My parents considered getting a pellet stove fireplace instead of a wood burning stove, but eventually opted for a wood burner over a pellet stove. They did a lot of research into pellet stoves when deciding which type of fireplace to install in their home, and have since explained to me everything that I needed to know about pellet stoves.
Pellet stoves have risen in popularity thanks to their green credentials of burning renewable or otherwise waste products instead of nonrenewable sources of energy such as gas.
Thanks to being more environmentally than other types of fireplace, pellet stove are quite an intriguing form of heating for a home. Even though pellet stoves are a form of fireplace they’re quite different compared to other types of fireplace in terms of how they produce heat, and so I’ve also done a lot of research into them.
I’ve therefore put together the complete list of things that you should know about pellet stove fireplaces, and what you should know before buying a pellet stove. You’ll hopefully be able to take something useful away from this article about pellet stoves, and help you consider whether they might be the right type of fireplace for your home.
Pellets Are The Source of Fuel
Pellet stoves differ compared to wood burning stoves or wood burning fireplaces because they use compressed pellets as the fuel rather than pieces of wood.
The pellets themselves are highly compressed pieces of material that burn with a hot flame thanks to their density.
The Pellets Aren’t Just Made From Wood
The majority of pellets are manufactured from wood and its byproducts, such as sawdust, wood chipping, paper and bark.
Some pellet stoves will only accept these kinds of pellets, while other makes of pellet stoves can accept a wide range of other biofuels to burn, or both. These biofuel pellets can be made from materials such as corn and nutshells.
The fact that different models of pellet stoves can use various types of fuel, you can narrow down which type of stove would be the most suitable for your home.
Pellet Stoves Only Take Pellets
Pellet Stoves only take pellets as fuel, and so if you’re looking to buy a pellet stove then you’ll need to consider how and where you’ll source the pellets.
As different models of pellet stove are able to take different forms of pellets as fuel, you’ll need to take into consideration what kind of pellets are for sale near you. You don’t want to buy a pellet stove that can only take wood byproduct pellets, but your only option is to be able to buy corn pellets.
There Are Different Grades Of Pellets
Just as you can buy better types of wood for burning in a fireplace or stove, pellets can come in different grades which determine how well they’re made and how well they burn.
More expensive types of pellets typically burn more cleanly and produce less ash, leading to less maintenance and cleaning requirements for a pellet stove.
If you’re looking to buy a pellet stove then it’s worth checking what grade of pellets are available near you, as well as what type.
Storage Space For The Pellets Is Required
Just as you’d need space to store logs for a wood burning fireplace or stove, you’ll need a similar area dedicated as storage of pellets for a pellet stove.
As the pellets are a compressed form of fuel, the amount of storage space required is generally a bit less compared to storing logs.
Pellets can usually be bought in 40 pound bags (just over 18kg) from major retailers, or can be ordered by the ton from local dealers.
The pellets should be stored in a dry environment rather than being left outside to ensure that they burn efficiently when used in a stove. Pellets that are kept cool and dry will also last longer compared to those that are exposed to moisture.
Pellet Stoves Burn Very Hot & Clean
The pellets are manufactured to be very dense, which helps them to burn very hot and clean. This helps reduce the amount of smoke and waste gases to a minimum.
Pellets can therefore produce less soot ash and give of less creosote compared to wood burning counterparts, but a newer pellet stove is always going to burn the pellets much more cleanly and efficiently than an older one.
According to Energy.gov, pellet stoves approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are designed to be up to 83% efficient, but typically range from 70% to 83%.
This efficiency is comparable to many wood burning stoves, and both have vastly increased efficiencies over traditional wood burning fireplaces.
The unit of measurement for how much heat a pellet stove produces is Btu (British Thermal Unit). Pellet stoves will produce a heat output of anywhere from 8,000 to 90,000 Btu’s [Energy.gov], but shopping around you can typically find 40,000 to 60,000 is the norm for many household pellet stoves.
