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Another "New User, First Post" Question - Pellet Stove to replace LP?

Post in 'The Pellet Mill - Pellet and Multifuel Stoves' started by kristuphir, Dec 12, 2007.

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  1. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    Hi there. We have searched extensively on this site on the question of wood stoves and pellet stoves and have been amazed at the wealth of information here. However, like all the other new people wanting to know if their home heating ideas will work, I think it best if I just ask directly.

    We're a young couple who've just bought our first house in Lake Elizabeth, CA out in the high desert foothills of the Santa Clarita Mountains. It's a 1600 sq ft ranch, with a fairly open floorplan as detailed in the rudimentary drawing I've attached. It was built in 1991 and seems well insulated, with all the windows replaced in the last couple of years.

    The place came with an old heat pump, which upon resurrection demonstrated its complete inability to deal with the 25-45 degree temperatures we've been getting in the last few weeks - all we're going to do with that is rack up nasty electric bills and stay cold. The only other heat source in the house is a silly red LP stove that the last owners installed. We have a 250-gal propane tank out back, but propane is exorbitantly expensive here and the little LP stove can't cut it agains the cold, anyway - I think it's mostly decorative. We have no natural gas or oil out here.

    We're interested in getting a pellet or wood stove to be the main heat source, supplemented by fans or space heaters where necessary. The house has three ceiling fans (see diagram) and the pickup for the central blower is above and about 8 feet away from the current stove. We're leaning toward a pellet stove for convenience, and the pellet guys out here claim there aren't shortages in this neck of the woods. Pellets are a little pricey; however, as far as I can figure they'd be a lot cheaper than propane still, especially given that we'd probably only run the stove a few hours each evening. Plus, I could have a Big E here in a matter of a week or two for $1,320 shipped and have it installed myself with minimal effort, unlike with a wood stove, which would require much more extensive (and expensive) installation. I love the idea of a woodstove, but if I'm honest with myself, my 110-mile-round-trip commute is going to leave me with little inclination to be out collecting, chopping, and stacking wood very much of the time.

    I guess our question is, if we replaced that LP stove with a 2200sqft pellet stove (like the Big E, for instance) in the same location (there's already a hole in the wall there and a decent venting setup, much of which could be reused for a pellet stove), would we have a chance of getting good heat through the rest of the house? It seems like it would at least heat the main bedroom and living area quite well, with maybe the office staying somewhat chilly. Would turning on the central blower help distribute the heat from the stove's immediate area to the rest of the house, or hinder it somehow? I've read lots of conflicting opinions on this. Also, is going with a slightly oversized stove like that making sense? It makes sense to me to get a big stove and run it low, rather than maxing out a smaller one.

    We know this is exactly the wrong time of year to be doing a quick plan-buy-install of a new heater, but we just got the house two months ago (it was a foreclosure), and at the time were uneducated about how worthless the current heating setup is. It's been 45 degrees in the house at night lately, high 20s outside, our pipes are frozen in the mornings (we've insulated them and left them dripping to combat this, but we need heat). It's been miserable, and we need to fix it, so we'll wind up paying the premiums associated with doing this fast and in the winter.

    Thanks in advance for all your experienced answers, and thanks once again for the wealth of existing info on this site!

    Chris and Brandy

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  2. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Given that climate and size of house - and your use patterns, I think a Pellet Stove will make you happy. Virtually any medium size will do, as the output is variable, but don't make the mistake of buying something that will not work well on low - that being about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of pellets per hour. In your sunny clime, you are likely to be using it that way often.

    You will want to compare the price of LP to the price of pellets and make certain that you have 3 (my suggestion) separate and distinct suppliers of pellets that are either in your area, or that you drive by on your commute (for pickup).

    Also consider that a Pellet stove does make noise - so that is a factor if it is next to a TV or if you have birds singing in the distance that you like to hear - quiet is a relative word...we all have different sensitivities.

    I would not oversize the stove. It would be better to size it for how you were going to use it most of the time - and even, in the worst cases, use a plug in (oil filled) electric heater in a far room in the coldest weather. I guess what I am saying is nothing that is over 35 to 40 K max....and that being the top-top end.

    As to whether a Pellet or an efficient LP unit would be best in replacement, that is somewhat of a lifestyle choice. You are clear about your ability to chop wood - make a clear choice also about whether you want to carry bags of pellets, load them, clean out ash, scrape the firepot and service your stove (you mentioned a delivered price for a pellet stove - does that include someone doing the service work on it during the warranty period?).

