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Assistance requested in finding insert for first timers

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by emerscape, Feb 7, 2013.

  1. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    Good morning all!

    After 7 years of living in a 600 sq. ft. condo in the city we finally moved out to the suburbs into a new house. After 6 months of wallet shock due to oil heat costs we are looking for an alternative way to heat our house. I'm hoping that you all might be able to help steer us in the right direction. I understand that there are a ton of threads that I could read to probably obtain the information that I'm looking for but as a traveling consultant, father to a 2 year old and expecting another any day now my time is extremely limited, so I'd like to extend my appreciation in advance for any help. Here are a few things about us to help guide the conversation:

    • We live on the south shore of Boston, Massachusetts
    • Our house is approximately 4,500 sq. ft. with the downstairs being wide open and approximately 1,500 sq. ft.
    • My wife works as well, but there is usually someone at the house (mother in law) during the day for daycare for our 2 year old
    • We currently have a fireplace and bought a cord of wood this past summer and have been enjoying fires in the fireplace about 3 times a week
    • We are interested in both pellet stove inserts and wood stove inserts
    • I travel quite a bit for work but my wife could handle putting wood in the stove (this may change as I may be home more in the next few years)
    • We have a 2 car garage that has space to store pellets if needed
    • Our basement does seem to get quite humid during the summer so we have a dehumidified running down there year round. We are at the bottom of a hill so our yard is usually a bit damp for several days after a good rain
    • I grew up on a farm in CT so I'm familiar with cutting, splitting and stacking wood (although I'll probably just buy cords if I go with wood) - oddly enough we never had a wood stove growing up
    • My buddy's family has a fireplace store in town but they only sell gas and wood inserts (vermont castings & napoleon) so there is potential for me to get a deal through him (which would guide me towards wood. If we went with VC I'd like the montpelier since it looks like it provides better ambience
    • I'd like to not lose the ambiance of a fireplace with whatever we go with. My wife and I really enjoy our fireplace
    • I've attached a picture of our fireplace (sorry its dirty!)

    I think this is everything that I can think of. Again I appreciate all your help.

    Attached Files:

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  2. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    If you don't want to lose the ambiance of the fireplace, then skip the pellet insert! It won't have the impressive fireview that you want.
    Napolean is going to be the cheaper way to go and VC is gonna to require more maintance than most other stoves. IMHO. Does your buddy sell any other brands? Depending on your budget you might check on the Jotul line-up.
    Like I said, depending on your budget, there are lots of options out there that will do the job nicely. Anything in Brown enamel would look good with that stone!
    The Hearthstone Clydesdale has a nice fire view, even without a fire in it it's impressive!

    Attached Files:

  3. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    Thanks for the response and advice on the VC. Ideally I'd like to spend less than $4k installed for a new insert. There is a shop down the street that has Jotul. What are the maintenance concerns about VCs? I've read that the fan can be an issue.
  4. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    Are pellet stoves fairly good at regulating temperature in the room? Is there a way to automate temperature regulation with a wood stove or is it all manual?
  5. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    In general, VC's quality has gone down hill a lot. The stoves have a lot of issues, I'm not sure about the inserts, they aren't that common anymore.
    Yes, pellet stoves regulate the heat evenly, they just don't put out the heat that a wood fire will, or have the view.
    Stove are pretty much manual, look at the Blaze King Princess insert. It is gonna be the best bet for long burns without much attention. It's not pretty and it doesn't have much of an active fire when it's cruising, but it heats good.
  6. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    There is a fair amount of maintenance to do on a pellet burner as well. So, if your not gonna be able to do any of the work yourself, you would be dead in the water until someone can get there to get it going again.
    They also depend on electricity, rendering them useless in a power outage.
  7. canboy

    canboy Member

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    Emerscape: I have some thoughts for you regarding pellet stove vs wood insert. I have a Montpelier wood insert on the main floor of my house and a Whitfield pellet stove in the basement family room. The Montpelier is in its 4th season and the Whitfield is about 20 years old.

