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Head spinning: pellet or wood?

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Wear More Layers, Nov 9, 2013.

  1. Wear More Layers

    Wear More Layers New Member

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    I'm new but have read many posts. Thanks to everyone for being so informative, helpful, and polite to the uninitiated. Here's my story:

    - 1,400 sq. ft 2 story home
    - oil heat
    - live in New England
    - want to replace oil as my heat source
    - propane and natural gas aren't options

    I originally investigated free-standing pellet stoves with small footprints (such as St. Croix Element) to minimize loss of space in my small living room. I avoided wood burning stoves because the black chimney pipe is too obtrusive for the room. After an in-house visit from a dealer, I now realize that even small pellet stoves require more space than my room can accommodate. I do, however, have a fireplace in the room and won't lose any space if I place an insert into it.

    An insert means that I could go with either a wood burning or pellet insert because I no longer have to worry about ugly stove pipes. Here are my worries in choosing between pellets and wood. Of this list, what should I be focusing on?

    Fuel: Pellets seem to be widely available now. I don't ever plan to cut my own wood and would have to purchase it. It's doubtful that I can find wood dry enough to start burning now.

    Transporting inside: I have a bad back. Lugging 40 lb bags of pellets is an unpleasant thought, but at least everything is inside once I'm done. Walking in the freezing cold repeatedly to a pile of wood in the yard doesn't seem fun.

    Storage: I'd have to store pellets in my basement, making transportation worse. I have no wood shed, and unless you think it's kosher to store wood in an unfinished basement, I can't think of a good way to keep wood dry in winter.

    Heat: The dealer told me that a wood burning stove would make my living room feel like an oven. I tend to like it cool and would find an 80 room unpleasant. I'm under the impression, though, that a wood stove can heat an entire home better and more quickly than a pellet stove.

    Heating patterns: I tend to turn the heat low or off during the day and then turn it up when I get home at night. I don't know which stove better matches this pattern.

    Maintenance: The pellet forums and dealers describe pellet stoves as high maintenance relative to wood burning stoves. If you add stove maintenance to the transporting, storing, and loading of fuel, I can't figure out which stove requires less labor.

    Annual costs: Fuel + maintenance + service seems like a wash between pellets and wood, but I fear I'm overlooking something expensive.

    Models: If I buy a pellet insert, it will be the St. Croix Ashby because the dealer is 1 mile from my house. If I buy a wood insert, I'm lost. I really like the looks of flush inserts but don't know if they throw enough heat to reach upstairs. And I can't figure out what the value of a hybrid is.

    Smell: A neighbor burns wood. It's smelly and smoky. I don't want to pollute the neighborhood and can't determine which type of stove will annoy the neighbors less.

    At the moment I'm leaning toward wood, hence posting in this forum. Thanks for reading something so long.

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  2. fossil

    fossil Accidental Moderator Staff Member

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    Doesn't sound to me like you're at all a good fit for cordwood burning. Of the two, Pellet would certainly be my recommendation. In our Pellet Room forum are some folks who know everything there is to know about pellet stoves & inserts. Welcome to Hearth.com! Rick
    gandalf and PapaDave like this.
  3. The Grintch

    The Grintch Member

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    Any stove is work, I would get a pellet stove and put the the pellets Ina 5 gal bucket to reduce weight.
  4. weatherguy

    weatherguy Minister of Fire

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    Burning wood is a lot of work but for a lot of us it's a labor of love, I love going out at night to my wood piles and bringing wood in. Pellets would be easier for you once they're in the house. You may be able to get pellets in bulk where they deposit them into a bin in your basement, the pellet forum can help you more with that.
  5. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    Well, if you like it cool then a pellet stove might be the thing for you!;lol That's their specialty!
    gyrfalcon and ColdNH like this.
  6. Dakotas Dad

    Dakotas Dad Minister of Fire

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    If I knew I was ALWAYS going to be buying fuel, I would probably go pellet.

    Wood weighs the same pretty much, in sticks or pellets.

    Pellets are a bit "cleaner" than cordwood.

    Pellet stoves HAVE to have electricity, and therefore are not a good thing if you have an outage.

    Seasoned wood doesn't really have to be "kept dry". It certainly doesn't hurt anything to do so, but SURFACE moisture isn't a big issue.

    If you burn properly, there is no smelly/smokey.

    Your stove pipe doesn't have to be black.

    We can keep 2 weeks worth of wood on our porch in a 10 foot long rack. We load the rack, or top off as needed, on nice weather days.
  7. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Welcome to the Forum.

    I would recommend a pellet insert also. Humping bags of pellets from the basement will be an issue. If you think someday you will need it anyway, like I will, picking up a used handicap stair lift off of craigslist will make getting three or four bags at a time up the basement stairs a snap.

    Annual maintenance on a pellet stove is about equal with the cost of maintaining a central heating system of any type. Daily ash cleaning in some pellet stoves is a more than with a wood stove but a short dollars ash vacuum handles that nicely.

