Pellet stoves help improve on the downsides of using wood burning stoves including user error by making the combustion process far more automated with a precise fuel to air ratio.
However there are also a number of downsides to using pellet stoves as some things need to be sacrificed in order to achieve this high level of automation.
We’ve been using our own pellet stove for a while now and to help you understand what the advantages and disadvantages are of using pellets stoves we’ve put together this complete article to the pros and cons of pellet stoves.
|Ease of use||Needs electricity|
|High efficiency||Maintenance requirements|
|Clean burning||Fuel availability & cost|
|Heat output||Life expectancy|
|Stores fuel inside||Weight|
|Tidy fuel storage||Plastic bags|
|Flexible installation||Heavy bags|
|Lower installation costs||Less attractive flames|
|Easy to clean||Purchase Cost|
We’ve discussed these main pros and cons of pellet stoves in more detail below using our own pellet stove as an example.
Pellet Stoves Pros
1) Automated Fires
Almost all of the processes in a pellet stoves that would need to be done manually in other forms of wood stoves are done automatically.
In order for a solid fuel burning appliance such as a pellet stove to generate heat, both fresh air and fuel must be provided to the fire to keep it going. Unlike wood stoves where you need to adjust the air vents manually for airflow and add firewood manually to the fire, this is all undertaken automatically within pellet stoves.
For example, our own pellet stoves automatically:
- Delivers pellets to the fire in the combustion chamber from the hopper.
- Sucks in fresh air using the vacuum created in the combustion chamber by forcing waste air out of the stove.
- Brings the room up to the temperature we’ve set on the stove.
2) Ease of Use
Pellet stoves can be very easy to use thanks to a central control panel where you can start and stop a fire in a pellet stove at the touch of a button, and also because a pellet stove will automate all of the processes throughout a fire.
For example, our pellet stove has a touch screen control panel located on the top of the stove. From here we can change the desired room temperature and start a fire by pressing the power button.
We can also choose which days of the week we want the stove to automatically turn on and the times of each day in which to generate heat.
For the majority of pellet stoves the only thing you need to worry about during fires is ensuring that there’s enough pellets in the hopper in which to burn.
Pellet stoves are very efficient forms of home heating appliance.
Energy.gov explains that they’re the most efficient home heating appliance.
‘Pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance. Pellet stoves that are certified by the EPA are likely to be in the 70% to 83% efficiency range.’Energy.gov
Our own pellet stove has an efficiency rating of 87.8%, which is much higher than the efficiency ratings of our wood stoves that are in the 70% range.
Find out more about the efficiency of pellet stoves here.
4) Clean Burning
Pellet stoves can achieve such high efficiency ratings because they’re clean burning.
This means that they produce as much heat as possible from every piece of fuel with minimal wastage.
Many manufacturers of pellet stoves recommended burning high quality pellet fuels that meet certain standards.
For example, we’re required to burn Class A1 pellets in our pellet stove with a maximum moisture content of 8% and maximum ash content of 0.5%.
This allows the stove to burn them very cleanly as the low moisture and ash content helps provide for proper combustion of the fuel with minimal issues.
Find out more about how pellet stoves provide a clean burn here.
5) Low Emissions
As a result of pellet stoves being so efficient and clean burning thanks to automated and controlled fires, pellet stoves can have very low emission numbers compared to other forms of solid fuel burning appliance.
Energy.gov explains that:
‘Some pellet stoves have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces. As a consequence of this, they produce very little air pollution.’Energy.gov
Pellet stoves use a range of sensors and electronic components controlled by a central control unit to always be continuously analysing and optimizing fires to provide the right fuel to air ratio in order to keep emissions to a minimum.
6) High Heat Output
Pellets stoves are able to generate great amounts of heat for a home thanks to being clean burning and efficient.
Heat is extracted from fires located within the combustion chamber of a pellet stove. Rather than using the body of the stove to radiate this heat out into the room as wood burning stoves do, pellet stoves opt to convey the heat to a room using convection of air.
As an example, our pellet stove has a built-in distribution blower that forces air out through the front of the stove and the air warms up as it passes around the combustion chamber.
Energy.gov explains that:
‘Pellet stoves have heating capacities that range between 8,000 and 90,000 BTU per hour.’Energy.gov
Our own pellet stove has a nominal heat output capacity of 21,000 BTUs (6.1kW) which is more than enough to sufficiently heat our living room.
7) Thermostatic Control
Many pellet stoves incorporate thermostatic control into their electronic systems, and some can even work with specific models of external thermostat.
This allows a pellet stove to regulate the heat output to the user’s preference.
For example, we can set the desired room temperature on our pellet stove and the stove will bring the room temperature up to this level and keep it there.
The stove also has a built-in room temperature sensor and so it will continuously measure the current room temperature to ensure that the room doesn’t rise above or dip below the temperature we’ve set.
8) Stores Fuel Inside
In order to allow a stove to automatically deliver fuel to the fire the pellets must be stored within the stove itself inside an integrated hopper.
For example, the hopper on our pellet stove is located at the top and we simply need to add more pellets to the hopper when the fuel supplies are getting low.
