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Pellet Stove vs. Wood fireplace

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Lemms, Oct 18, 2006.

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  1. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    Hello...
    I'm a newby here, so bear with me....
    I live in WI, and am looking to take some load off of my natural gas demands...
    So, I am contemplating on putting in either a wood fireplace or a Quadra-Fire pellet stove.
    Let's factor out the cost of the fuel. Let's say that I would have to either buy the firewood for the fireplace or the wood pellets for the pellet stove.
    Which option would be more efficient?
    If it matters, I live in a 1,600 sq. ft. ranch home. The basement is not finished. So, the fireplace or pellet stove would be placed on the main (only) level against an exterior wall between the living room and kitchen.

    I started out leaning towards the fireplace because of the asthetics. However, after looking at some of the pellet stoves out there and what you can do with them, I could probably make a pellet stove look just as nice in the house. So, I have pretty much changed my mind away from a fireplace towards a pellet stove. I just want to make sure that I gave the wood fireplace it fair shake...

    Thanks much...
    Lemms

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  2. spot

    spot New Member

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    Pellet Stove
    PROS


    -Pellet stoves are convenient. You can start the fire simply by pushing a button or adjusting a thermostat.

    -Pellet stoves are clean burning and therefore better for air quality. Also, some pellets are made from waste materials created from the manufacture of wood products such as furniture and lumber – material that would otherwise be useless.

    -Pellet stoves burn more efficiently and create less ash than wood, making clean up less of a hassle.

    -Pellets requre less storage space and are easier to handle.

    -Pellets are typically packaged in 40 lb bags which can be easily stacked and transported.

    -Pellet stove heat is easily regulated by using a thermostat or changing the heat output directly on the stove itself.

    Pellet Stove
    CONS


    -Pellet stoves are mechanical and therefore more prone to failure than a wood or gas stove, particularly if they are not properly maintained.

    -Pellet stoves require electricity to run the various fans and motors. This adds to the cost and if you lose your power you lose your heat.

    -Pellet stoves make a noise – a constant, dull, mechanical rumble.

    -Pellet stove fires are not as pleasing to look at as those of a wood stove or even a gas stove. The fire is small, intense, and concentrated in the burn pot.

    -Pellet stoves need ongoing maintenance to keep them performing well. As well as having the stove cleaned by a professional yearly, you need to weekly and monthly maintenance on your own.

    -Pellets cost more than wood and can be in short supply from time to time.

    Fireplace
    Pros


    -Aesthetics of the fire - smell, crackling sound, dancing flames

    -The experience of chopping wood and physically building a fire

    -Firewood is readily available in many areas

    -Can be used as supplement heat source

    Fireplace
    Cons


    -Cleaning the fireplace; emptying and hauling ashes

    -Cost of wood is often greater than gas

    -Requires a chimney

    -May cause odors and smoke

    -Fire requires continual attendance

    -Inconsistent heat output

    It boils down to what you want most. If you want heat: go with a pellet or woodstove. If you want ambiance: fireplace.
    Most people here at Hearth.com have a woodstove for heating purposes. Some have a pellet stove for heating purposes. A few (myself included) have a traditional open fireplace for ambiance, romance, and a place for Santa.
  3. MrGriz

    MrGriz New Member

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    Welcome to the forum, I'm pretty new here myself. Just my .02:

    I currently have an open fireplace. Love the ambiance of an open wood fire, it's really hard to beat. It doesn't, however, do much at all for heating...unless you like the smell of burning hair and the sound of the heat kicking in....

    In an attempt to suppliment my electric heat in the future, I am looking at a fireplace insert. I did look at pellet inserts, but have gravitated to wood for the following reasons:
    Still love thelook of the wood fire
    Like to cut, split and stack wood (sounds crazy, but it's great outdoor exercise and preceeds a cold beer or six very well!)
    Wood is in better supply and cheaper in my area
    Wood insert will work without power (part of this whole idea for me is to cut down on electric usage)
    Less moving parts and maintenance with the wood insert
    Still love the look of the wood fire

    These are just my reasons and opinions. Pellet stoves and inserts definitely have their pluses. There is much less work associated with the fuel and they give a more consistent and more easily varied heat output. Did I mention that I still love the look of the wood fire?