    I am a really big fan of both these stoves. Following are a bunch of random thoughts about the pro’s and con’s of each of these stoves:
    • They both run fans to get heat into the room. That makes noise. I would prefer having a standalone stove, rather than an insert;

    • We pay about $6 for a 40 lb. bag of pellets. If I run out of my own firewood, a split face cord is about $110. If you do the math on the cost/btu and the efficiencies of the different stoves, I think you will find that the pellet stove is about half the price to run. Of course if you have your own firewood, then wood insert is the hands down winner. NOTE: Pellet stoves are hugely efficient in terms of burning and extracting heat. Wood stoves are much better than in the past, but not near as efficient in extracting heat;
    • I installed my own pellet stove. It was relatively easy. By the time the unit has extracted the heat out of the fire, the temperature of the exhaust gases is “just” warm – you can put you bare hand in the exhaust without burning;

    • Pellet stoves have so many safety controls built in, that it would be almost impossible to have an out of control fire. Minor smoke damage due to a power failure would be about the worst I can imagine (though I am sure there are people who have figured out how to burn a house down too);

    • You can exhaust the pellet stove directly out the wall (essentially like a dryer vent). There is no such thing as creosote, just fly ash in the “chimney”. So it is very easy to clean and if you go straight out the wall, you don’t even have to get out the ladder;
    • A bag and a third of wood pellets fills my hopper. You could run on that anywhere from 12 to about 40 hours, depending how much heat you need. With good pellets and a good pellet stove, there should be zero “tending” of the fire during that time(the Montpelier would have needed fuel at least 6 times in 40 hours).
    • I wipe the glass on the pellet stove with a dry Kleenex before starting every fire, and empty ash about every two weeks. I clean the glass on the Montpelier about once a week but it requires a wet paper towel and some ash to get the glass clean. Ash goes out about once every week or two.

    • With the pellet stove on Max Heat, if you hold your hand in front of the hot air coming out of the stove, it would peel the skin off your hand(from a fire in a 4” X 3” hopper). On the Montpelier, considering the size of the fire, there is comparatively less heat coming out in the exhaust. That exhaust coupled with radiant heat of the glass is certainly enough however, to warm most of a 1500 sq ft bungalow in very cold weather;

    • Because fans exhaust the gases from the pellet stove, there are no issues with “not enough draft”, even in relatively warm temperatures. I have a 14 foot chimney on the Montpelier. This under the minimum recommended by the manufacturer, and the draft is not strong – even less so in mild weather;

    • Anyone that can carry a 40 lb bag of pellets can load and run a pellet stove;

    • In close to 20 years of operation, I have had only two mechanical failures. One was fan blower that needed replacing (easy to install). The other was a weld on an exhaust louver that gave way. I removed the louver and had friend weld it back on, and I was good to go;

    • The fire on the Montpelier is spectacular. Far better than a fireplace. The flame just rolls and churns and is mesmerizing. I can watch it for hours. The flame on the pellet stove would be best described as a nervous, flickering yellow flame. That being said, in the dark days of winter, it does produce ambience in our family room. We run it every night all winter long.

    • Bringing a bag of pellets into the basement to load into the stove is quite clean. Bringing in a load of firewood, usually leaves bark and wood splinters in the immediate vicinity of the fireplace, and probably a few bits of bark on the path from the door to the stove. Occasionally, if we leave wood unburned beside the fireplace, some bugs or insects may come to life and fly around the house. No bugs in the pellets.
    So, that is my experience. Love both appliances but for different reasons and in different applications. Hope that helps.
  8. Beer Belly

    Beer Belly Minister of Fire

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    IMO, if you go with an Insert, get the biggest one to fill the fireplace.
  9. kingquad

    kingquad Minister of Fire

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    What are the dimensions of your fireplace? Is this located in the basement? If so, is the basement insulated?
  10. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    All:

    Thanks for your feedback and my apologies for being somewhat absent. My wife and I welcomed our newest addition to the family on February 21st, a 9lb 9oz baby boy. So I've been a little tied up with that.

    Canboy - based on your feedback we are close to the conclusion of purchasing a pellet insert. Our friend who sells the wood inserts said he would be able to do either a VC or Napoleon for between $2,500 and $3,000 installed. But after talking it over with my wife we really want consistent heat and want to maximize our fuel savings potential which would steer us to a pellet insert. Additionally I just can't see us being consistent with fuelling a wood stove.