Benefits of being able to do this include:
- Keeping the fuel out of sight inside the stove.
- Reducing the number of bags sitting next to or near the stove.
9) Tidy Fuel Storage
Pellet fuel is typically bought in bags of certain weights. Common bag weights include 40lbs but our bags of pellets come in 15kg weights (33lbs).
As the pellets are stored within bags it can help to make storage of them much easier and more manageable.
We buy our pellets in bulk before the winter season to help keep costs low and store them in our garage. It’s easy to stack them on top of each other in a neat pile and if we need more pellets then we can grab another bag of pellets from the top of the pile as required.
10) Flexible Installation
Pellet stoves aren’t typically required to follow the same strict and onerous venting requirements that can be needed when installing other forms of stove.
This can be largely due to the fact that pellet stoves use forced ventilation rather than solely relying on the natural movement of air known as the draft. A fume extractor in a pellet stove will forcibly suck waste air out of a stove and out of a home through a chimney flue.
This means that pellet stoves can be more flexible when it comes to choosing a location for them in a home.
Wood stoves need a vertical flue and so need to be installed where a flue can be put straight through a roof or placed within an existing open fireplace and utilize the existing chimney.
However, pellets stoves can also typically vent directly through an external wall of a home.
For example, we’ve had our pellet stove installed up against an external wall of our living room. The flue extends out the back of the stove and through the adjacent external wall, which then proceeds up the side of the house to above the eaves.
You may also be able to vent fresh air for a pellet stove from the outside rather than using indoor air and potentially requiring another external air vent to be installed somewhere in the room.
We’ve extended the air intake on our stove through the same wall as the flue.
11) Lower Installation Costs
As pellet stoves don’t typically need to follow the same strict regulations for installation as other forms of wood stove you can expect the installation costs to be lower compared to these other stoves.
For example, it cost us upwards of $1,000 to have both of our wood stoves installed in existing open fireplaces, and this doesn’t include the cost of the stove. The cost covered professional work and the parts required to connect the stoves to the top of the chimneys using a new flue liner.
Installation of our pellet stove didn’t cost quite as much.
We could have installed our pellet stove in a masonry fireplace utilized the chimney but our model of pellet stove is too tall to fit. We’ve instead placed it up against the corner of the room and installed a flue system up the external wall of the house with a connection from the stove through the external wall.
Had this been a wood burning stove then the flue would have needed to go straight up through the roof and the installation costs would have been much higher.
As every installation is different you will need to compare the costs of installing a pellet stove against other types of fireplace for your particular situation, but expect on average the cost of installing a pellet stove to be lower compared to other forms of wood stove.
12) Easy To Clean
Many pellet stoves are set up to make them easy to clean.
Manufacturers of pellet stoves typically require their stoves to be cleaned out every couple of days, if not daily, to help ensure that the stoves are always running as efficiently as possible.
As a result, the main components in our own pellet stove that need to be cleaned regularly are removable.
The ash tray located around the burn pot at the base of the combustion chamber can be removed to allow us to easily clean out the ashes from previous fires.
The burn pot, where the flames are generated, can also be removed from our particular model of pellet stove. This allows us to remove any leftover bits of pellets that haven’t burnt properly and clean out the holes for improved airflow.
13) Recycled Fuel
Fuel for pellet stoves comes in the form of pellets. Much of what makes up a pellet is often recycled material.
Many pellets are wood by-products and can be made from a range of wood chippings or sawdust.
Pellet Stove Cons
Pellet stoves are electronic appliances and need to pack a range of electronic components as well as storage of the fuel inside the body to allow all of the automated processes to occur that allows them to be so efficient.
A downside to this is that pellet stoves can be large and can be quite dominant-looking in a room.
Our pellet stove is more than twice the size of our wood burning stoves and much of this in terms of height. As a result, we weren’t able to install our pellet stove in our open fireplace because it’s just too big.
Pellet stoves can also come in the form of pellet inserts which are specifically designed to fit within the opening of a masonry fireplace, which will help save on floor space.
However, expect pellet boilers (which provide hot water central heating) to be even larger than our own freestanding stove, which is for space heating purposes only and doesn’t have an integrated back boiler.
2) Needs Electricity
Pellet stoves are electrical appliances and therefore need a source of electricity in order to work.
This means that:
- A pellet stove needs to be located near an electrical outlet.
- A new electrical outlet needs to be installed near to the location of the pellet stove if there isn’t already one nearby.
All pellet stoves are electric. The only exception would be if buying a specific non-electric models of pellet stove but these are far less common than standard electric ones.
As example, our own pellet stove came with a power cord that needed to be plugged into the back of the stove.
We then needed to plug this into a nearby electrical outlet. Thankfully there was an outlet on the wall near to where we wanted the stove to be placed and so we didn’t need to have one installed.
A pellet stove cannot be used without it being plugged into the home electrics. A pellet stove cannot even be turned on if not plugged in as it requires use of the control panel to start each fire.
Another downside of this is that a pellet stove can’t be used in a power outage.