    Spot did a great job of pointing out more of the pros and cons of each. In the end, you just have to weigh them in your situation. Whichever you choose, you will be able to take a bite out of the gas bill.

    I'm in Waterford, WI (southeastern), what part of the state do you live in?

    Good luck :)
  4. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    You are not comparing equal heating sources... as a matter of fact, you are comparing a heat source (pellet stove) to a heat loss device (basic fireplace). Sort of like comparing a Prius to a Hummer. Fireplaces heat up the room they are in, and cause heat loss in the rest of the house by sucking in cold outside air in to your outlying rooms. You should be comparing a pellet stove to a wood stove, or a wood insert in your fireplace. Then you are at least comparing two similar concepts. For cost savings, I think a wood insert would beat a pellet stove/insert hands down, pellets are expensive. But, pellets are convenient, wood can be a pain, but for some its a labor of love. Plus, the flame in a wood insert looks real, compared to pellet stoves, which have all the warm fuzzy feeling of a blast furnace flame. If you have access to Anthracite Coal, definitely take a look at coal stoves. All the convenience of pellets, at 1/3 the fuel cost. Harman's DVC-500 is a spectacular machine.

    Good luck...

    -- Mike
  5. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    Spot, thanks for all of the pros and cons... Very helpful. I also enjoy cutting and splitting firewood (along with the beer or 6 that follow). However, my wife isn't as big of a fan of bring "dirty" firewood into the house. Although she also isn't a big fan of the 67-68 setting of the thermostate. She wants heat... I like the look of the fireplace. That is why I was looking at the Mt. Vernon (Quadra-Fire) pellet stove; it seemed to offer a lot of glass are to view the flames...
    MrGriz, thanks for the information as well... Can I put in a fireplace insert without having a current fireplace?
    I am from Edgar, WI (central). I can get preium hardwood pellets for $180/ton. SO, that seemed pretty descent.

    I am really torn right now... I don't want to make a wong decision. The the whole "new" Mt. Vernon model topic comes into this whole discussion. However, I am not a fan a buying a model in it's first year. Does anyone know how long the current (not new) Mt. Vernon model has been out. Should most of the bugs be worked out?

    Thanks...
    Lemms
  6. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    Mike...
    So, I don't currently have a fireplace. Can I install a fire insert?
    It seems silly that I would first have to install a fire place and then take it out to install a fireplace insert...
    I don't mean to sound dumb, but I'm just not that familiar with everything that is out there...

    Lemmer
  7. MrGriz

    MrGriz New Member

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    Lemms
    You can put a wood stove in without an existing fireplace, just like the pellet stove. The stove is just basically an insert with its own "cabinet".

    Mike makes a good point, you really are comparing apples to oranges. If you don't currently have a fireplace, you should be comparing the pellet stove to a wood burning stove. You did find the right place to ask your questions, these guys have been a world of help to me in the short time since I found this site.

    Keep asking questions until you feel comfortable enough to make your decision.
  8. Rhone

    Rhone Minister of Fire

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    I went through this as well. Here's what also needs to be considered.

    Pellets are noisy, there's an auger that turns, there's pellets that clunk down, there's fans that blow. An insert has fans only. Pellet units have a lot of parts, it's inevitable they break more frequently. They must have power to operate, lose power for several days and you're screwed with a pellet stove, not so with an insert which can still heat without power. I pay about $10/month to run my insert a pellet stove would cost $25-$30/month. Around here, pellets are expensive. I paid $740 total for all the wood I need for winter. To do the same with pellets, I'd spend $1125. I can usually scrounge a cord, can't do that with pellets. Pellet flames are also about as romantic as watching a blow torch. So, on a purely money standpoint there's little question a wood burning insert is cheaper.

