An expert, unbiased report to help you choose the best pellet stove for your home and budget
With the cost of energy representing an ever larger chunk of the average American household’s budget, many homeowners are looking toward alternative fuel sources to heat their homes. Increasingly, they are turning to pellet stoves as a supplemental or, in some cases, primary heat source.
Pellets are made from various bio-mass wastes.
Pellet stoves look similar to wood stoves or fireplace inserts, but the similarity ends there. Instead of burning wood, they burn small pellets typically made from recycled wood shavings, sawdust, or corn. There are many advantages to burning pellets instead of wood, see The Advantages of Burning Pellets. Inside, they are quite sophisticated combustion appliances that offer low-cost heating.
Advantages of Burning Pellets
The pellet that a pellet stove burns are actually recycled sawdust, wood shavings, corn, walnut and peanut shells, and similar bio-mass wastes that are ground up, compressed, and extruded. The 3/8-to-1-inch-long pellets look like rabbit feed and are sold in 40-pound bags. Pellets turn wastes that would otherwise be dumped at landfills into energy, lessening our dependence on oil.
Both because of the fuel’s consistency and the stove’s combustion mechanics, pellets burn very hot. This means they burn more efficiently and more cleanly than wood.
Intense compression squeezes the moisture out of the pellets, dropping their moisture content to below 8 percent, which is very dry compared with cord wood, which has from 20 percent to 30 percent moisture. The drier the fuel, the more heat it can produce. And the hotter the fire burns, the more fuel it can consume. Compared with EPA-certified wood stoves, which give off about 5 grams of particulates per hour, pellet stoves give off less than 1 gram per hour.
Combustion efficiency is a measure of how much of a fuel is converted to energy by an appliance. Pellet stoves offer 75 percent to 90 percent overall efficiency be sure to look for overall efficiency ratings when comparing makes. In fact, so much heat is extracted that most pellet stoves may be vented horizontally out through a wall instead of through a conventional chimney – see How a Pellet Stove Works.
Pellets also create much less ash than cord wood and produce far less creosote, a common wood stove and fireplace hazard that blackens glass doors and collects in chimneys, potentially causing chimney fires.
Most pellet stoves produce a small fire that, concentrated in the center of the unit, burns very hot. If you like the look of a fire, try to find a unit with a good flame pattern and a large viewing glass. You can get ceramic logs that help disperse the flames and give the fire a more traditional look.
One drawback of pellet stoves is that they’re relatively complex.Pellet Stove Works, they have a variety of moving parts and motors that require maintenance, so it’s a good idea to select a model that gives you easy access to its parts. It’s also not a bad idea to get a service contract.