    Like Rick said. All the information in the world available in the pellet forum from real world pellet burners. They love this stuff.
    BIGDADDY likes this.
  8. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    C'mon. Pellet stoves provide an even consistent heat around the clock that even the most beloved cat stove can't match. And they have an on/off button.
  9. lexybird

    lexybird Minister of Fire

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    If you don't want much heat , get yourself a pellet stove . I would recommend the englander smaller model pellet stove
  10. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    So does a gas stove, oil stove or a stoker coal stove. It's just not my thing, been there done that! I was in such denial and defended it like crazy until I put my first wood stove in. Around here gas is cheaper to run than pellets, comparable to oil.

    That being said, I would still burn pellets before gas!
  11. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    I was the opposite. Burned cord wood and laughed at pellet stoves for a lot of years. Bought one as a training tool to start providing maintenance on the things and discovered that they are nice heaters. In fact in a couple of years my 30-NC in the fireplace is probably gonna turn into a pellet insert.

    If there isn't a gas line within sixteen miles of your house the stuff could be free and it wouldn't matter. Like here. And I would never have the stuff in my house anyway. I have never heard of a pallet of pellets or a wood stack exploding.
    newbieinCT and webby3650 like this.
  12. Dave A.

    Dave A. Minister of Fire

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    Have you looked into high efficiency mini-split heat pumps, like the Mitsubishi Hyper Heat? They don't need elec resistance backup, and run at full output down to 5F and put out temps in the 100F and higher range (warmer air than old style heat pumps). So costs are fairly competitive with NG unless your elec rates are extremely high. Equipment and installation costs are comparable to other alternatives. And of course it's set it and forget it.

    Based on your criteria, I don't think you'd be happy with either a pellet stove insert or a wood stove insert. The pellet is going to require a lot of routine maintenance and repair aside from the fuel storage and transport. If you hire out the maintenance and repair to a dealer, the costs of the whole thing quickly get out of hand.

    The advantage of easy venting of a pellet stove directly out a wall is lost if you have to run a full liner for it in a fireplace. Pellet stoves are reportedly high maintenance. A non-catalytic wood stove insert (one that doesn't require a blower) is probably one of the lowest maintenance heating choices. After you learn how to use it properly, you might not have to clean the flue very often (though it should be checked). You do need to shovel out the ash one or a few times a week, but even that is not as critical as the ash cleaning of a pellet stove. My understanding is pellet stoves require scrupulous cleaning, and even clean burning is not going to reduce that need for flue cleaning as it will with a wood stove. But then you've got the wood issue.

    As far as cost of fuel even though you say you wouldn't be cutting your own, you still could be scrounging--getting some or a lot of free wood to burn (probably not until after the first season when you've explored the options). That's not really an option with the pellets, unless you foresee getting free corn or shells somewhere.

    There are a number of members here who store firewood in their basements and garages. Once the wood has dried out, bugs are not really an issue.

    After my first season with a too small wood stove insert, I had pretty much had it and was going to get a pellet stove and rely on that (and stop using the wood stove) instead of propane. Until I thoroughly researched it. Equipment costs for the pellet stove I wanted were about 33% higher than for the wood stove insert I wanted to replace my Century with (one more appropriately sized for my 2500 sf house).

    That was my biggest complaint, having to load the stove every couple hours and still not have enough heat. Once I got the right size wood stove, I found I could get away with loading it only a few times a day and keep the house warmer than I had been with propane. I didn't like having to bring in wood every day. So I bring it in about once a week to ten days or so. In time I'll make more room to store even more inside. Some store more than a cord (30 days or so) in their basements or garages.

    Last spring my wood guy (worked out a special price for buying multiple cords) dumped it (a cord at a time) in the driveway, and I stacked it and covered it and didn't really think about it again until I started using it this fall. Have about 6 cords which should last until into next season.

    First two seasons I waited until the fall to get it and then only a minimal amount. It's important to get ahead of it. I've also found places where I can get free cut offs and will pick up free firewood when I see it available locally.

    All things considered I am happy I stayed with wood, but I already had been through a season of dealing with buying storing and hauling wood, so I had somewhat gotten used to wood -- eventually it becomes a hobby:).
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2013
  13. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Having had a good pellet stove in the living room I can say there are a couple bullet points missing from the list. First is noise. A pellet stove is a small wood furnace with several blowers going at once. Get the quietest one you can if this is the choice. The other thing is fire view. A vertical torch flame is not the same as a good firewood fire. It is still interesting, but not as relaxing.
    That said, a pellet stove on a digital thermostat is very convenient. Just like a furnace and a coffee maker it's nice to come down in the morning to a warm house and cuppa joe. But now with a good 24/7 wood stove I get the best of both worlds.
    gyrfalcon likes this.
  14. Sprinter

    Sprinter Minister of Fire

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    Disclaimer: I've never had a pellet stove. The fuel storage issue may be a tie breaker. If you don't have the space to store at least two years worth of cord wood and that may be six or eight cords, then pellets may be a good answer. You can always buy more pellets when you run out. You can carry pellets in a 5 gallon bucket if you can't handle a full bag.

