Cut fuel cots with a pellet or wood stove
With the cost of heating by conventional fuels like oil, gas,
propane or electricity constantly on the rise, pellet stoves and wood-burning
stoves are more attractive than ever. Many stove owners say they've cut their
heating costs at least in half -- and often more -- by switching to these
renewable biomass fuels, either for supplementing central heating or replacing
As of 2016,
newly manufactured wood stoves are subject to elevated EPA performance
standards. The new standards aim to improve one of the little-known downsides
of wood stoves -- air pollution -- although today's stoves burn much more
cleanly than those of decades past. If you already own a wood stove, don't
worry; the upgraded standards don't apply to existing wood stoves and
wood-burning heaters currently in use in people's homes. However, if you're
concerned about local air quality, now might be a great time to upgrade.
Types of Pellet and Wood Stoves
These use pellets made of wood waste products, like compressed sawdust. Many models come with convenience features such as auto-ignition and thermostatic control. This brings them as close as you can get to the feel of a conventional furnace while still burning biomass fuel, but also means that pellet stoves need electricity to operate. Some, but not all, pellet stoves can be hooked up to a battery backup in case the power goes out.Wood Stoves
Are simpler and more intuitive to operate than pellet stoves with fewer moving or electronic parts that can break down. They don't require electricity, and less processing goes into preparing the fuel; all you have to do is cut and/or split wood, then let it sit until it's dry enough to burn cleanly. Multi-Fuel Stoves
Some (but not all) pellet stoves are really multi-fuel stoves, capable of burning a variety of fuels including corn cobs or shelled feed corn, cherry pits and sunflower seeds. The price of wood pellets and other biomass fuels can vary drastically according to season, supply and demand, so having a multi-fuel stove gives you more options when it comes to selecting the cheapest or most readily available fuel in your area.
are best if you either live near an inexpensive, consistent source of pellets
-- think construction and other lumber-related industries -- or have the space
to stockpile 1 to 2 tons of pellets, typically in 40-pound bags, when you find
them at a good price. Pellet quality also varies widely, so be prepared to try
several different brands to find the one that works best with your stove.
Wood is likely
to be the best fuel for you if you live near a sustainable source of firewood,
and are prepared to either pay for it or invest your own time and effort into
cutting and splitting it. You must also store the wood for at least six months
to a year or more before burning it. The exact storage time will vary depending
upon wood type and local conditions.
time lets the wood dry or "season" to less than 20 percent moisture
content, which in turn means it'll burn hotter and cleaner than green wood.
Most people using wood heat say they need about four cords of wood to get
through a typical winter in the U.S. or Canada, although your needs will vary
according to house size, insulation and climate.
Some people like the versatility that multi-fuel stoves give them. Having
different options can allow you to experiment with what you prefer and perhaps
help you save money on fuel costs because you can choose the type that's
cheapest and most plentiful at the time.
maintenance matters -- a lot
stoves require regular cleaning and maintenance, many owners are surprised to
discover that pellet stoves require the most upkeep, thanks to their extra
moving parts and more convoluted internal construction. That often means daily
cleanings, and in some cases you may have to do deep cleanings as often as
twice a week.
When you invest
in a higher-end pellet stove, part of what you're paying for is a (hopefully)
easier maintenance schedule. Maintaining your stove does make a huge
difference, because many of the complaints we found about parts breaking and
stoves failing are, no doubt, due to inadequate maintenance. Scott Williamson,
an independent pellet stove repairman and consultant for Alliance for Green
Heat, shares data from his service calls on what he deems the most
reliable pellet stoves. Between 60 and 70 percent of the time, a simple
cleaning was all it took to get a non-functional pellet stove back up and
Installing your wood or pellet stove
should seriously consider the option of professional installation. This is for
both your safety and the sake of the stove, since improper installation
accounts for a number of malfunctions. If you don't choose professional
installation, make sure you follow the required clearances, hearth sizes and
venting requirements fastidiously. All of the above will be in the stove's
manual, which can almost always be downloaded from the manufacturer's website
if you misplace the paper copy. Last but not least, you'll usually have to pay
for your own installation supplies, from vent piping or chimney installation to
the hearth and heat shields.
matter which type of pellet or wood stove you purchase, it should provide
clean, efficient and reliable heat; be easy to run and maintain; and, of
course, have a good safety record. Happily, the latter was a given for each of
the top models we evaluate in this report.
Finding The Best Pellet and Wood Stoves
We found just
one comparative expert review of pellet stoves, published by the Alliance for
Green Heat; they also offer recommendations for wood stoves. Meanwhile, user
reviews remain the best gauge of how well a pellet or wood stove performs under
real-world conditions. Sites like WiseHeat.com, which is dedicated specifically
to user reviews of alternative home heating systems, were especially helpful in
our research. When it comes to comparing one stove to another, industry awards
such as the Vesta Awards and the Wood Stove Decathlon run by the Alliance for
Green Heat were often just as informative as professional reviews.