the hearth- I had him offset it from the concealed chimney access and to the EAST side of that chimney wall creating a "wind barrier." Last winter- snowmageddon... we had to go outside and turn the vent pipe downward because the winds and snow blew it upward. We had one power outage and very little smoke since we just turned it on. We only burn pellets when we are home and never unattended. Two or three times after cleaning, I did not place the piece that catches the pellets like a backdrop in properly and the burn box filled with pellets. No big deal. The author hit a good note with buying pellets in off season. I called Southern States in August and asked when their pellets would arrive and they already had stock from the previous winter-- they stock them in early fall and again in January. LUCKILY we bought them and for $190 a ton vs $235 the previous winter. We love our stove!

Suzanne Horvath
1/7/2011 8:25:07 AM

One of my relatives has a wood pellet stove and after visiting her home, I would never buy one. I would opt for a regular woodstove first. There are a couple of problems for me with the pellet stove: I can't lift 40 lbs of pellets and don't want to have to figure out where to store all of them - an extra small room just for pellets? Also, when the electricity went out, the pellet stove didn't work. Again, woodstoves don't have this problem. And finally, it seems like a waste of energy to have these pellets transported all over the country - not very green in the long run!

9/15/2009 7:56:29 PM

Well,it would make sense if you see the whole picture which the article touches on momentarily as it should.Its about burning pellets.Large amounts of carbon dioxide and ammonia and methane are released naturally by rotting leaves alone.Add to this the dead sticks,dead fallen trees, dead animals and insects that get naturally recycled thru the 'carbon-ammonia-methane cycle' every year and its a vast amount of carbon DIOXIDE released into the atmosphere every year.Been this way for about the last couple of billion years.When you burn the leaves,wood and sticks all you are doing is speeding up the process from a couple of months to five-ten years that it takes for this stuff to rot fully into the ground.Dont worry though,no one tells you that carbon dioxide breaks down into carbon and oxygen in free air in about 25 years if it's not used up by the vegetation.Thats why you don't see as much carbon dioxide(less than 3% of the atmosphere is CO2)as you do oxygen,lots more vegetation using CO2 than there are using oxygen.Anyways,loggers log the trees to make wood products on vast tracts of tree farms.Been doing this for about 180-200 years or so here many more in Europe.The sawmills waste is turned into a viable money maker for them and necessary (and expensive if using other forms of heat like oil)expenditure for the consumer.A cheaper way out,I have heard of people netting $750-$2000 savings a year by changing to pellets.I was hoping they would touch on the pellet making machines for farms and residential use where leaves and grass clippings and garden waste are turned into pellets.WOuld have liked to see more on that.

2/17/2009 5:32:10 PM

Could the auger and blowers be run off a small solar panel & battery?

2/12/2009 5:19:03 PM

This information makes no sense to me. "If the shavings here weren’t made into pellets, they’d rot on their own, slowly returning most of the carbon they contain to the atmosphere. This carbon is on its way up anyway. Turning the wood shavings into pellets and using it for home heating just ties into a part of the carbon cycle that’s operating whether we make use of it or not. Contrast this with ancient carbon released from far underground by burning fossil fuels, and you can see that carbon emissions from burning wood should not be regarded the same." The carbon released slowly has to be less harmful than if it is released all at once in burning. I had a pellet stove. It did not work well for me, likely because I have a drafty house. I am heating with wood now.

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