pellet vs. wood vs. gas fireplace insert

melissastarFebruary 5, 2010

I was just about to plunk down the bucks for a pellet burning fireplace insert when I panicked and realized I really hadn't researched this well enough. I'm hoping for some good guidance, here!

Here's the situation:

--Old drafty 3 story rowhome in Baltimore, with oil -fueled steam radiators. --I'm the only one in the house most of the time...and I'm there during the day only 3 days out of the week, plus all evenings and nights. I spend most of my time (when not sleeping or bathing) on the first floor, and prefer to sleep with it pretty cold.

-- Because the house is an interior row home, it doesn't seem to get REALLY cold (once when oil ran out one day, it never got below about 60 degrees, though the outside temp overnight was well below freezing.)

--There is an old masonry fireplace which is large enough (barely) for some but not all inserts. Enviro and Harman pellet inserts fit, for example. Still checking on some gas and wood ones.

--There is an old masonry chimney, with has been OK'd by installation folks for use to vent (with liner) an insert.

--Single middle aged lady who will buying whatever fuel is used...including firewood. Plenty of storage space in the basement, but I'll have to haul it upstairs.

What I'm looking for...not necessarily in this order:

--A source of heat for the first floor, when I'm there, so I don't need to needlessly heat two extra floors of space.

--The ambience and direct warmth of a fire.

--Not to do something incredibly stupid financially or something I'll regret in a year or two.

--A desire to be "green", but not so great a desire as to overwhelm common sense.

I'm told that:

-- Wood logs would have to be small to fit, and they might be hard to find, plus I've had a bad past experience with bringing some sort of wood eating insect into the house with firewood.

--Gas would clearly be easiest, but isn't green and the idea of using TWO fossil fuels seems ludicrous, even if the prices don't move in tandem. And considering the federal tax credit, it makes buying and installation of the gas insert as expensive or more expensive than a pellet stove.

--Pellet fires don't provide much ambience...even with the Harman log insert.

What to do, what to do?

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i just dont see the romance with burning wood, pellets included, if you have to buy the fuel there will be no savings. there is a big hassle factor with that type of fuel.
where did you ever get the idea that natural gas isnt green?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 6:30PM
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I think you have to weigh the fuel costs and initial investment against the convenience or inconvenience of hauling the fuel, ie pellets and wood.

frankly, I can't see a middle aged person man or woman hauling fuel.

when was the last time your fireplace was used and certified by a pro (not a salesman) that it was in a safe condition to install an insert? I certainly recommend that you do this.

do you already have a nat gas line into your row house?

I am attaching a link to a fuel comparison calculator to use as a guide. It does not have a listing for wood.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 6:45PM
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forgot the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fuel Comparison Calculator

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 6:52PM
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tigerdunes: Thanks for the link and the advice. The fireplace and chimney were just looked at by a professional and he gave it the nod. He was frankly surprised...thought the firebox would be too small and the chimney blocked with the furnace flue or other stuff accumulated over the past century or so. But he says, with the liner, it's fine.
Yes, hauling the fuel may be an increasing pain in the butt, especially I think, firewood. I'll need to think that through.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 7:53PM
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you already have nat gas to your rowhouse?


    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 8:26PM
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Quality wood burning inserts provide very nice ambiance and do not require any electricity, including those that have optional blowers. Pellet stoves require electricity and burn a manufactured fuel.

I heated with a wood burning insert at one home I had. I can testify to how nice it was to come home, put a couple of logs in the stove (insert) and kick back in the chair and just watch the flames dance.

You can find a lot of good information on heating with wood at

I've also linked a quality manufacturer of inserts of all types. We just installed one of their wood stoves in our new house.

Here is a link that might be useful: Napoleon Inserts

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 9:02PM
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I would strongly consider the fact that you would need to haul fuel, but Nat Gas is not currently green Vhehn- the beautiful thing about nat is that for the conversion to a green biogas in the future the town wouldn't have to do much- just provide a gas that has the same densities and heat value. If you are going to consider burning a solid fuel, whether it be a bio brick, log, or pelletized fuel, you may want to talk about your lining with a heating technician that would know your local codes pertaining to solid fuel sources.
I live in Maine- most heating technicians around here are licensed for oil, gas, and Propane. I am licensed for solid fuel as well. A solid fueled appliance may need a stainless steel lining in the chimney. In fact, if you have a masonary or tile flue you would be better off with a gas or cord wood, but with pelletized fuel and bio brick and even cord wood you will probably want to slide a corrugated stainless steel lining down the current chimney to connect to the appliance. Creosote builds up on any surface that readily extracts heat from flue gases- we all know the problems associated with creosote- but the loss of heat reduces draft, causing all sorts of other problems, and if you lose enough heat- like in a three story building, you can create condensation. I have actually seen a chimney "raining" on a fire during a cold, dry winter day with the sun out and not a snowflake in the sky.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 9:13PM
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Again, thanks to all for your thoughts. Yes, I have natural gas at the house already, and it wouldn't be difficult at all to get it to the fireplace, as the gas-fired hot water heater is practically immediately below it in the basement.