A generator or a backup battery power supply will need to be used during any power outage in order to use a pellet stove.
If you’re subject to regular power outages then it’s definitely worth ensuring that you can connect a specific pellet stove to a generator or see if there is a backup battery available, otherwise a wood burning stove may be a better option as they won’t need electricity in order to generate heat.
3) Higher Maintenance Requirements
As pellet stoves have so many moving and electrical components that all need to be working in order for a pellet stove to generate heat, they can be subject to more onerous maintenance requirements between fires.
Much of the maintenance requirements are simply cleaning out the combustion chamber but professional help may be required periodically.
We need to clean our pellet stove daily and weekly in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, but we also need to have the stove checked seasonally by a certified technician who will check and clean all of the other components we can’t get to.
Pellet stoves are also typically subject to the same annual chimney flue clean as other forms of wood stove but an upside to pellet stoves is that they don’t build up much creosote if used correctly because they burn the fuel so cleanly.
4) Fuel Availability & Cost
A downside of needing to use pellets as fuel is that they may not be as readily available to buy as firewood because they need to be manufactured.
Whereas some members of our family never have to pay for firewood for their wood stoves because they source the wood from their land and season the firewood, we always need to be buying pellets for our pellet stove or we won’t be able to use it.
Pellet stoves may also not be as well taken up by many countries as wood burning stoves can be.
This can lead to reduced availability of pellets and can increase fuel costs if the pellets need to be transported to your location from further away.
It’s therefore always worth checking the availability of pellets for your local area and understanding the costs associated with buying in the pellets before installing a pellet stove.
Pellet stoves are fairly complex home heating appliances.
Unlike wood burning stoves that don’t have any moving or electrical parts, pellet stoves have a range of mechanical and electronic components that can require professional help if anything goes wrong.
Whereas wood stoves can be simplistic in nature in that the user manually controls the fire by adding more fuel and adjusting the air vents, pellet stoves can have complicated controls with layers of settings on the control screen.
We can dive deep into the settings on the control panel of our pellet stove and there’s a range of options to choose from including days and times in which to heat, day and night time temperature settings, cleaning modes, heating modes and more.
All of this can be overwhelming for a first-time user of pellet stoves.
6) Life Expectancy
Another downside of the complex nature of pellets stoves is that they typically have shorter life expectancies compared to other forms of wood stove.
With having so many different parts it can mean that there is more to potentially go wrong. Furthermore, a pellet stoves can’t function if even one of the components stops working.
Moving parts found in pellet stoves, including the motors driving them, may burn out or fail long before any static component inside another form of wood stove does.
Manufacturers of pellet stoves therefore typically offer a wide range of spare parts available for their stoves to help keep the whole stove going for longer if just one component fails.
For more information we have another article on pellet stove life expectancy.
Pellet stoves can be relatively noisy appliances because of all the moving parts required during operation.
These moving parts can include:
- The auger delivering fuel to the fire in the combustion chamber from the hopper.
- The combustion blower sucking waste air out of the combustion chamber.
- The distribution blower delivering hot air to the room.
The noisiest part of our own stove is the distribution blower, which forces air around the combustion chamber, heating the air up along the way and provides warmth to the room.
We’ve discussed pellet stove noise in more detail here.
We’ve learnt to live with the constant noise made by our pellet stove but it’s always worth going to see a pellet stove in operation first-hand to get an idea of the amount of noise they typically make.
Pellet stoves are relatively heavy appliances.
Even though our pellet stove is twice the size of our wood stoves it’s still similar in weight. We’ve compared the weight of our pellet stove to our wood stoves in more detail here.
This means that they can’t be lifted by one person and will require two or more pairs of hands.
Our pellet stove was delivered on a pallet and we needed to buy a trolley in order to move it into the house from the garage as it was still too difficult to move with two pairs of hands.
Therefore consider how a pellet stove will be delivered to its location in your home. Our stove could only be delivered to our driveway and we had to move it the rest of the way.
9) Plastic Pellet Bags
Unfortunately pellets for use in pellet stoves are typically delivered in plastic bags.
The pellets would be too heavy for any paper bags and so this means that if you’re burning through lots of pellets every season then this waste can add up.
The bags of pellets we use are recyclable and so we always recycle these bags, but this can come down to the end user recycling any pellet bags properly.
10) Heavy Pellet Bags
Bags of pellets can often be found in weights of 40lbs but in the case of our own pellets they’re in bags of 15kg (33lbs).
Bags of pellets can therefore be quite heavy to lift and so take into account that it may be difficult to lift the bags up to the top of a pellet stove in order to add more pellets.
11) Less Attractive Flames
Pellet stoves don’t quite produce the same traditional flame look like other forms of stove.
Expect the flames in a pellet stove to be less natural as pellet stoves focus on efficiency and clean burning using automated processes rather than the complete flame experience.
12) Purchase Cost
Although pellet stoves can have similar purchase prices to wood stoves, they’re still an expensive purchase.
Our pellet stove cost just over $2,000 (£1,500) and so this should be taken into consideration when choosing what type of fireplace or stove to install and the time it may take to see a return on this initial investment.