    But, can you handle wood? You need to gather it, or have it dropped off. Afterward, you need to stack it and it takes up yard space. Usually it remains outside, and you have to go out in the cold to bring in the days supply after it's collected all sorts of critters & dirt. Then, deal with killing the critters that end up in your house as the wood warms. Do you have time to start fires? I have to get up 20 minutes earlier in winter so I can stoke the fire. With a pellet stove, for the most part it's dump a bag, press on, and you're done. The heat output isn't stable with a wood unit, you can't load up a wood insert and have it fire up at 4pm before you get home like you can a pellet stove, instead you're garunteed to come home to a cold house and have to spend time stoking a fire, after several hours your house will be warm. Wood burning units need their glass cleaned, and that's not easy.

    Each has their pluses and minuses and aimed at different crowds. Pellet stoves are more convenient, but you pay for it.

    *EDIT* I assumed you had a fireplace already and looking for either the pellet to go in it or a wood burning insert. If you don't have a fireplace and considering wood I'd go with a wood stove (convection or otherwise) or a fireplace that's intended to heat a house with either a cat or secondary burn. One that's EPA approved like http://stoveshoppe.com/product.asp?Product_Id=229079&d_Id=5987&l1=5970&l2=5987 which is 72% efficient and 2.5 grams/hr. Looks like a fireplace but it's very efficient. Definetely don't get one of the open fireplace energy losers. Spot beat me to many of the points. Spots avatar and the genetics of Calico cats is interesting, and why they're almost all female.
  9. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    So, in comparing the pellet stove, should I be using a wood burning stove or a fireplace insert? Or do both compare?

    Efficiency wise, are pellets or raw wood better? I heard that pellets are. If that is true, then a 60,000 btu pellet stove should be more efficient than a 60,000 btu wood stove or fireplace insert. Right? (Factoring out the cost of the pellets of course...)

    So, are you guys saying the the aesthetics (the flame) of large pellet stove aren't that great?

    Like I said earlier...My main objective is to save money on my natural gas bill. So, I am looking for my best alternative. The convience of a pellet stove is inviting, especially for my wife. I guess that I can always make woods with my brothers... :)

    Still up in the air...
    Lemms
  10. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Go with a free-standing woodstove and get the fireplace out of your vocabulary.

    As mentioned above, a fireplace is not for heating.

    Go with a woodstove that has a large window to view the fire. Your wife will be happy when its 80 inside, and freezing rain outside.

    If ya don't want to deal with cordwood, get a pellet stove.
  11. Roospike

    Roospike New Member

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    I have seen a few comments about "firewood" and "dirt" and making a "mess".
    Fire wood dont have to make a mess and it dont have to be "dirty" in your home.

    Just simply bring your wood into your home in 1 or more rubbermaid containers and when you are ready to add more wood just take your rubbermaid container to the front of your wood stove / fire place and take the wood out and in to the fire. Simple.

    You can store your fire wood in the house with a rubbermaid style container with a lid if you are worried about bugs { i have seen 1 in the house in 5 years - unsure if it was from wood }
  12. skypager

    skypager New Member

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    If you choose to go with wood a unit like a Jotul or Vermont Castings (and a few other cast iron stoves) can be used with open doors and screen in for the "fireplace" feel. Not very efficient to use them this way and you would need to have a good draft, but its nice when you don't need the full heat and just want to see a crackling fire. Kinda the best of both worlds.
  13. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    One of the reasons I see stated from time to time is that having that dirty wood in the house is not cool with my wife.

    (never seems to be the other way around for some reason) In reality, if you have a stove with an ash pan, I can't imagine that the wood is much if any more dirty than pressed logs or pellets. You need a good container for the wood, but other than that...It's not dirty. My kids and chips or popcorn cause 10 times the mess that the wood stove does. Got a dog? Not even close to how much mess a dog causes. My cat causes more mess eating than my wood stove does, and smells more too.

    When I had a fireplace that was messier than a wood stove also.