    Pellet stoves have electronics, fans, motors, augers and other parts that can need adjustment and replacement....anytime from the first day onward. So please consider whether you have a servicing dealer. If I was NOT handy (can fix 95% of stuff or more), I would not buy a Pellet stove mail order, etc....only from a local dealer with a reputation for standing behind it. The savings over LP would soon be gone if you had something that was not working when you needed it.

    So consider these and the other points that our members will add.
  3. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    Loc:
    Lake Elizabeth, CA
    Ahh yes, I should have mentioned that I have a decent amount of mechanical inclination (mostly cars, but I'm quickly learning how to apply the thinking to house stuff) and a DIY person as much as possible. I prefer to learn how to do something and do it myself rather than call someone out to do it. When I do have a service person out for any reason, I'm basically their shadow, watching what they do and pestering them with questions to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I had planned on being the same way with whatever heating method we end up with...
  4. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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    Hi Chris,

    Sounds like a pellet stove may be a good option for you. Having said that, how much is LP running in your area? They make some terrific high efficiency propane units these days, so you may just want to run the numbers before making a decision. I have 2 pellet stoves and 2 Rinnai propane heaters and am generally happy with my set up. LP is up near 3.00 per gallon so I have been working the stoves a lot harder this year....but I still love the Rinnai's. The are safe, quiet, efficient, and they blast the heat. They are also 99% maintenence free. They have a washable filter that I clean 2 or 3 times per season, which takes all of 5 minutes. The pellet stoves of course take a lot more work to keep them running.
    I do feel pretty good about heating with pellets, but if LP went back down to 2.00 per gallon I would be running the stoves less.

    Best of luck!
  5. EWILT

    EWILT New Member

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    Loc:
    Wyoming
    Chris, could you give me the details on the propane model you use. Propane is about 1.99 around here and my furnace is propane. So I just need to run the line for a additional heater. I use a pellet in the basement but would like to use a small propane stove in the master. Thanks

    Eric
  6. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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  7. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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    Yep, love the Rinnais. As noted in my sig I have a 556 and a 263.
    We run the 263 every night in my son's room (12x14) and set the temp at 66 degrees. It keeps it exactly 66 degrees all night...and on the very coldest nights seems to use only about a half gallon of propane. Before I bought the 2nd pellet stove I thought long and hard about going to all Rinnai units. What steered me away is the fact that LP prices in my area seem to be very unstable, even when compared to heating oil. The pre-buy contracts around here do not seem reasonable to me either, so that was a big consideration.
    If you are patient you can occasionally find the Rinnais on Craigs List going for as little as 50% of retail. Though if you buy new, be sure to look into tax credits. The federal government has them for high efficiency water heaters, and I think they may have some for heaters as well.
  8. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    LP was $2.94/gal when I had the tank filled a couple months ago. I also would feel better about running pellets, but then I wonder how the environmental stuff REALLY works out once you factor in the processes used to manufacture and ship the pellets. I admittedly haven't looked into this much.

    Now, would I be wrong in assuming I'd need two of that type of heater to really expect to heat the whole house? I admit I hadn't looked much into high efficiency LP heat yet. How much LP do you tend to go through with your Rinnais?
  9. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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    You could potentially get by with one Rinnai 1004 unit. They are close to 40000 BTUs and rated to heat up to 2000 square feet (in ideal conditions). Your heating would probably be more even with two 556s...installed in separate ends of the house. Getting heat to the bedrooms may also be an issue no matter which path you choose.
    Another option might be to "hedge bets" and replace the inefficient propane stove with a rinnai and then look at another location for the pellet stove. Just a thought...I feel a little better that I have some flexibility with my set-up. If there were even a pellet shortage (like 2005!) I could get buy on LP and electric space heaters for a while.
    Have you priced out pellets yet? They are still available for around 250 a ton in this area. Do you have a place to store several tons of pellets? I can fit about 4 tons in my basement, but it is not easy to get them down there...and I do miss the space.
  10. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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  11. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    So far, people have been quoting me in the $265-300 range per ton around here. I have 1/3 acre and there's an outbuilding with a covered area that looks about perfect for a ton of pellets. Definitely space for more, too, but that space is ideal.

