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Tinfoil Papercut
Jul 27, 2016

by Athanatos


Winter has come for New England and I thought it would be cool to do a thread on alternative home heating.

The first decision I made when I bought my home was to mothball my propane forced hot air system and have a pellet stove installed. It was a great decision and has saved me a ton of money.



That's the model I have, the "Enviro M55." For anyone unfamiliar, pellet stoves work by burning wood pellets or other similar fuel. The pellets are 100% wood (sawdust, a lot of the times) which are dried and compressed. The compression process releases natural lignin in the wood which hold the pellet together. (no chemicals)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g37Wba2U49I

I love my pellet stove more than a few reasons:

Price!

Here is the latest data from my state's governors office on home heating costs

Fuel Price (in dollars) ------------------------------Fuel Price (dollars per million Btu)
Cord Wood ($275/cord)----------------------------------$12.50
Natural Gas ($1.21-$2.21/therm)-------------------$12.14-$22.14
Wood Pellets ($268/ton)--------------------------------$16.24
Heating Oil ($3.02/gallon)------------------------------$21.78
Kerosene ($3.62/gallon)---------------------------------$26.81
Propane ($2.84/gallon)----------------------------------$31.53
Electricity - baseboard (14-17.5 cents/kwh)--$42.50-$51.29

There's a few fluff factors which play into this - but on the whole pellets are on the cheap side, only beaten by regular wood and natural gas. (when priced low, and prices are going up in New England) the other big factor is the type of pellet you burn, we'll touch on that later.

My house was setup for propane, and is ~2600 square feet. The family before us used about 1100 gallons of propane per year - which works out to roughly 3000 dollars per year to heat the home. My current heating cost in pellets is half this even using good (more expensive) pellets. We've had the stove since 2014 and it has saved me ~6000 dollars already and fully paid itself off. It's well worth the investment if you're looking to save some cash on heating.

Warmth!

Pellet stoves function a bit differently than wood stoves. Wood stoves get hot and give off their heat through radiation, similar to how you feel warm when the sun is shining on you. You are not feeling convective wind from the sun, and the sun is not conducting heat to you through a large metal pole. Pellet stoves work by convection meaning there are powered fans which blow heated air from the unit.

This changes the heating profile of a pellet stove, compared to a wood stove in the same spot. Pellet stoves move the air and can reach other areas of your house much better. The room its in will be warmer, but all the spaces will see heat from the unit. If you have experience with a wood stove, you'll notice a pellet stove distributes the heat much better.

The unit I have is 55,000 BTU / hr - enough to heat my home comfortably. When I crank my stove up to its max settings I can get my living space to 80+ degrees if I want even on the coldest New England days.

One of the benefits I notice is that the heating profile is also more efficient in terms of effective space heating. What I mean here is that the heat is given first to the living room and kitchen area (where you spend most of your time) and the bedrooms upstairs are kept cooler. This works well, because most people like cooler bedrooms for sleeping. It also means I'm not wasting energy heating rooms I'm not using to 70 degrees. (Most of my bedrooms hang out around 65, with the living room around mid 70's)

Care and Cleaning

Pellet stoves do require regular cleaning to keep them operating efficiently and safely. Generally this process involves turning the unit off and cleaning the ash from the burn pot, window, trays, as well as scraping the burn pot of hard scale.

I usually do this once every two weeks or so - and that's thanks to the type of pellets I burn. I use a softwood pellet with a high BTU / lb and a low ash production, which lets me go longer between cleanings. The price is higher, but the convenience and extra heat is worth every cent to me. Cheaper "dirty" pellets generate a lot more ash and require more frequent cleanings.

Oh, and you also have to keep the thing topped. Most hoppers can accommodate at least one 40 lb bag - mine can hold 60 lbs.

Cleaning and lugging around pellets are the primary drawbacks of owning one - which I feel are far offset by the benefits.

Pellet Types

As mentioned earlier, I use a premium pellet - but there are many types and many differing opinions here. Generally speaking, softwood pellets burn better and generate less cleaning issues. Hardwood pellets tend to generate "clinkers" which are small bits of burned up loose hard scale - which may or may not be an issue depending on your stove. Still, some hardwood pellets have a very high BTU rating and people like them.

A guy at my work burns cheap pellets for 210 per ton and is very happy with them. I burn pellets which are 360 a ton and am very happy with them. It all depends on your stove and what you're looking for. The ones I normally burn, Douglas fir, are considered the best.

The BTU per pound rating goes from 7,000 to 9,000. I can definitely notice a difference between mid and high tier pellets, to the point where my stove can heat the home on one or two levels lower than it would otherwise depending on how good the pellet is.

http://www.woodpelletreview.org/ is probably the best source, even if it looks like a late 90's website.

Aesthetics and Noise

It looks nice. My wife wasn't sold on the stove entirely, but once we had the first burn she was hooked. It looks great and gives a great ambiance to the room. My model in particular has a brown enamel finish which matches the room nicely. (Also the outside is NOT hot, only the glass and front - you can touch the top, sides, etc.)

My unit was marketed as one of the quietest on the market - and they've only gotten better since. You CAN hear it going, but it's not an unpleasant noise and only requires slight adjustment on the TV volume. We get use to it as a background noise and usually miss the sound in the spring when we shut it down for the season.

I probably forgot a few things but there's my rap on my pellet stove and why I love it. Feel free to AMA if you're considering getting one.

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