Pellet stoves can be considered to be in the same family as wood burning stoves but there are a number of key differences between them.
We own and use a pellet stove, wood burning stove and a multi fuel stove and so we’ve put together the complete list of differences between pellet stoves and wood stoves.
|Pellet Stoves||Wood Stoves|
|Larger body||Smaller body|
|Easy to use||Learning curve|
|Automated fires||Manual fires|
|Uses firewood fuel||Uses pellet fuel|
|Lower fuel availability||Higher fuel availability|
|Need electricity||Don’t need electricity|
|Unusable in power outage||Useable in power outage|
|Higher maintenance||Lower maintenance|
|Higher efficiency ratings||Lower efficiency ratings|
|Cleaner burning||Slightly more polluting|
|Lower installation costs||Higher installation costs|
|Indoor or outside air supply||Indoor air supply|
|Shorter life span||Longer life span|
|Similar heat output||Similar heat output|
|Similar weight||Similar weight|
|Similar purchase price||Similar purchase price|
We’ve been using our pellet stove for a while now but we’ve also been using our current wood burning and multi fuel stoves for over 5 years.
As a result, we’ve got to know our range of stoves intimately and so this guide outlines all of the differences between pellet stoves and wood stoves.
For the purposes of this article we’re classing both wood burning and multi fuel stoves under wood stoves, which together will both be compared to pellet stoves.
Pellet stoves are typically larger in size compared to wood burning stoves.
This is largely because pellet stoves need to compact more components into the body of the stove and simply need to be larger in size as a result to accommodate more parts.
Wood burning stoves are often found installed within existing open fireplaces as they’re typically small enough to fit inside the average masonry fireplace opening.
For example, we’ve installed both of our wood stoves in existing masonry fireplaces and the stoves themselves were small enough to fit inside even though they were sized to be able to heat the whole rooms.
Pellet stoves are typically more commonly found as freestanding versions, meaning that they sit on the floor of a home rather than within the opening of an existing fireplace.
Pellet inserts are still available as an option for installation within the opening of a masonry fireplace, however.
As an example, our pellet stove is far too large to fit inside any of our open fireplaces and is at least double the size of our wood stoves. We’ve therefore had our pellet stove installed in the corner of our living room next to our open fireplace.
Pellet boilers, which help supply hot water for central heating rather than hot air for space heating can be even larger than the standard freestanding pellet stove.
Both pellet stoves and wood stoves will come in different sizes depending on a number of factors including the model of stove and heat output potential but expect that a pellet stove will be bigger on average compared to a wood stove.
For more information we have an article on what a pellet stove looks like.
In summary, pellet stoves are typically bigger in size compared to wood stoves, mainly in terms of height.
2) Ease Of Use
Pellet stoves can be easier to use than wood burning stoves.
Pellet stoves have a range of electronic components that help make the burning process to generate heat for your home more automated.
They will typically have a central control panel with screen that controls all of the features on the stove including the air and the fuel supply. Turning a pellet stove on and off can be as simple as pressing a button on the control screen.
For example, as long as our pellet stove has enough pellets in the hopper, we simply need to press the on button on the control panel and the stove will automatically turn on, start the flames and start generating heat.
We may need to clean out the ash and anything else left over from the previous fire but with a pellet stove there’s no need to:
- Build and light the fire.
- Control the airflow using the vents.
- Manually add the fuel to the fire.
A pellet stove fire will start each and every time no problem. Our particular model of stove can even burn continuously for 24 hours on one hopper load of pellets.
On the other hand, it can sometimes be difficult to start a fire in a wood burning stove and keep it going if the conditions aren’t right, such as poor draft or using firewood that is too wet.
A fire in a wood stove needs to be:
- Manually set up and started.
- Controlled by continuously adjusting the air vent(s) manually.
- Maintained by manually adding firewood when required or the fire will go out.
Wood burning stoves can also have a learning curve when you get to know your stove, understand what all the knobs and levers do and how to get the most heat out of each fire; especially if you’re new to wood stoves.
When it comes to ease of use, pellet stoves can be much easier to use than wood stoves because they do most of the hard work for you during fires.
Pellet stoves use fuel in the form of pellets while wood burning stoves use firewood as fuel in the form of logs and kindling.
Pellets cannot be used in wood stoves and traditional firewood cannot be used in pellet stoves.
This means that you’ll need to source the right type of fuel for each form of stove.
Fuel for pellet stoves can be bought in bags of certain weights. For example, we buy 15kg (33lbs) bags of pellets for our own pellet stove but can often be found in 40lbs bags.