    I happened across the Al's heating site in other travels. I get the distinct impression that he likes these heaters. Oh, and also that yes, they require electricity to run...the guy has the demeanor of someone who's new to the Internet, but not new to answering the same old questions over and over again...;). Is that 1004 available as an LP burner? Their website only seems to list it in NG. Wait, never mind, that's a typo on the site I think.

    Yeah, the flexibility aspect is something to think about. Also, there is a very convenient installation aspect in that the current stove already has an LP line piped in.

    The master bedroom can actually see the stove from its doorway (my drawing is by no means exact) so I think it'll be OK. The spare bedroom might stay chilly.
  12. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    Welcome to the boards!

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is that pellet stoves need electricity to run so if your area is prone to lengthy or frequent power outages you might want to consider a back up power supply for the stove.

    I think there are so many opinions on what works and what doesn't to move heat around a house because every house is different. What works well for one may not work in another. I'm new to this and still experimenting to see what heats the house most evenly but I've been amazed at how well one 10" fan, set in the floor blowing cold air from an adjacent room towards the stove, has done to make the whole house warm. Can't believe how much air circulation it provides. I have four ceiling fans but I've yet to get around to trying them with the stove. So far our coldest room has only been 3 degrees cooler than the room with the stove so I'm well pleased!

    I think your just going to have to experiment to see what works best for your house but looking at your diagram it looks to me like you have a pretty good layout for this sort of thing. If you were willing to leave the doors open and use the closet between the office and the master bath as a channel I'd imagine that you could get a full circuit of heat with the right placement of a fan or two. That might not be necessary though. I think I'd try a single fan on the floor blowing from the office door towards the stove first and see what happens.

    Good luck with whatever you decide!
  13. wilbilt

    wilbilt New Member

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    I am in a similar situation here in NorCal. I have been heating with LP for the past 15 years; the price has gone crazy the past 18 months or so.

    LP for bulk fill is currently about $2.75/gal here. I can easily burn 150-200 gallons in a month running the furnace.

    I have not lit the furnace at all this year, and have been burning pellets. Our low temps have been in the low 30s for the past few weeks, and I am averaging a bag a day at $4.50-$4.95/bag. About $150/month, which is a huge savings compared to burning LP.

    I have no problem with packing a few bags in from the shed every weekend and vacuuming the ashes. It feels like I am getting paid to do it...;)
  14. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Honestly, at the area of $300+ a ton, I would opt out unless it was for recreational or other use. As to how green, that could be debated - the sawdust is NOT going to be thrown away if you do not burn it. It may be made into building materials, cat litter or hundreds of other products. I guess for me, $250 a ton would be the breaking point, and even that would be "optional and recreational" because we are not talking a savings of magnitude BTU for BTU...well, let me check that.
    Say $300 pellets
    and $3.00 LP.

    No doubt those particular LP units are more efficient than a pellet stove - maybe 85 to 75. So I will use the handy calculator.

    OK, Pellets smashes the LP in terms of cost- it will cost about 40% less to heat with Pellets.

    So, a $1,000 LP bill would be a 2 ton ($600) Pellet bill.

    Then you add in the other variables.

    I think a big point is the lifestyle one. See all these pellet stove heads hanging out here? It's like one big happy and dysfunctional family! If you get the LP unit, you will be watching your big screen instead of hanging here.....of course, that might be a plus in your eyes. :coolsmirk:
  15. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    Hmmm....40% you say?? :)

    It just occurred to me that last time I was at the local Lowe's, we saw pellets for $260/ton. That even makes the above sound better. I think for that much savings, I could stand to clean and maintain a stove...

    I am, for some reason, having a hard time finding the calculator. It's been a long day and it's no doubt right in front of me, but would someone mind pointing me to it?

    Thanks all for your excellent feedback. Keep it coming if there's more!
  16. Greg Ray

    Greg Ray Member

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    Loc:
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    Welcome!!! Please have a good dealer that will take care of the stove when its out of warranty! Alot of moving parts and maint. JMO, Good Luck Greg
  17. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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  18. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    Does anyone know if the Englander 25-PDVC (no BTU rating on their site, but claims "approximately" 1500 sq ft) would be reasonable for this space? Or would it be overtaxed in 1600 sqft? What if we closed off the spare bedroom to eliminate some square footage?

    Reason I ask is that Lowe's, I see now, is also running a terrific-for-wintertime deal on that stove, meaning I could have it tomorrow night for pretty cheap. But I wouldn't want to have to max the poor thing out all the time.

