Outside of health care costs for American families, the cost of heating a home is often the largest piece of the budgetary puzzle that households are facing. The rising cost of energy affects everyone, however, and many around the world are looking toward alternative ways to heat a home during the cooler months of the year. One of the most popular alternative methods to fossil fuel heating sources is the pellet stove.
Pellet stoves are a lot like what you’d see with a wood stove and they even have some similarities with fireplace inserts that you can use for heating as well. Instead of using wood logs to heat a home, however, the pellet stove utilizes a pellet product that is produced through compacted sawdust, wood shavings, or even corn. Pellets burn more cleanly and consistently than wood does, producing just 20% of the potential air pollution of a traditional wood stove.
Are you thinking about using a new pellet stove to supplement your current heating needs? Do you need a new primary heating source? Then here’s everything you need to know about today’s pellet stoves!
How Do You Feed Pellets Into Your Stove?
There are two basic designs that are in place with the modern pellet stove that allow you to get pellets into it. The top-fed stoves work well for high heat applications because the fire that is created in the burn pot won’t come back into the hopper and cause your stored pellets problems. On the other hand, top-fed pellet stoves can quickly get blocked with ash or what is called a “clinker,” which occurs when ash is heated again after being cooled. This means you’ll need to purchase low-ash pellets and these often come with a premium price tag.
The bottom-fed models of a pellet stove don’t have the ash build-up problems, so you can use the cheaper pellets with them. They have an ash pan that the stove funnels all of the waste products into that will generally need to be cleaned about once per week during the cooler months. Look for models that have ash pans with a large capacity so you can make cleaning the stove a fairly easy process.
Both model types will also let you select whether or not you want an insert that will go into an existing fireplace. Some homeowners prefer having a stand alone model, while others want the ability to utilize their existing space. This is more a personal preference issue than anything – both model types function comparably.
Ready to start comparing products now? Read our reviews of the best pellet stoves, or keep reading this guide to learn more.
What Design Does Your Home Need?
In looking at the entire class of pellet stoves on the market today, you can break them down into 3 basic designs:
- potbelly stoves,
- freestanding stoves, and
- furnace-like stoves.
These different stoves then come with a wide variety of different features that will help you individualize the process. Some of the stoves can be installed in an existing fireplace. Others can be a freestanding unit virtually anywhere in the home as long as there is a proper exhaust system that has been put into place. You can even get stoves that are wall mounted and resemble the traditional wood stove if you’re wanting a classic, traditional look for your home.
You’ll also find that a vast majority of these stoves are made with either stainless steel or cast iron. Many are encased in enamel as well and will often come polished so that you can have a stunning design element for just about any room. Both types of stoves are comparable with each other and can withstand the rigors of contraction and expansion that come through the heating process.
The one feature that you’ll want to look at in any type of stove is whether or not it has been rated as being airtight. If the construction of the unit is airtight, then your risks of being exposed to the toxic emissions that can occur during the ventilation process are greatly reduced. You’ll also create a hotter environment within the firebox that will help to heat your home much more efficiently.
How Much Heat Do You Really Need For Your Home?
The measurement of heat from your pellet stove will come down to the British thermal unit, which is more commonly known as a BTU. These are generally measured at an hourly rate with these stoves, but you may find an overall rating as well depending on the stove manufacturer. The amount of heat that you’re going to need depends a lot on the type of climate that you have and the amount of square feet you wish to heat.
Here is a quick look at what you should calculate for your heating needs.
- Mild climates. If your winters aren’t usually very cold, then you can get away with a pellet stove that has a lower overall output. A safe estimate for a home such as this, with average insulation, is about 40 BTU per hour, per square foot.
- Cold climates. If your winters are fairly cold or you just like having a warmer home, then you’ll want to calculate an estimate of at least 60 BTUs per hour.
Using this guide, if you have a colder climate and you want to heat 300 square feet, you’ll need a minimum of 16,500 BTUs per hour of output from your pellet stove. If you’re trying to heat your entire home, then you’ll have to multiply the number of BTUs that you need from this figure based on your overall square feet.
Just because a pellet stove says that it produces a specific amount of maximum BTUs doesn’t mean that it actually will. A lot of your heat production depends on the quality of pellets that you choose to purchase. Lower quality pellets often require stoves that have higher heat outputs so that you can meet your long-term heating needs.
What Kind of Pellets Should You Use With Your Stove?