Prices of pellet stoves generally increase in line with their maximum heat output as the stove’s need to be larger to be able to burn more pellets at any one time in order to produce more heat.
Before buying a pellet stove, you should consider what size of room the pellet stove will need to heat and choose one accordingly. Choosing a pellet stove that is over sized for your home will cause problems in the long run if you are constantly having to use it at its lowest setting.
In general, a 40,000 Btu pellet stove will be able to heat a 2,000 square foot home.
There are many variables that influence how well a pellet stove can heat your home, such as how much insulation and the number of windows your house has. You’ll need to consult a local supplier for more accurate recommendations on the size of pellet stove required for your home.
The majority of pellet stoves have self-lighting features, meaning that all you need to do is ensure that there’s a sufficient supply of pellets in the hopper, and the pellet stove will fire up at the push of a button.
This feature is important if you want the pellet stove to be able to come on when programmed without any manual input from yourself.
The Flame Is Real
Unlike electric fireplaces, the flames within pellet stoves are real.
The flames are however, generally more confined than those found in wood burning stoves, meaning less viewing pleasure than their wood burner counterparts.
Pellet Stoves Need To Be Vented
As pellet stoves have real flames, they need to be vented. You don’t need a chimney or flue to have a pellet stove in your home though.
Pellet stoves can be direct vented to the outside via an external wall in your home, meaning that they don’t just have to inserted into your existing fireplace to work.
The pellets are loaded into the stove either via a top-mounted hopper or a bottom-mounted hopper, and deliver pellets to the fire via a screw system.
There are pros and cons associated with both types of hopper system. A top-mounted system reduces the chance that the fire will spread to the hopper but can be more easily clogged up with ash. Burning high grade pellets is therefore recommended for these types of pellets stoves, as they will produce less ash when burnt and help reduce maintenance requirements and any risk of any blockages. Bottom-mounted hopper pellet stoves generally don’t require such a high grade of pellets to burn, but are generally less efficient compared to top-mounted stoves as a result.
The larger the capacity of the hopper, the more pellets can be stored, and the longer the pellet stove can produce heat without needing to be topped up. The quicker the hopper releases the pellets into the fire, the more heat can be produced.
Most pellet stove hoppers can hold between 35 to 130 lbs of pellets (approximately 16 to 60 kilos), which should last for approximately just over a day of use [Energy.gov]
Pellet Stoves Are Considered Environmentally Friendly
All materials that make up the pellets used as fuel come from renewable sources, and so pellet stoves can be considered more environmentally friendly than, in particular, gas fireplaces, which burn nonrenewable sources of fuel.
Pellet stoves can also use fuel that would have otherwise been considered as waste, such as when burning pellets made of sawdust and bark, helping to promote recycling of these materials and decreasing waste.
Newer pellet stoves will be much more environmentally friendly than older ones however, and so choosing the right pellet stove is just as important as choosing the right type of pellets to burn.
Pellet Stoves Need An Electrical Supply
Pellet stoves need an electrical supply to work because they have motorized components that include feeding fire with pellets an blowing out hot air.
Unlike wood burning stoves or some gas fireplaces, you won’t be able to use your pellet stove in a power cut. Some models however can come with backup batteries in case of loss of power in your home, but expect to pay more for your pellet stove to have this option.
If you’re looking to buy a pellet stove then you’ll need to ensure that there’s an electrical wall socket nearby to where it will be place. You’ll have to factor in the cost of installing a new socket if not.
They Won’t Be Completely Silent
As pellet stoves have a number of motorized parts, including the feeder and blower, don’t expect them to run virtually silent.
Newer models of pellet stove will be quieter that older models, but keeping on top of cleaning and maintenance should help keep them running quietly.
Pellet Stoves Can Be Clever
Many models of pellet stove come with thermostats and controls similar to a boiler’s control panel for central heating.