    From what I read, any reliability issues seem to be pretty well resolved by now. Blower and feeder noise are common complaints, but you can probably find a quiet one out there. They do require electricity, but a lot of users have a small generator for emergencies. If you do decide to go pellet, just get a really good one to avoid those issues.

    Having said that, if you can get around the fuel issues, a wood stove is really nice...
  15. blades

    blades Minister of Fire

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    Option 3: Wood stove + compressed wood bricks ( giant pellets) best of both worlds for your particular requirements.
    newbieinCT, BIGDADDY and CenterTree like this.
  16. eclecticcottage

    eclecticcottage Minister of Fire

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    After reading your post, I have to wonder why you want to do either. You'll have to get bags of pellets into and out of your vehicle or have them delivered, then get them into your basement, then back upstairs. Wood would have to be stacked or you'd have to pay for it to be stacked-once it's seasoned you can put a years worth in the basement (my grandparents did this) so you don't have to go outside for it.

    BUT if you're paying for pellets or wood...and don't seem interested in the work of either...why not just keep your oil heat? Neither are for everyone.
    joescho, gyrfalcon and brokenknee like this.
  17. simple.serf

    simple.serf Feeling the Heat

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    We talked about gong cordwood or pellet when we bought our house. I knew at the time that we were loosing our gas connection, and that oil was $4.50/gal. I grew up with cordwood, and have free access to all the firewood I could want. In my case, if I had to buy, I still would have gone with cordwood. It's familiar, less of a commodity (more stable price), and most sellers would basically be my neighbors (I live in a small town).

    In your case, finding a pellet insert that you like would probably be the best idea.
    gyrfalcon likes this.
  18. Wear More Layers

    Wear More Layers New Member

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    Holy smokes. I didn't anticipate so many replies already. Thank you. My thought so far:
    - natural gas: the gas company already indicated that there's no way they will extend gas lines to my street. Not enough residents to make it worth their effort
    - Mitsubishi Hyper Heat. I'm going to look into it. CT has some of the highest electric rates in the country, so I'm wary of astronomical electric bills.
    - blade's option #3 of wood stove plus compressed wood. Sounds ideal, but the nearest NIEL dealer is too far away to deliver. I can get biobricks, though. Would they be cost-effective as a heat source relative to pellets?
    - reason for wanting to choose anything over oil: Even with a price cap, I've been paying up to $4.10/gal. for oil for several yrs.

    - Unstated reason why I favor wood stove over pellet stove: Aesthetics. I think pellet inserts are ugly, and pellet flames are lame. If I could have hidden a pellet stove in a corner, that would have been the way to go. With an interior fireplace front and center in the room, an insert will be very noticeable. I'd prefer something less brutish, such as a flush wood insert with real flames.

    So…
    1. heat pump will be investigated for cost to run, plus whether I need 1 upstairs and another downstairs.
    2. will troll pellet forum for inserts that aren't ugly and can throw nice flames
    3. would love advice on whether anyone heats exclusively with compressed wood such as biobricks.
  19. gchunter

    gchunter Member

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    I am going to agree with begreen here. Having had a freestanding pellet stove in the corner of my living room for several years the constant noise of the 2 blowers is why I put in a freestanding wood stove this fall. There are two blowers, one for combustion, and one for circulating the hot air. I am enjoying the peace and quiet of my new stove and also the warmth.:) If you decide on a pellet stove head over to the pellet stove forum for advice.
    gyrfalcon likes this.
  20. Wear More Layers

    Wear More Layers New Member

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    I looked at wood stoves today and learned three things:
    1) the dealer I visited thinks hearth.com is "dangerous" and that I shouldn't trust what I read here;

    2) all of the wood stove inserts I could find won't fit my firebox shape. The back wall of my firebox slopes forward. Whereas the depth of the firebox at the base is 20", the depth at the top of is only 13". Looks like I'm outta luck should I decide to go with wood.

    3) wood inserts offer even more ambiance than I thought when compared to pellet inserts. There's no comparison.

    Sigh. Back to the drawing board. Or to heat pumps.
  21. weatherguy

    weatherguy Minister of Fire

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    These guys deliver to your area and these are on par with NIEL's

    http://www.hearthwise.com/page/page/506662.htm
  22. gchunter

    gchunter Member

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    Hearth.com is dangerous.......mmm.... seems to me there is a lot of great knowledge here. To me knowledge is a good thing. The gentleman that worked at the stove shop where I bought my stove had never heard of hearth.com. Every time I went there he was sitting at his computer cruising the internet. You would think he would make himself more knowledgeable about the products he is selling. Duh!!!
    gyrfalcon likes this.
  23. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Based on the assessment I would concentrate on 1. and 3. The HyperHeat units are amazing. Yes there are some folks that do heat exclusively with compressed fuel. It takes a little practice, but the BioBrick product is safe and practical to use, though it costs more than cord wood. Do you have space to store several cords of wood for future years?
  24. Sprinter

    Sprinter Minister of Fire

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    Hurry, get out now while you still have the chance!
  25. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Your dealer is correct. You should not trust every opinion. There are good and bad opinions abounding on the internet. But at least here we are not trying to sell you something. A good dealer is going to welcome an informed buyer.

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