An advantage of bags is that the pellets can be neatly stored away but a downside is that they can be quite heavy to lift.
Pellets can also break up in the bag and create fine particle dust that can clog up the fuel delivery system in a pellet stove and so it’s important that this dust isn’t poured into the hopper of a pellet stove, or is cleaned out afterwards.
Pellets for use in pellets stoves must be manufactured (and often to certain standards) and so pellets can be harder to source than firewood.
These pellets are often made from wood by-products such as wood chippings or sawdust but can also be made from other materials and are compressed into a smaller size to create the pellet shape.
Pellet prices can vary in both cost and availability and so before buying a pellet stove it’s always worth considering where you’ll be able to source your pellets from and how much they’ll cost.
Wood burning stoves use firewood as the fuel, either as kindling and small logs to help start a fire or as large logs used to maintain a fire once it’s got going.
Firewood can typically be found in plentiful supply and to keep costs low you can even source your own firewood (which can’t be done with pellets). A downside to firewood is that is must be of a sufficient moisture content in order to burn efficiently otherwise fires will struggle to start and be maintained and a whole host of other problems can occur.
Pellet stoves use pellets as fuel, which are commonly made from wood by-products and can be bought in bags. Wood burning stoves use firewood as fuel in the form of logs, or as kindling when starting a fire.
As pellets need to be manufactured, firewood can be in greater supply. Firewood can even be sourced from your own property if available and seasoned.
Pellet stoves must have a source of electricity in order to work while wood burning stoves won’t need any electricity.
The only exception in this case would be if using a non-electric pellet stove but these are far less common than a standard electrical pellet stove.
In order for all of the electrical components inside a pellet stove to work, the stove must be connected to the mains power supply using a power cord and plug.
Our own stove came with a power cable that we simply needed to plug into the back of the stove and then into an electrical outlet.
If you’re looking to buy a pellet stove then you’ll need to consider locating it near to an electrical outlet in your home, or have a new electrical outlet installed near to where you want the stove to be.
Luckily there was an existing wall outlet near to where we wanted to install our own pellet stove.
A pellet stove cannot be used without electricity, but it may be possible to hook it up to a generator or a backup battery power supply, depending on the model of stove, in case of a power outage.
Find out more about pellet stove electricity requirements here.
On the other side, wood burning stoves don’t need a source of electricity in order to work and so you can install them in any location in your home (where it still meets other clearance and venting requirements) whether there’s a nearby power supply or not.
Wood stoves don’t require any electricity because there’s no:
- Distribution blower. A wood stove radiates heat from the fire out into the room through the body of the stove.
- Automatic fuel feeder. Firewood needs to be manually added to the fire in a wood stove to keep it going.
- Automated air supply. The vents on a woodstove need to be manually adjusted to control the air supply to the fire.
- Combustion blower. A wood burning stove relies solely on the movement of waste air out a home using the draft.
For example, we’ve had both our wood stoves installed within existing open fireplaces with no need to install any form of electrical outlet within or near to the firebox of the existing fireplace.
In summary, pellet stoves typically require electricity while wood burning stoves don’t typically require electricity in order to work.
The only exceptions can be if using a non-electric pellet stove or using a wood stove that has a built-in blower.
Wood stoves can therefore be used in power outages and pellet stoves can’t be unless hooked up to a generator or backup battery power supply.
Pellet stoves will typically require more maintenance between fires compared to wood burning stoves.
In order to allow a pellet stove to burn each fire automatically with little to no user input and at high efficiencies, regular maintenance of the combustion chamber is typically required in the form of daily, weekly and seasonal cleaning.
For example, the instruction guide for our own particular model of pellet stove requires us to:
- Clean the stove daily before each fire in the form of cleaning out the ash and leftover bits in the combustion chamber.
- Clean the stove weekly in the form of removing any excess dust from the combustion chamber or the hopper.
- Undertake seasonal maintenance by a qualified technician.
- Have the chimney flue swept once per year.
See our article on pellet stove maintenance for more information.
For our wood stoves, the only major maintenance requirement is to have the flue swept at least once per year. However, if a wood stove has a catalytic converter then it may need to be inspected up to three times every season.
Before each fire we simply remove any leftover bits of charred wood and any excess ash and we’re good to go.
Although wood stoves require manual input during fires and pellet stoves do much of the work for you, outside of fires expect to have to undertake more maintenance in the form of cleaning and servicing parts for pellet stoves compared to wood stoves.
Pellet stoves can typically achieve higher efficiency ratings on paper compared to wood burning stoves.
An important aspect of making the combustion process of solid fuel such as firewood or pellets more efficient is the fuel to air ratio.
