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Wood pellet burning stoves are a popular alternative to traditional wood burning stoves. Pellet stoves are an attractive choice for homes with high heating bills because they are often installed as an additional heating source, allowing you to switch between fuels. This reduces your fuel bill by heating the area where you spend your time and keeping the rest of the house cooler. Houses with pellet stoves also benefit by switching fuels when one is less expensive than another.
Wood pellets are around ¼" in diameter and from ½" to 1" in length. They are made from compressed sawdust with no additives and they are approximately half as expensive by heat content as either propane or electric heat, and around 35-40% less expensive than natural gas at this time. In the past, these sawdust byproducts would typically have been destined for landfill sites; now, they are used to produce nearly smokeless heat for wood stoves. Because pellets are more compact and easily handled than traditional firewood, they take up a fraction of the storage space.
These stoves tend to look and operate in much the same way as a traditional woodstove, with a glass-enclosed burn area, allowing you to see the flame within. In terms of function, they are more comparable to oil or gas-fired stoves and furnaces, except that instead of a tank or gas lines, they have a large "hopper" which stores the wood pellet fuel. This hopper includes collection of augers to move the fuel into the combustion chamber in order to burn it, but in every other way, it works in exactly the same way as any other forced-air combustion furnace - burning the fuel and providing warmth and convenience within your home. Because of the hopper and the system of augers, the stove can operate autonomously for hours, days, or even weeks. The length of autonomy varies with the size and fuel requirements of the wood pellet stove. Most wood pellet stoves require electricity to operate the auger or loading mechanism, but there are battery packs available for backup power in case of power outages. Some models are designed to heat domestic hot water as well as provide air heating, further extending the versatility of the system.
Wood pellet stoves tend to be more popular in rural areas than urban ones, partly because of the lack of natural gas availability, and partly because of the space needed for storage of the fuel itself and for delivery trucks to maneuver. Most households require approximately the space present in a single car bay in a home garage for one winter season's heating. The wood pellet fuel can be purchased in 50 lb. bags or in one-ton increments, depending on the fuel supplier.
Wood pellet stoves are easily installed and maintained for almost any location in your home. Some regular tasks to provide smooth operation of your pellet stove include:
- Filling the hopper with pellets.
- Emptying the ash pan each week.
- Cleaning the burn pot, hopper, doors, glass and ash traps periodically.
- Professional annual servicing.
As with any wood-burning appliance, regular cleaning and service of the venting system (usually a chimney) is a must to allow proper and efficient combustion, as well as to prevent chimney fires due to creosote buildup.