Growing up in California I had never heard of a pellet stove before, but once I moved to the Northwest I starting hearing about them on the news and on television. Pellet stoves are becoming more popular as a heating source in homes as the price of other fuels (oil and natural gas) keep going up. Some people use a pellet burning stove as a secondary, or supplemental source of heat in their homes while still running a central heating system and furnace. A pellet stove is an appliance that burns 3/8" to 1 inch long pellets that resemble guinea pig food. The pellets for a pellet stove are made with compacted wood chips, bark, waste paper, sawdust, and agricultural crop waste. There are some pellet stoves that also burn corn kernels (corn stoves), small wood chips, and nutshells. Our buying guide will walk you through the different brands of stoves, the features to consider, and how much the pellet stoves are.
Buying Guide - Pellet stoves produce small fires, that burn hot and they work well in homes as well as apartments or condo. When compared to a traditional wood burning stove, a pellet stove is way more convenient to run and their heating and combustion efficiencies are much higher. Looking for a clean, fuel-burning heating appliance? Then go with the pellet stove since they have combustion efficiency of 78-85% and heating capacities between 8000 and 90,000 Btu per hour. The 2 main styles for pellet stoves are freestanding and fireplace insert models. There are some pellet stove manufacturers who produce pellet-fueled boilers and furnaces that can literally replace your forced air heating system. A freestanding pellet stove looks similar to a wood stove and does an excellent job at heating large rooms or small homes if you have a fan setup to the appliance to force air to other rooms in the house or apartment. The fireplace insert pellet stoves received some bad reviews in articles we read online, so avoid them if you can and stick with the freestanding pellet stoves. The fuel hopper on a pellet stove is where the pellets are stored until you are ready to burn them. Most pellet hoppers will hold a good day or two worth of supplies so you won't have to refill it that often. The feeder device will drop the pellets into the combustion chamber for burning and the rate at which they are dropped will ultimately decide how much heat you get. The high end pellet stoves have built in thermostats and computers that monitor the pellet feed rate and give you consistent heat output when you want it. The next question to answer is do you want a top-fed or bottom-fed pellet stove.
A top-fed pellet stove has a reduced likelihood of fire "burn back" into the hopper because the auger is inclined at angle but this can also lead the combustion chamber becoming clogged with clinkers and ash. If you want to stop ash from impeding the air flow, burn high-grade, low-ash pellets. The bottom-fed pellet stoves use a horizontal auger to move the fuel into the heating chamber therefore forcing any clinkers or ashes into the ash pan down below. You will need to remove the ashes about once a week but cleanup should be simple with the new, large-capacity ash drawers. When it comes to installation of a pellet stoves, manufacturers and experts say let a professional handle it. The type of pellet stove you buy will really determine where it should go in your home. The reason why most homeowners shouldn't attempt to install a pellet stove is because of the fan and vent portions which require you meet local building codes and safety specifications that you may not be aware off. No need to install a pellet stove unless you are ensured safe and efficient operation from it. Maintenance is the last major factor to consider when buying a pellet stove.
A recent survey from Hearth and Home magazine claims that more service calls to fix pellet stoves happen from operator error than equipment failure. That being said, you need to read the manufacturers manual for maintenance and operation procedures which include checking motors and fans often and having them serviced regularly. Also, owners should remove unused pellets from the fuel hopper or feed system when the unit will not be in use (end of cold season). The top manufacturers of pellet stoves are Harman, Quadra-Fire, Whitfield (now Lennox), Breckwell, Jamestown, Lopi, Englander, Enviro, and St. Croix. We found the best reviews for Harman pellet stoves along with Quadra-Fire models. Although the Whitfield brand is searched for quite often, it appears that the searches are more for repairs than most brands. We like Lopi stoves for wood burning, but prefer Harman when it comes to pellet stoves. Even Consumer Reports mentioned in their latest findings (2009) that the Lopi Leyden pellet stove had problems with a jammed auger. There are some excellent online reviews of all types of pellet stoves at Hearth.com, in online forums at Gardenweb.com, and at Oldhouseweb.com. We have tried to list the top sellers down below to let you see which models received the top ratings from consumers and experts. Prices for pellet stoves range from about $1700 to $3000 for the stove and anywhere between $150 to $400 for installation. If you are comparing a pellet to a wood stove, keep in mind that pellet stoves offer a substantial savings over wood burning stoves since you don't have to install a full-height conventional chimney or flue, often the most expensive part of a wood stove installation. You can browse the top selling pellet stoves online here.