Pellet stoves use a range of electronic components and sensors all controlled by a central control unit to always be analysing and optimizing each fire for most efficient burn, ensuring that the correct fuel to air ratio is continuously provided.
Wood burning stoves rely on manual adjustment of both the fuel and air in order to generate heat and so there can be some level of human error.
You may find wood burning stoves within the 70%+ efficiency range but you will also typically find pellet stoves in the 80%+ efficiency range. However, this is an average and efficiencies will differ between models for both pellet and wood stoves.
For example, the official efficiency ratings of our pellet, wood burning and multi fuel stoves are shown below to give you can idea of what you can expect in terms of efficiency.
|Wood Burning Stove||71.6%|
|Multi Fuel Stove||78.9%|
Pellet stoves typically provide a higher efficiency burn of the fuel compared to wood burning stoves to help maximize the amount of heat that can be produced from each piece of fuel thanks to a more automated and controlled combustion.
Pellet stoves are typically cleaner burning and will typically produce fewer emissions compared to wood burning stoves.
Thanks to pellet stoves being able to provide a more efficient burn of the fuel they typically produce fewer emissions compared to wood stoves, such as in the form of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, creosote, smoke and other harmful particulates.
Energy.gov explains that:
‘Pellet stoves produce very little air pollution. In fact, pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance.’Energy.gov
In many cases pellets need to meet more stringent regulations in terms of properties. For example, for our own particular model of stove we’re required to use Class A1 pellets that have:
- Maximum moisture content of 8%
- Maximum ash continent of 0.5%
Using high quality pellets in line with what the manufacturer of a stove recommends will help to maximize the amount of heat being generated but also help to minimize emissions.
For wood burning stoves, firewood may not always meet the right conditions for burning effectively.
Firewood needs to be low enough in moisture content to burn efficiently. If the firewood is too wet then it can struggle to catch fire and struggle to burn. This can lead to incomplete combustion of the wood and increase smoke and emissions production as a result.
It’s therefore always important that the end user of firewood uses a moisture meter to check that the firewood will burn well. Anything under 20% moisture content should be fine but the best moisture content for firewood can be interpreted differently by different people.
Pellets are typically sold in line with specific standards for moisture content and so will always provide a low emission burning experience.
Firewood may not be sold to such high standards and can even be sourced from a user’s property. If firewood is not burnt in wood stoves when at a low enough moisture content this is can drastically increase emissions over pellet stoves.
8) Venting & Installation Costs
Pellet stoves can usually be vented out an external wall if required or use an existing chimney, while wood stoves must vent vertically through the roof of a home whether that’s within a chimney or not.
Wood burning stoves can typically cost more to install compared to pellet stoves.
Wood burning stoves require a suitable vertical chimney flue in order to be installed in a home. This can either come in the form of a standalone flue straight through the roof of a home or using an existing chimney and installing the stove within the firebox of an open fireplace.
If installing a wood stove in an existing masonry fireplace then in the vast majority of cases the chimney will need to be lined with a flue.
For example, we had both our wood stoves installed within existing open fireplaces and needed to have suitable flue liners installed within each. In each case we had to buy a:
- Stainless steel flue liner of suitable length
- Chimney cowl
- Register/closure plate
We then had to pay a professional to drop the flue liner down from the top of the chimney, connect it to the top of the chimney, to the stove at the bottom and also install a register plate to seal off the chimney from the room.
In the case of our own particular wood stove installations, each installation cost well over $500, but this excludes the cost of the stove.
The flue for wood stoves cannot typically be installed through an external wall but this may not be the case for pellet stoves.
Pellet stoves don’t always necessarily need to have a flue installed vertically on the inside of a home, but instead can exit through an external wall and up the side of the house.
We’ve placed our own pellet stove near an external wall of the house and have had a flue installed through the external wall and up to above the roof line.
The installation costs for our pellet stove did not cost as much as our wood burning stoves.
There are typically more onerous flue requirements for wood burning stoves compared to pellet stoves and so installations costs may be more expensive for wood stoves.
A wood stove will need to be vented through the roof of a home or can use an existing chimney, but for pellet stoves it’s usually possible to vent directly out of an external wall of a home because they use forced ventilation rather than simply relying solely on natural draft.
9) Air Supply
Wood stove air supply is from the room only while pellet stoves will typically either be able to take air from either inside or directly outside.
The amount of air being supplied to a pellet stove fire will be automatically controlled by the stove for the most efficient burn.
The air supply vent on our pellet stove is located on the back of the unit. We’ve extended this vent out through an external wall and therefore takes fresh air directly from outside.