    I've been looking at both a Harman P35i insert and Harman Accentra. My wife likes the P35i because of looks and the fact that it doesn't stick as far out onto the hearth, I like the Accentra because of it will heat more of our house but I don't really love the looks of it. Given that someone is home 5-7 days a week, I think that having a bigger stove would be better as we would have a greater chance of heating more of the house. Cost wise I've been quoted around $4,800 and $5,300 for the P35i and Accentra installed, respectively.

    I've included a copy of our floor plan (as measured by our appraisers) to give you an idea of the house (wow I was way off on the sq. footage in my first post - basement is unfinished approx. 1264 sq ft. . What would you do?
    Emerscape floor plan.png
  11. Beer Belly

    Beer Belly Minister of Fire

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    You're probably going in the right direction with a Pellet Stove......with a newborn, there will be little time to tend the stove, not to mention scrounging (as we call it) for free wood (maximize savings), splitting and stacking....so a Pellet Stove is the way to go. You may also want to look at back up batteries, or a generator, should you lose electricity, the Pellet Stoves require power. I cannot reccomend a stove, have no other experience on anything but what I own, but we do have plenty of people here who no thier way around. Congrats on the little bambino !
    [​IMG]
  12. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    Beer Belly - thanks for the note and congratulations. He is our second (2 boys) so I feel like I know what I'm doing this time around.

    Good point on the generator. After going 5 days without power during Nemo (and a 9 month pregnant wife) we are having a 17kw generator installed next month.. won't have to hear her complain.

    Where in CT are you from? I grew up in the northwest corner (NWCT) in a town call Warren.
  13. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'm getting a total area of 2900 sq ft, not 4500. Does 4500 sq ft include the basement?

    Personally I would go for the biggest wood burning insert that will fit. It will put out more btus, be quieter, cost less, less maintenance, present a much nicer fireview and will work during a power outage.

    Now grab a bag of popcorn.
    webby3650 likes this.
  14. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    So is the heat coming from the stove. :p

    By the time you install a generator and spend $5300 for a pellet insert it's gonna be hard to have any return on your investment for many, many years. With the high cost of fuel, the pellet insert will likely be in need of replacement by the time it's finally saving you any money. With the wood stove, at least you have the option to gather you own fuel if you choose, to help offset the cost.
    I have had both and am around both pretty often and I'm telling you, that pellet stove can't touch a wood stove in heat production. The pellet stove will heat a space nicely, but the wood stove will heat the house. It's your choice though.
  15. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    The generator and insert are two independent capex decisions for us. I do appreciate your advice but in giving this advice are you considering the conditions that I laid out in my previous posts. I'm not being critical, just wondering if you think that a wood stove would fit within my desired lifestyle. I want to save money but I want to do so with the least impact to my family's wife. I was away for work over 30 weeks last year and therefore most household activities are completed by my wife (who also works full time). As such I need to make things as easy as possible for her
  16. Beer Belly

    Beer Belly Minister of Fire

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    Live in the S/W corner.....Bethel ....originally from Westchester County NY....Ossining
  17. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    Funny I grew up in Armonk, but moved to CT in middle school. I went to high school in katonah
  18. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    So, what is the intention of the insert? If your not home to load it anyway. I really doubt your wife will want to lug 40lb bags of pellets to the stove everyday,
    especially if you count the cost of pellets, all this work for very little return.
    Have you given any thought to a direct-vent gas insert, or hearth mounted stove? If you have Natural Gas, the cost to operate will be comparable to the cost of pellets. Not to mention a prettier fire and no mess! It's worth a thought given your schedule.
    Beer Belly likes this.
  19. emerscape

    emerscape New Member

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    The goal of the insert is to save money on heat. I'm confident my wife can load a 40lb bag into the machine. She hauls around our 35lb 2yr old pretty easily.

    Interesting note I received a text from my friend that sells wood stoves. He has a customer looking to return theirs because of a blower issue and is offering to replace the entire blower unit and sell to me for a significant discount. I'm waiting to hear if it will fit my fireplace. If the stove is cheap enough it may just be worth to have it installed and burn wood for a few years and see how we like it, even if we don't maximize our fuel savings. I need to think through the numbers a bit more to see if this makes sense.
  20. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

