Wood pellet stoves have become increasingly popular in the U.S. and other countries over the past decade, as rising oil prices and concerns about environmental sustainability have caused homeowners to look for new ways to heat their houses. More than 140,000 pellet stoves and inserts were shipped in the U.S. in 2008, compared to 34,000 in 1998.
However, users of pellet stoves have found a wide range of quality and performance in the supply of wood pellets available to fuel their stoves. (Reference 2) Often, different pellets perform better in particular stoves than others, and it will take some time and experimentation to determine which pellets are good and bad for your needs.
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Open a bag of wood pellets and grab a handful. If there is a lot of sawdust, or the pellets crumble easily, it is not a good batch of pellets. Pellets are manufactured by compressing sawdust and wood chips to a particular density, and the pellets need to hold together to move through the stove mechanism and burn properly.
Fill a glass or bowl with water, and drop in a handful of pellets. Good wood pellets will sink, while bad pellets will float. This is because good pellets contain little residual moisture. Pellets that contain a lot of moisture will have a harder time igniting and burning consistently.
You will likely encounter wood pellets that aren't necessarily bad quality, but are not the best performing choice for your stove. Pellets can differ in wood content (hardwood vs. softwood), ash content, color, length and density, and each of these differences can affect the performance of your stove.
Try several varieties of pellets, using the adjustment capabilities of your stove to change air intake, pellet feeder speed and fan speed. This will help determine which brand or variety of pellets performs the best in your stove and allows you to heat your home most efficiently and effectively.