Though experts recommend buying a pellet stove from an independent dealer who provides ongoing parts and service, you can find budget pellet stoves at Home Depot, Lowe's and Northern Tool. The prices are about half the price of the top brands discussed earlier. Tradeoffs include more noise, lower efficiency and potential quality-control issues. You'll need to fuel these stoves with premium-grade pellets -- not always easy to find. Instead of battery backup, you'll need a portable generator if the electricity goes out. However, owners say even these budget pellet stoves are more convenient to use than woodstoves and can save a lot of money compared with more expensive fuels such as oil.
Both Lowe's and Home Depot sell budget pellet stoves made by England's Stove Works, a recommended manufacturer. This manufacturer makes Englander pellet stoves for Home Depot and Summers Heat stoves for Lowe's. In general, owner-written ratings at both retailers are higher for wood stoves than for pellet stoves, perhaps because pellet stoves are more complicated so more things can go wrong. Owners say these stoves do save money as long as they work, but we found quite a few complaints about early breakdowns. The lack of an ash pan is also a major inconvenience.
The Englander 25-PDVC (*Est. $1,650), rated for up to 1,500 square feet, gets slightly higher average ratings at HomeDepot.com than the larger Englander 25-PDV (*Est. $2,050) that's rated for up to 2,200 square feet. Some owners complain about needing repairs to the blower and auger -- though owners at HomeDepot.com and Epinions.com praise phone support from England's Stove Works. The five-year warranty covers only the firebox; other parts are covered just for a year. (Even more expensive pellet stoves with longer warranties often cover motors and other moving parts for a shorter time, unfortunately.)
Less review information is available about the pellet stoves sold at Lowe's, because the company has only recently started to publish owners' comments rather than just numeric ratings. Nearly 90 owners give reasonably high ratings to the Summers Heat 55-SHP10L (*Est. $1,300), though some complain of problems with the augur -- typical for budget models. This stove is rated for up to 1,500 square feet. Owners note that it's a very basic model that lacks an ash pan -- an inconvenience that's a tradeoff for the budget price. The stove does come with a kit for hooking it up to burn outside air. The required through-the-wall kit for the vent pipe costs extra (*est. $200); this cost is typical of all solid-fuel stoves.
Northern Tool sells pellet stoves under its own NorthStar brand as well as those made by US Stove Company. The US Stove #5500 (*Est. $1,300) is rated at 48,000 BTU for up to a 1,200-square-foot space. It gets reasonably good ratings from the handful of owners reviewing it, all of whom say they'd recommend it to a friend. It has a very large hopper, which owners say holds 120 pounds of pellets. There's no battery backup, and one owner says it sometimes has to be ignited manually -- but owners say it's far more convenient than a stove that burns firewood. It has nine heat settings, plus the option to buy a wall thermostat. This pellet stove needs a few inches more clearance from walls than some of the more expensive pellet stoves discussed earlier. It's a basic stove that owners say works well.