Once programmed, this allows the pellet stoves to regulate the feeder speed accordingly to ensure that the temperature of the room or house is kept exactly how you want it.
You can also control the times that the pellet stoves come on and turn off, and there’s even an accompanying app on some models that allows you to control the stove while you’re away!
A drawback of being smart is that there are more things that could potentially go wrong with a pellet stove, particularly the mechanical and electronic elements of the pellet feeder hopper if not looked after properly.
Regular Maintenance Is Required
Being reliant on a hopper feed, pellet stoves need more maintenance than other types of fireplace to ensure that the stove remains efficient and safe.
Using high grade pellets should limit how often you’re cleaning a stove to a week, while you may need to clean a pellet stove more often if you’re regularly burning low grade pellets. Low grade pellets may not be as dry and will release more creosote onto the pellet stove components as a result.
Pellet stoves should also be cleaned by a professional every year. [Energy.gov]
If you want undertake the minimal amount of cleaning possible for a pellet stove then before buying a stove you should be looking around to find the best quality pellets available near you.
Ease of Use
As the majority of pellet stoves use an electrical hopper to automatically feed the fuel pellets as required, they can be considered easier to use over wood burning stoves and wood burning fireplaces, which require fairly regular attention to maintain the heat output.
Pellet Stoves Are Considered Safe
Pellet stoves are considered a safer way to heat your home compared to other types of fireplace.
Because they are electrical, many pellet stoves comes with safety features that shut the stove off in the case of overheating or other issues.
As with many appliances, the safest ones are those that are cleaned and maintained in accordance with recommendations.
Can Buy As Inserts Or Freestanding Units
Much like with other types of fireplace, you can buy pellet stoves as either inserts for you existing open fireplace, or as standalone units which provide more flexibility on where they can be located.
A pellet stove insert will be able to utilize your existing fireplace and chimney as a way to vent waste smoke and gases from your home, while freestanding units will require venting to the outside via an external wall of your home.
Cost Of The Stove
Energy.gov states that you can expect to pay anywhere between $1,700 to $3,000 for the majority of pellet stoves, but looking around you can find stoves for as little as $1,000 and as much $4,000 for the higher end pellet stoves.
More expensive stoves generally have a better build quality and come from a more reputable brand such as Harman.
When buying a pellet stove it’s always worth weighing up the initial cost of the stove against how long the warranty is, how often the stove will be used, and whether you want to pay less for maintenance and components over the lifetime of the stove.
The price of pellets can vary significantly from location to location, and so it’s important to understand:
- How often you expect to be using your pellet stove.
- How large of a room or house it needs to heat.
- How big the capacity and the heat output are on the stove.
- Which pellets are for sale near you without incurring large delivery costs.
- What grades of pellets are available near you and how the prices differ between the grades.
This will help you decide whether a pellet stove is the right type of way to heat your home.
You’ll also need to take into account that a pellet stove requires an electrical supply to power the control system, hopper and blower. Energy.gov notes that this cost can come in at just under $10 per month under normal usage.
It’s always worth checking the running costs of other types of fireplaces that burn gas, wood and electricity to compare which one will be the cheapest. Using a pellet stove may turn out to be one of the more expensive ways to heat your home for your area.
Energy.gov states that pellet stoves are often cheaper to install than their counterpart wood burning stoves because many models can be direct-vented to the outside, whereas a wood burner will need an expensive flue system.
An installation cost of between $300 and $600 seems to be the norm for pellet stoves according to various different websites.
As pellet stoves are quite complex compared to other types of fireplaces, they can usually be found with differing stages of warranties. These will cover the main components of the stove for various lengths of time.
New pellet stoves generally come with warranties of:
- 1 year for electrical parts, and;
- 3 years for the glass, and;
- 7 years for the firebox unit
If you can find a pellet stove that has a longer warranty than the general standard of the industry, then it may be worth considering as pellet stoves have a number of moving parts with more potential for things to go wrong.