With the recent increases in oil and gas costs, a wood (or dual fuel) pellet stove and/or fireplace insert is a good alternative source of heating for your home. However, as with any wood stove or fireplace purchase, there are several things you need to consider that will help you choose the best pellet stove.
Installing the Pellet Stove
Especially if you’re not a professional, ask your authorized pellet-stove dealer to help install your stove. They can assist in confirming the best place to install the heating unit, as well as tell you which accessories you’ll need and how it will be connected. Discuss possibilities and preferences for your home and bring indoor/outdoor pictures to ensure a trouble-free installation. You can also arrange a home visit with the installer; if possible, try to negotiate a free installation for the stove you are buying.
If there are various placement options, consider having access to the pellets (i.e. how far to carry the bags), as well as having congestion in the room beyond the clearances and how the heat will circulate to the rest of your home. You’ll also need a standard 110-volt AC electrical outlet close to the stove.
Initial Cost Outlay
Although actual purchase and installation prices differ per area, you should expect an initial outlay of $2,000 to $3,000 plus installation and accessories for a pellet stove. A dual-fuel pellet stove, which burns wood or other fuels (corn, cherry pits, etc.), will cost more. Be prepared for additional costs of delivery, insurance inspection, protective floor pad, and connection piping and accessories.
Some pellet stoves have a direct-vent connection to the outdoors and do not require a full above-the-roof insulated chimney system. This can cost significantly less to install. Review all possible hook-ups to ensure everything goes well with the installation process. A large hopper is worth the extra cost – you’ll fill it less often, so it’s a good feature to consider for your home.
Generally speaking, wood pellets cost around $4 to $8 and most come in 40-lb. bags. Cost will vary with availability and type of wood used for the pellets, so make sure you check on the price and availability in your area for other fuels (e.g. corn) before buying a dual stove.
How many bags of pellets you’ll use over the heating period will vary on the type of pellet, stove setting, and climate. For example, we have used a pellet stove for several years by burning one bag of wood pellets per day on the lowest setting. Our average annual usage was about three tons over approximately six cold months, so costs can be reasonable if your winter season is very long.
Pellet Use & Storage
Usually, pellets are sold in 40-lb. plastic bags, which due to its hefty weight can be a constraint for many customers. Bags will need to be hauled from storage to the stove every day or so, as well as poured into the stove’s hopper. Pellet bags can be stacked, but they must be stored in a dry place indoors or in a garage/shed. They must be kept dry, because damp conditions will cause pellets to swell and make them not feed properly through the stove’s drop mechanism.
You can also consider having pellets delivered to your home, for there may be cost savings, often by the ton.
Pellet Stove Maintenance
Pellet stoves are easy to start and maintain. While ash build-up is minimal, the stove will still need regular cleaning. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for when and how to clean your pellet stove. A shop or ash vacuum works well for this cleaning, but the wood ash must be cold.
Performance & How They Operate
In terms of performance, pellet stoves produce a very comfortable and dry radiant heat with efficient BTU‘s. Choose a stove model that fits the best for your home’s size. Operating noise should also be minimal. During operation, pellets from the hopper are either pushed by an auger or gravity-fed into a fire chamber where they burn and produce heat. This heat is then radiated out to the room from the stove to the surrounding area. When it is empty, the stove will shut down automatically.
That said, to help circulate that warm air throughout the room, use a heat-powered fan on the heat stove. These are non-electric and are very efficient to directing heat to warm up the room. When power is interrupted, the stove will automatically shut down for safety. A power surge or slight interruption may or may not affect operation. Since a pellet stove must be pellet-fed on a daily basis, you must make arrangements with someone to feed the heat stove regularly when planning on being away from home.
Follow recommendations as to the size of the stove for your home. A stove that is too large may be too heat even when set to a lower level and can result in a fuel and money waste. Additionally, the size of the hopper will dictate how often you will have to fill it.
To start, confirm the availability of parts, warranty, and service. When buying a pellet insert, verify that the stove can be connected with an existing fireplace chimney. Always have a trained specialist install a pellet stove for safety. If you choose a good pellet stove, then its durability should be generally very good and have long expected lifespans, along with minimal downtime.