Best Pellet Stove:
The Harman P68 Pellet Stove ($2800) is an award winning stove that combines a great new look and the latest technology. Harman has the best name in pellet stoves and consumers have come to recognize them for their performance and reliability. The P68 won the Vesta Award recently which confirmed its place amongst the elite pellet stoves on the market. This freestanding Harman pellet stove has 68,000 Btu output with a wide heating range, smart controls, and limited maintenance. A microprocessor runs the BTU output by sensing the fire temperature and room temperature to come up with the perfect feed rate of pellets to maintain a comfortable temperature. The Harman P68 includes a new door latch, a patented feeder, large ash pan with a swing open door, air-cooled combustion blower, and automatic ignition. One user says it heats his entire 1900 sq ft. open air house and keeps a comfortable room temperature throughout. Harman claims the stove will efficiently burn any quality of pellet fuels and from the reviews we read that's not an exaggeration. One consumer says the Harman pellet stove "burns even the worst pellets". Although the cost is high, most owners say they hope to reap the financial savings over time. We did read on several reviews that the auger and blower motors are a touch noisy compared to the competition. You can view all the Harman pellet stoves online at Harmanstoves.com. The Quadra-Fire Castile Pellet Stove ($2200) is another option with lots of great features, although many consumers in online forums for pellet stoves say there is more day to day maintenance involved with owning a Quadra Fire versus a Harman. If you don't mind the added burden of cleaning and ash removal, consider the Quadra-Fire pellet stove at a discounted price. RECOMMENDED - We agree with Consumer Reports in their findings that the Napoleon NPS40 Pellet Stove is an excellent stove for under $2400. The Napoleon scores well in tests for capacity, loading and cleaning.
Value Pellet Stove:
The Breckwell Vermont Classic Cast ($1500) pellet stoves got great ratings for performance and heat production and are considered a "great value" when it comes to pellet stoves. The P22 Deluxe has brushed nickel legs and door which make it very pleasing to the eye in any room. The P22 features a digital control panel, automatic firestarter and fuel feed, and heavy-duty steel construction. We did find many user opinions that cast iron stoves are better than steel made, but this one does just fine. The one drawback to the Breckwell pellet stove is that their customer service is lacking in many areas. Although overall performance of their pellet stoves was just fine, many owners said trying to get ahold of Breckwell service on any small issue was "almost impossible". If you are not the DIY type of homeowner, you may want to go with another brand. RECOMMENDED - The Pleasant Hearth Medium 35000 BTU's Pellet Stove with 40-Pound Hopper is a reasonably priced pellet stove available in many home improvement stores as well as online at Amazon.com. Owner reviews are positive and they say customer service is great. It features a heating capacity of 1750 square feet, a 40 lb hopper, and the electric auto-start igniter is easy to use. This freestanding pellet stove will provide plenty of heat during those cold winter months. 35000 BTU with burn time of 12-24 hours. EPA Certified with an 85% efficiency rating. Includes an outside air kit and convection blower and very little assembly is required.
Advantages/Disadvantages to Pellet Stoves:
The main reasons why pellet stoves are in such demand is because they cleaner, safer, and more convenient than wood burning stoves. For environementally sensitive folks, the pellet stove produces less air pollution than wood stoves. Also, instead of having to carry heavy, dirty wood in from the outside for a wood stove, pellet stoves let you buy pellet fuel in clean bags and require only filling the fuel hopper once a day. The exterior of pellet stoves tend to stay much cooler than those of wood stoves meaning a less likely chance of being burned accidentally. Lastly, pellet stoves need a lot less cleaning on a regular basis versus wood stoves and the fire hazard associated with pellet stoves is much less. As for disadvantages to pellet stoves, the one big drawback is that they're complex appliances and the multitude of moving parts and motors require regular maintenance. You'll want to check with the dealer (or whoever you buy it from) to make sure that parts are readily available for the model you choose. Many experts also recommend that you purchase a service contract when you buy the stove because servicing a pellet stove can be difficult. Another concern with pellet stoves is that they require electricity (or battery backups) to run the motors, pellet feeders, controls and fans which can become a hassle when the power goes out for more than a day or so. One note in regards to pellet stoves versus corn stoves, several owners said that they developed mice problems in areas where they were storing the corn pellets for their stoves. That's another reason to stick with pellet stoves and eliminate rodent infestations from corn stoves.
You can buy pellet fuel in 40 pound bags for about $3.00-$4.00/each. You can purchase bulk quantities of pellets for about $120.00 to $200.00 a ton. One ton of pellets is equal to about 1 1/2 cords of firewood. Homeowners using pellet stoves as their primary source of heat tend to use two to three tons of pellet fuel per year. The two types of pellet fuel are known as standard and premium pellets. As noted above, some pellet stoves require the premium fuel pellets for low-ash to run properly. Check with your local pellet store or supplier to make sure they carry the type of pellets you will need. Home Depot is a major supplier of pellet stove fuel pellets in many parts of the country.