Harman P68
Harman P68

Best Pellet Stove

The Harman P68 pellet stove is the most reliable and powerful model we evaluated, heating up to 3,900 square feet. Its hopper holds 76 pounds of pellets -- enough to keep the home fires burning all day or night -- and an exhaust monitor constantly adjusts the heat levels to keep your interior temperature within 1 degree of the set point. This stove is less finicky about pellet quality than much of the competition, giving you more flexibility when choosing your fuel.

Castle Serenity
Castle Serenity

Best cheap pellet stove

The Castle Serenity pellet stove is reliable and well-made -- practically unheard of in a stove that's sometimes sold for less than $1,000. Most users like the company's customer service, too. A built-in heat probe and blower help the stove adjust its burn rate and then circulate the hot air, and maintenance is unusually easy for a pellet stove; just cool the stove, empty the ashes, then dust and sweep the inside of the stove and exhaust pipe.

Sedore 3000
Sedore 3000

Best wood stove

The Sedore 3000 is an old-fashioned workhorse of a wood stove that's designed to last for decades. It's also a multi-fuel stove: In addition to burning just about any type of wood you can think of, including sawdust and wood chips, it's also capable of burning corn. Users love the Sedore 3000's simple, efficient downdraft design that burns wood from the bottom of the firebox up, giving wood in the upper section of the box time to dry out.

US Stove 2000
US Stove 2000

Best cheap wood stove

If you need reliable wood heat on a strict budget, the US Stove 2000 cranks out up to an impressive 89,000 BTU. Its plate steel construction heats up quickly and radiates heat well, although the firebox's shape and drafting is admittedly a little quirky. Still, this is a great bargain. Users say that with a little practice, this stove will provide burn times of around 7 hours or just about a full day; the fire-brick lining helps retain and radiate heat.

Woodstock Soapstone Ideal Steel Hybrid
Woodstock Soapstone Ideal Steel Hybrid

Best soapstone wood stove

The Woodstock Soapstone Ideal Steel Hybrid stove beat out fierce competition to win the 2013 Wood Stock Decathlon. It's available in two models -- a basic fire-brick-lined stove, or a higher-end model with a soapstone liner and panels that provide lingering radiant heat after the fire has gone out. The hybrid catalytic/dual-combustion design can keep a fire going for 10 hours or more and, so far, user reviews show the stove's mechanisms to be simple and dependable.

Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE
Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE

Best multi-fuel stove

The Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE is the highest of the high-tech multi-fuel stoves we evaluated. These advanced features make it almost as convenient to operate as a conventional home stove, and the hopper is large enough to heat up to 2,900 square feet all day (or night) without a refill. The Mt. Vernon AE can burn pellets, corn, wheat or sunflower seeds, and can be updated to burn other fuels as specs become available.

Fahrenheit Technologies Endurance 50F
Fahrenheit Technologies Endurance 50F

Best multi-fuel furnace

The Fahrenheit Technologies Endurance 50F forced-air multi-fuel furnace can be integrated into your home's existing ductwork, ducted directly into living areas, or run as a stand-alone heating stove. It can burn wood pellets, grain pellets, dried cherry pits or shelled corn, and the massive 112-pound hopper (with an optional extension) can last for days. Optional hot water coils let you link this furnace to your domestic hot water or baseboard heating.

See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Which type of stove is right for you?

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 it altogether.

Pellet stoves use pellets made of wood waste products like compressed sawdust. Many models come with features you'll almost never find on a wood stove, 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, although some stoves can be hooked up to a battery backup in case the power goes out.

Wood stoves, on the other hand, are simpler and more intuitive to operate, 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. Wood stoves are also subject to new EPA performance standards that were introduced in early 2015 and slated to take effect at the beginning of 2016. 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.

Choosing the right fuel

Pellet stoves 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.

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.

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.

This storage 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.

If you have bad memories of wood stoves as a child, take heart: Modern wood stoves are a far cry from the smoke- and carbon-belching appliances of years past. Modern stoves use either a catalytic converter or secondary combustion, which ignites the gases coming off burning wood, for a clean, efficient burn. In many cases, new wood stoves burn even more cleanly than pellet stoves.

Stove maintenance matters -- a lot

Although all 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 running.

Pellet and wood stoves typically cost between $1,000 and $4,200, with more complex pellet stoves usually being a little more expensive than a comparable wood-burning stove. Don't forget to factor the cost of fuel into your buying equation too, and remember that it might vary enormously between seasons. A good wood or pellet stove will last for decades, so also factor in the long-term view when you consider fuel cost and availability.

Most homeowners 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. 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. Again, costs vary depending on your needs.

Ultimately, no 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.

User reviews are, as always, 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.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Pellet Stoves | Best Wood Stoves | Best Multi-Fuel Stoves | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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