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    Have you looked into getting natural gas to your house? Is that not fairly common in Boston? At current prices the difference to wood or pellets per BTU is not that large anymore. ( http://publicservice.vermont.gov/si..._Report/2013/March 2013 Fuel Price Report.pdf ) Plus, you would also save money during the year making hot water pretty much offsetting the remaining difference by getting completely rid off oil. Friends of us had a conversion done where they just replaced the burner relatively cheaply and with an added incentive by the gas company. They said payback would be in the 3 to 4 year range. Given your busy life right now that may be the most convenient and still cost effective route.
  21. tekguy

    tekguy Feeling the Heat

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    when I bought my house the first thing I did was call the Gas company and got them to convert me from oil to natural gas for free... if there is gas lines in the street where you are then give them a call... pellets wonts save you money over natural gas, I had a pellet stove and removed it, gave it to my mom as I was spending more running the pellet stove and running the furnace, granted my NG bill was cheaper but NG+pellets = higher then just setting the furnace thermostat and forget about it, before people flame away everyone's house is different

    http://www.harmanstoves.com/Resources/Shopping-Tools/Pellet-Fuel-Savings-Calculator.aspx


    at the time I had to convert two things over to NG for the free promo, so I did the hot water tank at the same time.. thats a double win in my book (had my own plumber install the new tank)
  22. TriMom

    TriMom New Member

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    I live in SE MA as well and our house is about 4200 SF with 1550 on each floor with 3 fireplaces and a wood burning stove in finished basement.

    We have been going through similar decision process as you have.

    One side of our house is cooler so we are putting a free standing pellet stove in the kitchen as that will continue to be an issue. If we like pellet stove we will put another on other side of the house or look at putting in a pellet furnace and connect it to our HVAC system.

    For your size house the Pellet Furnace option is likely to do best job of heating the whole house and be most cost effective compared to buying two stoves. There is a grant available to MA residents if you qualify.

    Many fireplace inserts don't burn all that long 8 hours and often less than they claim. If your wife is gone from home would your mother in law be able to haul and add wood?

    From my view pellet is easier to use on a daily but needs to maintained and cleaned on a regular basis where wood means more frequent loading daily but less maintenance.

    Have you looked cost of buying cords of wood compared to pellets in your area?
  23. Ram 1500 with an axe...

    Ram 1500 with an axe... Minister of Fire

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    Hi, I have the montpelier stove now for over a month, I burn about 5 days per week. Let me tell you first off, I don't think there is an insert out there that can do everything someone wants it to do so I say pick one that suits your biggest needs. Mine was ambiance, the way it looked, the largest glass viewing area and to get rid of my drafty wood eating fireplace. From all the pictures and research I have done, I feel I have the best insert for us. The thing is if the power went out this unit will not keep the house toasty and warm but like I said, the ambiance was more important to me then replacing my regular heat. For me it is a hobby and I want to enjoy what I'm looking at and I have exactly that. If you want to heat your home, this is not for you. Get the biggest insert available. I would consider a lopi if that was the case, I think they are more expensive. The fan on mine is a non issue, tv drowns it out when fan is on high and you can barely hear it when medium or low. Most important, be happy when spending around 4k. So far I am. As far as VC support, depending on what number you call, will be the type of quality customer service you get. I spoke to a guy last nite and he spent all the time I needed to go over my issues. Good luck, let us know what u decide
  24. canboy

    canboy Member

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    Emerscape: If the real intent here is save money on heating(and you don't have a source of free wood), then if natural gas actually is a possibility, that is the solution. Alternatively, but probably not as cheap, an air source heat pump would probably work well in Boston. If you did either of these things, then at some point you could put a more efficient, hearth mounted air tight wood stove(or insert) in your main floor family room and enjoy the flames.

    I suspect the "open to below" part on your second floor will create a stack effect in your house, making the second floor warmer than the main floor. If you have forced air heating, it would be good to run your blower on low all the time to create more even temperatures throughout the house. If you do that, it would be good if your furnace blower unit was a DC motor. It's supposed to be about $100/year to run compared to $300 for AC.

    If you are still thinking pellet stove, you should check on the price of pellets in your area to get an idea of how much they cost. Prices in my area range from $5 (current price, as the stores are trying to unload stock) to $6 or $7 mid season. You want "hard wood" pellets, not "soft wood" - it's the same number of BTU's in a bag, but less ash with hardwood. It would be nice to listen to the fan running on the Harman's to make sure they are quiet, before purchasing. I am with you on the Accentra. It's a very classic looking stove. Harman has been in the pellet stove business for a long time and to my recollection have an excellent reputation.

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