Pellet stoves are often fueled by wood pellets because of a number of reasons. They are very compact and burn extremely well, giving you a high heat output. The pellets are often fairly low-cost as well, even in the high capacity product niche, but will create different outputs. The type of pellet that you plan on burning must match up with your stove’s burning capabilities.
That’s because different types of pellets and even different grades of pellets will require different types of exhaust assistance. The lower the grade and quality of the pellets that you use, the greater the exhaust needs that you’ll have with your stove. If you fire a pellet that won’t work with your safety and ventilation system, then you’re going to put your home at risk!
Some pellets, especially wheat and garbage pellets, can be limited in some areas. Look first at the availability of the pellets in your community before finalizing your purchase on a new stove. It makes no sense to purchase the stove when you can’t secure the pellets that you need to heat your home!
What Kind of Exhaust System Can Your Home Support?
Although you can have a freestanding pellet stove in your home, don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t need some sort of exhaust system. You don’t need a chimney exhaust like you would with a wood stove or a fireplace, but you can make some stoves be compatible with an existing chimney if you wish. If you are looking to funnel the exhaust into your chimney, then make sure the capabilities of the stove you want will allow this.
The one place you’ll want to look at your exhaust system is to determine if you have double-walled venting. Without the double vented system, you run the risk of letting toxic fumes escape from your stove and that’s not a good situation at all. Before continuing with the comparison process of heating stoves, make sure you’ve got a good exhaust system in place that can support it. If you don’t, then now is the time to hire a contractor who can create a good system for you.
Do You Need Any of These Additional Features?
A basic pellet stove is going to heat your house as efficiently as a top-of-the-line model will. The difference in today’s top models is that they are specifically created to make the entire heating process a lot simpler for the average user. The two best features to consider having on your new stove is an air blower and the ability to make vent adjustments. This allows you to control how much heat your stove is creating. It also gives you the option of dictating how that heat is distributed throughout your home.
Another very useful feature in some pellet stoves is a hopper warning. It will either sound an alarm or give you a visual signal that the amount of pellets in your hopper are running low so that you can refill it without having to ignite the stove once again. If you prefer to use the cheaper, lower grade pellets for your heating needs, then investing in a stove that allows you to control the amount of pellets that are fet into the firebox can help keep your room warmer.
If you don’t like to clean your pellet stove, there are a few models that offer a self-cleaning feature that is very handy. After about an hour of use, these pellet stoves will automatically empty the ash that’s in the firebox into the disposal bin. This is useful for three specific reasons.
- It limits your exposure to any potential toxic fumes from the stove.
- It makes it easy to clean the stove when it needs to be done.
- It lowers the ongoing maintenance costs of the stove itself.
Although these features can make the pellet stove more expensive, it can also make it so that heating your home becomes a very simple task over the coming years. The average stove is going to use at least 1 ton of pellets during a year, so you’ll want to find something that you can easily load up with pellets at any time of day.
How Much Money Can You Save With Pellets?
The average cord of wood is going to cost about $200 or so, depending on your market. That’s also the same cost per ton of pellets that you’ll feed into a pellet stove. The only real advantage that you have here is that you won’t have to stack all of the wood that you purchase for heating. You just have to unload a few dozen 40 pound bags of pellets. Shipping costs can eliminate the savings you’d see very quickly, so do your best to find a local pellets supplier before finalizing any purchase.
The primary cost of a wood stove is the installation of the chimney, especially if one doesn’t exist. You don’t have to worry about placing an exhaust vent at the highest point of your home either. That’s because you can vent a pellet stove out the side of the home much like you would a dryer.
With prices that are comparable to other heating options, with top quality stoves falling into a $3,000 range depending on your community, you’ll get a cost-effective option that will help you save money over the long-term with pellets. They are easy to install, which will save you even more money, and can be installed virtually anywhere in your home to provide your house with full heating coverage.
Add in the helpful features that the best pellet stoves have and how efficient they are and you won’t feel guilty about the small amount of particulates that get put into the air. If you purchase a stove with the ability to use a variety of different pellets, you’ll have the maximum amount versatility you may need for your heating needs.
As a final step, be sure to read our comprehensive reviews on some of today’s best pellet stoves so that you can make an empowered decision using this information. A pellet stove is an investment into your future! That means the right decision now will consistently pay off with dividends later on down the road.
Now that you’ve learnt all about pellet stoves, read our reviews of the best pellet stoves to find the right one for your home today.