The Pros & Cons of Pellet Stoves
Author: Brandon Miller
There are several different options available to homeowners today when designing their HVAC system. Instead of settling for a traditional cast-iron wood-burning stove or an electric or gas furnace, some families are going in a third direction with pellets.
Pellet burning stoves operate like the classic wood-burning model, but you don’t need to chop any firewood to generate heat. These small HVAC appliances operate as a stand-alone unit or can attach to a venting system with a distribution fan to provide heat throughout the structure. You can use compressed wood or biomass pellets that burn to generate steady temperatures without many physical adjustments.
Central heating systems that operate with wood pellets are generally treated as a renewable energy resource. The top models in the industry today can reach efficiency factors that are above 90%. There are several pros and cons of pellet burning stoves you’ll want to consider before jumping into this investment.
List of the Pros of a Pellet Burning Stove
1. You are using recycled materials to help heat your home.
The wood pellets or biomass products that become fuel for a pellet burning stove come from recycled materials in almost every instance. These natural items then go through a process of heavy compression so that there is no moisture content remaining in the product. The dry fuel can create more heat for your home, so the pellets tend to burn cleaner and hotter than standard firewood. That means you can quickly and effectively heat your home without worrying about particulates entering the indoor environment.
2. Pellets release fewer emissions while burning.
If you are looking for an environmentally conscious way of heating your home during the winter, then a pellet burning stove can provide that advantage. This equipment emits fewer pollutants than the traditional fireplace or an unfiltered cast-iron stove. Many environmentalists even consider them to be a carbon neutral investment since the pellets are made from natural material that lived on CO2 in the past.
3. The cost of pellets is reasonable compared to other fuel resources.
The final cost that you’ll pay for wood pellets depends on where you live. In the San Francisco area, the price of this fuel is around $250 per ton, which is about 20% higher than what you would pay for a cord of wood. If you need an emergency supply that gets you through a few days, then individual bags in the 50-pound range cost about $6. You can find the fuel at chain stores like The Home Depot without much problem, and it is also available online through Amazon.
4. Pellet burning stoves offer flexible installation options.
You can choose from a pellet burning stove with a vent or one that can work independently so that any home can get the heating needs it requires. For the models that do require venting, you can direct the piping to an outside wall. If you had a traditional wood-burning stove, then your only option would be a chimney.
A pellet burning stove tends to stay cooler when it operates compared to most other options as well. That means you can position them just 3-6 inches from your walls. Most wood stoves of the traditional design need at least one foot of space or a layer of brick protection to prevent combustibility.
5. The maintenance requirements for pellet burning stoves are minimal.
Since a pellet burning stove doesn’t produce any smoke while consuming the fuel, you don’t need to worry about creosote building up in your vents. Catalytic converters are not required with this product either, which tends to be the most expensive element of owning the traditional cast-iron stove. You’ll still need to have the rotors and fans inspected regularly, but that expense is minimal. Make sure that you take any unused pellets out of the stove at the end of the season to prevent problems with corrosion.
If your pellet burning stove is connected to your chimney, then it does help to have your flue vent inspected regularly to prevent a buildup of soot.
6. You don’t need to worry about pests in your wood pile.
If you go outside to select a couple of logs for your stove, then you might run into mice, rats, spiders, or worse. The pellets come in pre-packaged bags that you can store in your garage, shop, or shed. You don’t need to worry about any unwelcome guests trying to crawl up your arm as you bring the supplies inside. You don’t need to worry about tarping in the summer to protect against rain either.
7. Some homeowners might qualify for a tax incentive.
Tax laws are always subject to change, so this advantage might not always be available. One of the past examples of this benefit was the Biomass Stove Tax Credit program that was active from January 2015 to December 2016. If the product you purchased had an efficiency rating of at least 75%, was installed in an existing home, and was used as a principle residence, the you could get a $300 dollar-for-dollar credit to help offset some of the costs.