    I know there are some superbly responsive ESW employees on this site, so that's a major plus if it could work.
  19. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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    Generally speaking I am not a fan of the square footage estimates. I think they're a bit optimistic, and in most cases people ae not going to be able to heat the stated square footage.
    I don't think you'd overtax the stove per se, since many pellet stoves run great on full blast....but I think you might have some cold rooms on the other side of the house.
    I'm guess that stove is somewhere between 35,000-40,000 BTUs.
  20. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    You might want to start another thread titled to get Mike or Corie's attention or you could call the company and speak to someone on the sales staff. I'm sure they'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. 1-800-516-3636
  21. kristuphir

    kristuphir New Member

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    Huh. The telephone. Now THERE'S an idea. :) I did just call them, and spoke to a very nice man who said that given how we have our house set up, and what parts of it we'd like to heat, he thinks the unit would work just dandy. Oh, and he said Mike was sitting right behind him, and he'd be sure and pass on my thanks for being here on the site in such an effective manner. He said it'd puff Mike up for the whole day...;)

    I have to say that I'm a member of lots of different forums, and so far this one seems to have by far the most friendly, articulate and knowledgeable crowd. It's a nice place to hang out...

    I should probably use that telephone thing more often...
  22. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    Why, when you can come here instead? lol Don't feel bad I did the same thing. Spent days poking around in here looking for answers before I bothered to just pick up the phone and call Mike. This internet thing is sort of addictive. :)
  23. mkmh

    mkmh New Member

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    I've gotten quicker responses out here than what i've gotten from one of the local dealers. Honestly, when I had an issue with my distribution blower a while back I tried to reach the tech at the dealership and waited 6 hours for a callback. All the while I was on here getting guidance from GVA, Kenny, Harryback and others. By the time the dealer called back I was well on my way to fixing the stove. Wonderful people...and a wealth of knowledge that is bordering on scary.

    I don't think you can go wrong with that Englander. I would not want to be critical of Breckwell, but the support you can get out here on the Englander is worth a lot.
    Hope you buy it and that you turn into a regular pellet-head ;-)
  24. sickss

    sickss New Member

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    I live in a 1640Sqft home in central PA. Last night our outside temp was 27, I run my 25-pdvc @ around 1-1.1 lbs/hr. Inside temp was 76. Kitchen window open, wife walking around half naked.

    Here is my take...I by no means am an expert, but have been heating with pellets / corn for a good while. I soley use pellets and corn for heat between my shop (5100sqft) and my home.

    This is what I have learned.
    1. Forget the sqft ratings! You need to look at it more as a BTU/hr deal than anything. Figure out how many Lb's/hr you need to burn and figure out the effeciency of the unit you are going to use.
    2. NEVER oversize a pellet stove. You need something that can spread the heating season from mild to cold. I would rather have a stove that was just a touch small and have to run it on high on the coldest days.
    3. Insulation is your friend.
    4. If you follow a quick daily routine of keeping after your burnpot (2-3mins at most when you get good at it) you will save yourself a lot of time on your weekly and monthly cleanings.
    5. Keep your pellets inside if at all possible. I have yet to find a pellet manufacturer that either does not have perforated bags or knows how to seal them properly.
    6. If you find a pellet manufacturer that works good for you...stick with it! Buy off season and buy way more than you ever think you will need. I hear stories of pellets going bad. I am burning pellets now that are 2 years old. Keep them dry and you will have no problems.

    What kind of cars are you into? If you are a gearhead you will love the englander stove. These things are begging to be played with and modified...plus the support is incredible! For some reason England's get a bad rap from the stuffy stove sales places. My Traeger dealer who also sells Quad will tell you if you want your house to burn down you buy an Englander.... I guess his feelings are hurt by all of the business they loose to them! They are really built nice...don't let the price fool you!

    Good luck and stay warm!
  25. MainePellethead

    MainePellethead Minister of Fire

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    I agree peg! This forum is a WEALTH of info....i love it! I havent installed a P Stove yet....been researching them for 4 months tho lol....Have friends that have them. So we finally went to see a dealer...setting up an install for right after Christ-mas. :) I cant wait to get fired up. "Hopefully" I wont need much help from here lol.....BUT its great to see all the great people here and knowledge in helping us all NOT depend on foreign oil for our heating needs. Your right....it is addictive here....I come to this site daily and love it! lol.
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