And yes, I've talked to licensed professionals, who have said I will need to run a liner through the chimney...whatever I do.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 10:20PM
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Have you thought about a stove that sits out on the hearth?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 11:21PM
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Weedmeister: Yes, that's a possibility too. Are there advantages of a stove over an insert?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 10:04AM
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I'm considering the same thing, only I don't have an existing fireplace.

I've come to the conclusion that for me a pellet stove is the way to go.

I'll also have to store the fuel in the basement, but a 40-lb bag is going to be infinitely easier and cleaner to deal with than a bundle of wood.

The good thing about pellet stoves is that there are any number that can be run very effectively using a battery backup if the power goes out. Thelin, Harmon, and others make them.

Even with Snowmageddon I didn't lose power, though, so I'm thinking that that's something I really don't need.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 5:16PM
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OK...another option. The contractor who is working on a kitchen remodel for me is telling me I should just do ventless gas fireplace insert...block OFF the chimney. He says he has one, loves's inexpensive, puts out a lot of heat and in a drafty house like this one with radiators, the build up of moisture isn't a problem. And it's legal in my area, as long as it's not in a bedroom.

Thoughts on it? My head is starting to hurt from the choices....

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 7:24PM
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A good friend has an old home in a well heeled old neighborhood. His chimney is not functioning-don't believe it ever has which is typical for sgl story homes like his. He installed a ventless gas insert that has outstanding heating qualities plus a remote control. One thing that I don't like was a pilot light but that may be standard feature for inserts like his. I will try to get the brand/model tomorrow.

It seems you have a great deal of options available. Don't wait too long or it will be spring.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 9:04AM
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I should just do ventless gas fireplace insert...block OFF the chimney.

thats what i would do.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 10:34AM
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I can recommend one, thing - - do not install a 'vent free' gas insert. It's not as bad as sitting in your closed garage with the car running, but not far off. Think about it, read the link, then decide.

I have a high efficiency wood stove that creates great ambiance and usable heat with a thermostatically controlled blower. It does wood and with cheap electricity here, I have found that I need to be paying about 1/2 of what firewood sells for around here to compete with the 15SEER unit we have.

Here is a link that might be useful: greenbuildingadvisor

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 10:56PM
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IMHO, putting a stove out on the hearth is a bit better heating wise than an insert. The air can circulate better. I have a Consoladated Dutch West stove with a blower. The convection properties were great when the power went out. In your case, I'd avoid firewood since you have to haul it from the basement.

If you're going gas, I'd agree with using one with a vent. I have family members who have these in their homes using propane. They've also used smaller units that were ventless, but not full time, not in sleeping areas.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 2:08AM
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OK guys, I've made the decision. A Harman Accentra pellet insert is going in next week. It looks handsome, seems easy to operate and is energy efficient. Now I've just got to figure out how to rig up some sort of dumb-waiter or pulley and sling thing to help me haul the bags of pellets up from the basement!
Thanks for all your words of advice.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2010 at 12:24AM
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Is Smell an issue...I have a senstive nose and can tell a pellet stove from a gas one...

    Bookmark   February 26, 2010 at 12:11PM
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It's not an issue for me, but I can smell the pellets when I first put them in the stove and around where they are stored. They have a kind of woody/field kind of smell...reminds me a bit of hay or something like that. It's not unpleasant, but not very appealing either. I only smell it when actually pouring in the pellets or hauling the bags.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 4:26PM
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I have the Harmon pellet fireplace insert, and while it does provide nice heat do not understimate the hassle of storing pellets and adding them every single day. I have had mine for four years now and am ready to switch it to propane because of the pellet hassle.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 1:47PM
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On the topic of ventless, anything that uses gas, and says do not put in a bedroom, and on top of that is illegal in many states, is not something I would ever be willing to put in my house, where I live. How do people not see that ventless products are not a good idea?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 4:07PM
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I purchased a used Quadrafire Castile pellet stove for the basement. I have a high efficiency heat pump and strips but wanted something for back up that would run off of a small generator if we have an extended power outage. I purchased 2 tons of pellets last winter and when the temps were below 30 or if we were in the basement we ran it on low which is around 1lb or 7500btu/hr. I would turn it to medium when was below 20 and ran it on high when it was in the teens or below and the heat pump was locked out which is 8lbs per hour. The warm floor made the house feel more comfortable which allowed the stat to be a little coolder.

It is not hastle free by NO means. It requires regular cleaning and maintenance and the pellets can be a pain for some to deal with. I enjoy going down stairs and sitting in front of it after being outside and freezing all day. I grew up with heat from a wood furnace once you get used to that warmth a heat pump or even heat strips doesn't compare when it is in the teens outside.

If the cleaning and maintenance is not kept up then the efficiency will head toward the toilet. There are some models that can go a week or more with no problem and others that need the ashes dumped daily. It isn't horrible by any means but it is not just a pour in the fuel and forget it device. The ability to have a heat source that will operate on stored fuel and less electrical power than a 200 watt light bulb it is pretty hard to beat.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 11:04PM
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