Wood-burning stoves were common in homes prior to the 1900s, but their popularity waned when fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas and oil, became more readily available. Wood gained again in popularity during the energy crisis of the 1970s. However, pellet-burning stoves are a more recent alternative that have been gaining in popularity.
Pellet-burning stoves use small pellets, measuring between 3/8 and 1 inch in length, as fuel. The pellets are made from agricultural crop waste, bark, compacted sawdust, wood chips, waste paper and other organic waste. Some pellet-burning stoves also burn corn kernels, nutshells and small wood chips. The fuel comes in 40-pound bags, and costs can range from $120 to $200 per ton, according to the U.S. Energy officials.
Pellet-burning stoves are cleaner than many other alternative-heating sources. The U.S. Department of Energy has identified pellet-burning stoves as the cleanest of solid fuel-burning residential heating appliances.
Pellet stoves have high combustion and heating efficiencies and consequently produce very little pollution. The federal government rates the combustion efficiencies at 78 percent to 85 percent.
Pellet stoves are convenient to operate. Typically, they require refueling only once per day. Most models have a hopper that, once filled, will feed additional pellets into the stove as needed, removing the requirement for constant attention. Also, because pellets burn cleanly, very little creosote builds up, which reduces the risk of a fire.
Depending on where you live, fuel availability may be a concern. While pellets are becoming more widely available, a consumer should be certain of a local, easily accessible source of fuel before purchasing a stove. Fuel also is more costly than some other alternatives, but it can vary widely in cost. The Pellet Fuels Institute estimates heating with pellets costs $20.96 per million British thermal units. That is more expensive than natural gas, coal and hardwood, but less expensive than electricity and fuel oil.
The stoves cost between $1,700 and $3,000. However, the high purchase price may be offset by low installation costs. Many pellet stoves can be directly vented, eliminating the need for an expensive chimney or flue.
Pellet stoves contain complex, expensive components that can break down. Pellet feeders, fans and controls require the use of electricity, which can add about $9 per month to a utility bill. In addition, unless an owner has a backup power source, he could lose heat during a power outage.
Aesthetics may also be a concern for some people who don't like the appearance of the stoves.
- Photo Credit pellets image by Rupert Roth from Fotolia.com
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