Pellet stoves vs Wood stoves

dayleannJuly 17, 2008

Now this is based on my circumstances, and yours may differ, but I thought I'd share my research and thought process FWIW. I posted this first in another thread that was mostly about pellet stoves, but realized a lot of people might not see it who might have something to add, too. Some others may find some things in it worth considering.

For a year I dithered between pellet and wood. I was going to put in a pellet stove last year, but circumstances prevented it. Glad it happened that way: it gave me more time to evaluate the options. A regular wood stove won out; I just ordered it and it will be installed in November. In my case, the delay is for scheduling the installation of the chimney, because all the chimney guys are booked so far in advance. I had no trouble finding the wood stove I wanted, because there is a huge demand for pellet stoves right now, and wood stoves are easier to find.

Here is why I decided on wood:

1. Businesses and corporations have or are switching to pellet and have contracts with pellet companies, which ties up a lot of product. Price of pellets have gone up and that is not likely to change. Availability of pellets depends on increasing manufacturing capacity and availability of raw materials. Though pellets can be made from non-wood materials, there is a huge question mark about how that is going to affect markets for other uses of those materials-- or the land needed to produce them.

2. Efficiency also needs to take into account the energy costs of manufacture, packaging, and transport. The fuel you choose may vary depending on these factors. I know that in some areas pellets are made of straw residue or other material that otherwise would be open-burned. For folks in those areas like that, that might be a responsible choice. It wouldn't be for me.

3. I live in New England. At this point, pellets for home consumption are actually being imported from the midwest (at least it's not the mid-east!). With a wood stove, I am not dependent on a manufacturer. I am supporting local guys who earn their living cutting on sustainable woodlots. For years a lot of those woodlots went unmanaged because there wasn't a demand. Now there is a resurgence of small-scale local industry and jobs. I like that.

4. Pellet stoves require electricity to run mechanicals, and battery backup is generally only good for a few hours. Electrical outages due to wind, ice, or lightening strikes are not uncommon where I live, and sometimes last for several days or longer. My wood stove requires no electricity to run. I stay warm.

5. I did the math for me: the cost of the stove, chimney and installation (pro installation is required here) will be paid for within 3 years by the difference in fuel savings (assuming oil continues to cost what it does now, a reasonable assumption). It would take a lot longer with a pellet stove, and with both stove and pellets costing more, I am not sure it would ever happen.

And ask any wood burner: after a while we develop an inbuilt sense of when it is time to stick another log in that's as automatic as any thermostat.

I bought this house over four years ago, and I think when I get that wood stove in, it will finally become home.

Dayle Ann

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Thanks for the info - What did you end up buying?

I'm just starting to read up on this subject to add a more efficient heating source to my house over oil. I have a pre-fab metal fireplace and want to add an insert. Right now my thoughts are pellet or wood? I ruled out the LP gas firelogs.

I'm not sure I want to invest a lot of money and get locked into a fuel source that has to be manufactured and price depends on supply & demand...I already use one of those in my oil burner...

I can get cord wood locally and have tons of trees on my property that need to get cut also.

I'm going to visit a few local dealers in SE CT/RI to get the opinions on wood vs. pellet etc...


    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 4:14PM
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If one has "excess" wood on their property and they are willing to put in the sweat labor, maybe in stead of going to the gym, another savings it seems to me, then wood by all means. Wood takes more hands on management, but some of us find that work enjoyable.

I've see on another forum a lot of talk about problems finding a supply of pellets, that's a major concern in my mind.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 9:46PM
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Rich, if you have a prefab fireplace, you may not be able to use an insert. My understanding is that codes don't allow it because the prefabs are not designed to take an insert. You might be able to install a free-standing stove into the chimney, though. The dealers and your local building permit agency can fill you in.

Dayle Ann

    Bookmark   July 19, 2008 at 4:35PM
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Dayle Ann,
Very happy for you. A house is not a house without a wood stove especially when you live where you live or where I live (in Nova Scotia). We have a Pacific Energy and we love it. Enjoy on those cold and damp days!


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 5:53PM
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Yes you can put an insert into a prefab fireplace. These fireplaces are called "Zero clearance" fireplaces and many inserts are indeed certified for these installations. I put an Avalon insert into a Heatolator prefab fireplace in the early 90s. And although I sold the house in 2002 the new owner still uses it with no problems.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 8:14AM
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We're having a Pacific Energy zero clearance wood-burning insert (Vista model) installed into our existing Heatolator fireplace on September 5. As long as it's properly prepped and installed and the existing structure is sound, there should be no problems.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 4:58PM
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I too live in New England and enjoy my woodstove. I have a Regency F100 unit and it heats my 1200 sq ft ranch very nicely. Especially when the nighttime temps often go to minus 25. Wood dealers are local businessmen who won't screw their customers. They want the business again next year. And often on a snowy winter evening we'll turn off the TV and just watch the fire. The wood fire can be damped down to a lazy soft flame. Not the busy fire I always see in a pellet stove. And to be honest, sometimes the fire is more entertaining than what's on TV today! ("Number 3, with the silicone chest. Open the case")

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 9:03AM
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We built a garage last summer that required the elimination of several rather large hardwoods (big maple and several smaller red oaks). We had it cut into to 16" rounds and picked away at the pile last fall/winter. We did OK, but we weren't really serious about dealing with the bounty as we were otherwise occupied with DIY finish work inside the garage.

We were on vacation last week and we spent 5-6 mornings in the company of our splitter to get the rounds split and stacked before it rotted on the ground. It wasn't unpleasant work at all. We managed to get nearly 4 cord put up for the '09/'10 heating season and beyond (we have seasoned wood put up for the coming season). We have a few more small piles of rounds to address in the coming weeks, but it's pretty much under control. And we had a good time doing it, laughing and joking as we stacked and finding an easy rhythm for the teamwork of splitting.

OK, I'll get to the point. We have just under 3 acres that were wooded when we built our home in '91. Our "first major appliance" was our Woodstock Soapstone stove. In the years hence we've never purchased wood. We've simply used what was taken down for the house, garage, or landscaping projects. And we've had plenty for our needs. We set the thermostats at the lowest setting and use wood to keep the house as cozy as we want or to simply "take the chill off" when it's raw outside. We have a splitter and honestly, the hardest part of the operation is just DECIDING that we're going to deal with wood. Once we make the decision the work is pretty easy and the feeling of accomplishment is terrific.

I live in New England, too. And there have been a number of stories of pellet manufacturers being stretched beyond capacity by the volume of orders. I'm all for eliminating the middleman whenever possible.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 6:32PM
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