Using indoor air for a pellet stove may require the use of an external air vent of a certain size somewhere in the same room as the stove.
The air supply to a wood stove fire will be controlled by the user by adjusting the air vents, which will take fresh air from indoors only.
Depending on the type of stove, whether it’s wood burning or multi fuel, it can have more than one air vent.
For example, our wood stove has one controllable air vent located underneath the stove for both primary and secondary air and has a set of tertiary air vents located at the back of the chamber that can’t be controlled.
Our multi fuel stove has two controllable air vents: one on the front and one underneath.
A wood stove may also require an external air vent to be installed within the room depending on local building code requirements.
Pellet stoves can vent fresh air internally or externally and no manual input is required to adjust the air supply. The air supply on a wood stove takes air from indoors only and must be manually adjusted throughout a fire using the vent controls.
10) Life Expectancy
Wood burning stoves will typically last longer than pellet stoves.
Pellet stoves have a number of moving parts to help make them the most efficient solid fuel burning appliance for homes but a downside of this is there can be more potential for something to go wrong.
However, pellet stoves will typically have a range of spare parts available to help keep stoves going for as long as possible.
Wood burning stoves don’t have any electrical or moving parts and so will typically last longer compared to pellet stoves.
Expect wood stoves to last on average 5 years or more compared to pellet stoves.
Pellet stoves will make more noise than wood stoves.
Wood burning stoves disperse heat by using the metal body of the stove to absorb the heat from the fire inside and radiate it out into the room.
Most wood stoves won’t have any form of integrated blower and so won’t make any loud noises as a result.
On the other hand, pellet stoves rely on providing heat to a room through convection of warm air and so use distribution blowers to spread the heat around a room.
There may also be other noises being made in a pellet stove such as from the blower in the fume extractor or from the hopper auger as it delivers fuel to the fire. See our article on pellet stove noise for more information.
Therefore, expect to hear a certain level of noise when a pellet stove is on. It’s always worth seeing a pellet stove operating in person to get an idea of how loud a certain model of pellet stove will be.
Pellets stoves will be noisier compared to wood stoves due to the number of internal moving components during fires.
12) Heat Output
Wood burning stoves can offer similar heat outputs to pellet stoves.
However, a wood stove should be matched to the room based on the heat output required and not necessarily the most amount of heat for the price as buying a stove too large for a room can lead to efficiency problems.
Buying poor quality pellets or using high moisture content wood can also negatively affect the performance and heat output of either a pellet or wood stove.
The table below outlines the heat outputs of our three stoves.
|Pellet Stove||6.1kW (20kBTU)|
|Wood Burning Stove||4.9kW (16kBTU)|
|Multi Fuel Stove||8kW (27kBTU)|
Each stove has different heat outputs but these were decided by the sizes of the rooms they’re installed in and the amount of area each one needed to heat.
The heat output on our pellet stove is thermostatically controlled. We can set the desired room temperature and the stove will use a room temperature sensor to bring the room up to our desired temperature and keep it there.
The temperature output on a wood burning stove can’t be as easily controlled and will be based on the size of the stove. Bigger and smaller fires shouldn’t be built in a wood stove to adjust temperature as this can cause either:
- More creosote to be produced if burning a wood stove fire at too low of a temperature.
- Damage to be caused to a wood stove over time if continuously burning fires too hot for the stove and ‘over firing’ it.
We use a stove thermometer on both of our stoves to ensure we’re burning them too hot or too cold. They were sized for the specific rooms they’re in so they don’t underheat or overheat the room as a result.
Wood stoves can have similar heat outputs to pellet stoves but the output temperature can be more easily controlled on a pellet stove.
Pellet stoves can have similar weights to wood burning stoves.
Even though our pellet stove is much larger compared to our wood stoves its weight is still in the middle of the two wood stoves.
The table below compares the weights of our own three stoves.
|Pellet Stove||103kg (227lbs)|
|Wood Burning Stove||79kg (174lbs)|
|Multi Fuel Stove||125kg (275lbs)|
Both types of stoves are still heavy and will require more than one pair of hands or a trolley in order to move them.
14) Purchase Cost
Pellet stoves can have a similar cost to wood burning stoves.
Even though pellet stoves can be packed with a load more features the price difference between pellet stoves and wood stoves shouldn’t vary significantly.
The table below outlines what we paid for our own stoves.
|Pellet Stove||£1,500 ($2,000)|
|Wood Burning Stove||£1,100 ($1,500)|
|Multi Fuel Stove||£1,400 ($1,900)|