Wood Pellets As An Alternative Heating Source

As fuel prices soar many consumers are looking for lower cost alternatives to heat their home. One of the more popular choices are wood pellets.

Wood pellets are considered a biomass fuel created from renewable sources. Pellet fuel is made from compacted sawdust and is usually a byproduct from sawmills and other industries that use wood.

Pellet fuel is sold in 40 lb. bags. You can buy individual bags or in bulk by the ton. There are 50 bags in a ton of pellet fuel. The actual pellets are about 1/4″ in diameter and anywhere from 1/2″ to 3/4″ long. Pellet fuel looks very similar to rabbit pellets.

Wood pellets are burned in special stoves designed to burn wood pellets. All pellet stoves require electricity to run. The electricity is used to operate the feed system and the fans which exhaust the gases after the pellets have burned. Pellet stoves have sophisticated controls to maximize the burn of the pellets. Therefore there is almost a complete combustion of the fuel and almost no smoke is created.

Because pellet stoves are force ventilated they do not need a traditional chimney. The stove can be exhausted straight out the wall to the outdoors. Because of this they can be installed almost anywhere in the home.

There are many different types of designs but many of the stoves share some common features. Pellet stoves have a hopper that you pour the bag of pellets into. The hopper typically holds between 1-2 bags of pellets. A typical pellet stove burns a bag of pellets per day. This means you only have to load the stove once per day.

From the hopper the pellets are fed into the burn pot. The burn pots in a pellet stove are rather small but highly efficient. After the pellets are burned ashes are collected at the bottom of the stove usually into a removable tray. This tray needs to be emptied periodically.

Once installed, pellet stoves are easy to maintain. Routine tasks include filling the hopper with pellets about once per day, emptying the ash pan weekly, periodic cleaning of the burn pot, hopper, ash traps and glass. It is recommended the stove is cleaned and inspected annually by a professional.

Pellet stoves are usually classified by their BTU output and commonly can output up to 70,000 BTU/H. A smaller stove usually has a smaller hopper so you can not store as many pellets in the stove.

Pellet fuel is usually less expensive per BTU than most other fuels sources such as heating oil, natural gas, propane and electric heat. The actual savings depends on the cost of fuel in your area. Cord wood is slightly less expensive per BTU than pellet fuel but usually requires more work and frequent loading of the stove.

The current price for a ton of pellets is $250-$280/ton. Most users burn about three tons per heating season. Pellet stoves cost between $2000-$4000 dollars. You may want to perform a cost benefit analysis to determine the payback period for the cost of installing the stove. If you can save $1000 per heating season then the stove will pay for itself in 2-3 seasons.

Ritchie Evans
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