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Technology

Updated: March 2017

Pellet Stoves

The pellet stove came on the market in the 1980s and has been steadily gaining market share. †But pellet stoves have always lagged behind wood stove sales and average about 70,000 per year. Pellet stoves were invented in America but they are now far more popular in Europe, where governments have given more incentives for them. Even Italy, with a fifth the population of the US, usually sells more pellet stoves each year than the US.

The pellet stove is thought by many to be the way of the future, slowly edging out wood stoves because it blends traditional wood heat with automation and convenience. Pellets for home heating are mainly made from sawdust and wood chips, which are automatically fed into a burn chamber so that the fuel only needs to be loaded into the stove once a day, or less. Pellet stoves excel at providing heat 24 hours a day and enabling homes to drastically minimize or eliminate the use of their fossil fuel boiler or furnace.

Moreover, pellet stoves are consistently far cleaner than virtually any wood stove, regardless of the grams per hour from test labs.† From an environmental perspective, pellet stoves are far superior to wood stoves because they rarely emit any visible smoke and can't be operated poorly by consumers, as many wood stoves are.

Pellets for stoves come in 40-pound bags and as of 2017sell for about $230 to $280 a ton. Pellets for boilers are delivered in bulk by trucks in the northeast and parts of the northwest. Eight states give incentives or rebates for pellet stoves.

The Alliance for Green Heat tested six popular pellet stoves and rated them for emissions, efficiency, claimed and actual BTU output, claimed and actual hopper size and other criteria.

Many pellet stoves use thermostats to maintain a constant temperature in the home and can be the sole heat source for most homes that are 2,000 square feet or under. While they often cost about $500 more than comparable wood stoves, their installation costs are often about $500 less. Click here for a pellet installers' review of reliable pellet stoves.

One downside of pellet stoves is that they have to be cleaned and maintained on a weekly basis by the homeowner during the winter season and they need an annual inspection and cleaning by a professional. Dirty pellet stoves will lose efficiency. They also can break down due to multiple moving parts. Lastly, they require electricity so that in a power outage you will lose heat unless you have a battery or generator back up.

If you are in the market for a pellet stove, look for one that emits less than 2 grams an hour and that has a verified efficiency above 70%. Look for efficiencies on the list of EPA stoves and do not trust efficiency claims on manufacturer websites and literature.

Domestic pellet stoves
Quadra-Fire Castile Domestic pellet stoves are almost always cheaper to buy, and bigger brands are likely to have a better infrastructure for parts and repair. Some hoppers can hold 80 pounds of pellets, allowing you to only refill a couple times a week, depending on the heat setting. Some domestic models are only 50% to 65% efficient, but others are in the high 70s (HHV). Unfortunately, manufacturers donít share reliable info with the public and most advertise misleading and exaggerated efficiency numbers.
European pellet stoves
The Bosca Spirit 500 European pellet stoves are more expensive but tend to be quieter, more efficient and have a more modern look. Some sold in Europe heat water for space heating and domestic hot water, and can be hooked up to the same tank as solar thermal panels. Efficiency numbers are more likely to be higher and third party verified.

For more information,
  1. Misconceptions about pellet stove efficiencies persist year after year
  2. Four Reasons Why Wood and Pellet Stove Efficiency Numbers are Unreliable
  3. A Review of Wood and Pellet Stove Efficiencies; More Manufacturers Post Efficiencies
 
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