8. You can control it with your thermostat.
The typical pellet burning stove can connect to your overall HVAC system so that you can control indoor temperatures from the thermostat. That means you don’t have the free flowing energy that you must contain when working with a fireplace or a cast-iron stove. Some models will make you use an internal thermostat instead. You’ll discover that there is a lot more control over the levels of heat getting put out of the equipment with this option compared to other HVAC solutions.
List of the Cons of a Pellet Burning Stove
1. The cost of a pellet burning stove is a significant obstacle.
You are going to pay as much for a new pellet burning stove as you would a new furnace in most markets. There are some places where an electric furnace might even cost less than this option. You can expect to pay at least $1,700 for a model that can serve a home of about 1,000 square feet. The larger models can retail for more than $3,000. Most of them require professional installation because of complex building codes, which pushes the expense up even more.
2. You will need storage space at home to manage this system.
Pellet burning stoves can’t operate on firewood, which means a stack in the backyard is not an option. You’ll get your pellets, either wood or biomass, in large bags that are reminiscent of farm feed or dog food containers. If you don’t have a lot of storage space on your property and a new shed is out of the question, then you’ll be making multiple trips during the winter to make sure there is enough fuel available to meet your needs.
3. There might not be a pellet supplier near your home.
Before you decide to purchase a pellet burning stove in the first place, it is a good idea to ensure that there is a business in your area that sells the fuel. If you need to order your pellets from Amazon or another e-commerce supplier, then the shipping costs could exceed the amount that you pay for the product. There can be delays in the delivery as well, which could be problematic during a cold spell if you run out of fuel for your HVAC system. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to purchase a year’s worth of supplies for delivery if there isn’t a retail outlet that can serve as a backup source.
4. Most pellet burning stoves operate using electricity.
A cast-iron, wood-burning stove is a stand-alone unit that you can use at any time. It doesn’t matter if the power goes out because the first can continue to burn. If you decide to use a pellet burning stove for your home heating needs, then you’ll need a backup generator. Most units operate on electricity, which means they stop functioning when the power goes out. That makes this option more expensive than a fireplace and less reliable. If you don’t use certified pellets or purchase your stove from a verified dealer, there might not even be a warranty you can use either.
You can expect to pay about $9 more per month under normal usage conditions. If the weather turns extremely cold, then that cost could double.
5. The visual aesthetics of a pellet burning stove are not generally good.
The modern pellet burning stove uses styles that complement the contemporary or modern décor that homes have today, but that means you will need to invest in a one of the newest models to get the updated design. You’ll need to sacrifice style for efficiency if your primary worry is about the indoor temperatures instead of how the piece looks. The burn is consistent and bright, but you won’t have the crackling flames that a fireplace creates. You’re not treated to the smell of a wood fire either.
6. Some pellet stoves can be noisy.
All pellet burning stoves make noises of some kind that you will find to be irritating over time. You find this disadvantage more with two-component stoves, but all of them create more sound than furnaces or fireplaces. The motor that creates combustion and the blower fan tend to be the two worst offenders. There are times with the belt for the fan will make sounds as well. Most families will eventually adjust to the noise pollution, but some can struggle with the problem. If the noise keeps getting worse, then you may need to file a warranty claim on your investment.
7. You will need to manage the plastic bag pollution.
Buying in bulk will always save you money on the fuel for your pellet burning stove. If you don’t have that option, then you are going to be purchasing your pellets in plastic bags. That means it is your responsibility to manage this waste appropriately. Since most community recycling centers won’t take that material, it means that you’ll be adding more waste to the local landfill. You can avoid this disadvantage by choosing to work with pellet providers who only use paper bags for storage and transportation.
If you are looking for an economical way to heat your home in the winter without creating an additional risk to the environment, then a pellet burning stove is an HVAC option to consider. The pros and cons must be weighed individually to determine if the value of this investment is worth the initial capital that you’ll need to put up to install the system.