    And you really do have to discuss cost. Pellets will not save you anything over natural gas at this point especially if you factor in the cost of the stove.
  14. Rhone

    Rhone Minister of Fire

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    I guess I do things differently. I take 5-6 pieces of wood out of my small inside storage and pile it up on my hearth which causes dirt, bark, and spiders to come off. I then quickly open my insert and fill her up fast as I can leaving a mess where it lay on the hearth. The reason was because my draft was so bad opening the door until I shut it all the smoke poured into the living area and if open for more than several seconds set the smoke detectors off. I had it down to a science, swing the door open, and with each hand alternating grab a log and put it in and I'd be done by the time the door swung closed and not enough smoke to set the alarms off.

    Now that I've got mynew liner rig going, and it's drafting insane I can probably load directly instead of doing that nonsense. This made me realize I was still loading like the old way out of habit.
  15. CrazyAboutOrchids

    CrazyAboutOrchids New Member

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    A women's point of view....

    If your wife isn't into wood, don't even consider an insert - go with a pellet stove.

    We have an insert, it was my idea. I scrounge wood, hubby splits it, I haul it out back, he stacks it. As needed in the winter, we haul it into the garage and stack a supply in there. When burning at times like the past few days, I just get the wood from the stack out back as we haven't moved any into the garage yet. I am the one who hauls it upstairs to the wood box, starts up the fireplace every morning, cleans out the ashes, vacuums up the dust and wood mess and to be honest - I love it. But then again, as hubby said to me this weekend when I moved a cord of wood for him, I do things that many men in our neighborhood wouldn't do.

    I was the one who wanted the insert and I am happy as a clam with it and it's work and mess. Before the insert, hubby sat all day in his temperature controlled office while I froze at home trying to save money on our bills. I only warmed up the house when he came home. Now, with the insert, I am as warm or as cold as I want to be and I am not dependant on anyone other than myself for my comfort.

    If your wife isn't into the work and commitment of burning wood - opt for the pellet stove. It's cleaner, it's easier and she won't be on your case about all the stuff you are tracking into the house. On the other hand, if your wife is up for a commitment on her part, go for the woodburnign insert and don't look back. Just be sure she is on board and agrees with all the pros and cons ahead of time or else you may be spending a lot of money for a heavy hunk of metal that sits there wiht no one to tend to it.
  16. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    I thought you already had a fireplace. If you don't, I'd recommend a regular wood stove instead of an insert.

    FYI, regarding wood "mess," there are lots of ways to reduce it to almost nothing. My wife is a neat freak, God forbid I track some dirt or wood debris into the living room... I use a 2 stage wood pile to stove process. The wood is stacked outside, but I keep 1/4 cord downstairs in the basement. That way, its nice and even drier from sitting in the basement... and I don't have to keep going outside every time I need to reload the stove. Then I bring the wood from the basement up to the stove as I need it. We have a huge wicker Easter basket near the fireplace with a cloth liner in it. I put the wood in there, keeps any bark bits or dirt in the liner.

    -- Mike
  17. MrGriz

    MrGriz New Member

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    Don't want to stray too far from your original question Lemms, but I have to agree. Firewood in the house DOES NOT have to be dirty or messy. It's really all about how you handle the wood. The suggestion of the rubbermaid container is a great one.

    Personally, I still burn my open fireplace (for another month or so!) and don't have any problem with dirt or bugs from the wood in my house. My biggest problem is getting yelled at for tracking mud in on my shoes when I go out and in (that could be for the wood, the paper, the mail, the air or a sack of pellets, take your pick).

    I also agree that you will not realize the cost savings by installing a pellet stove. Wood is work...A toasty warm house is a good thing...A tiny energy bill is definitely worth it! (by the way, did I say that I love the look of a wood fire?)
  18. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    Thanks everyone....
    I'm sure that I'm not done throwing things off of you all yet. However, I need to go for now...
    One last comment about not realizing a drop in cost while using a pellet stove...
    Lat winter, I spent about $1,000 in natural gas heating my house... If I can get a ton of premium wood pellets for $180,
    that sounds like a drop of about $820 in fuel costs... Now, I'm not naive enough to think that I won't use anymore natural
    gas for heating purposes, but let's say that I still use $200 worth of it. That still leaves me with a $620 savings...
    At that rate, the pellet stove should pay for itself in about 4 years....
    Or am I missing something here?

    Thanks again EVERYONE...
    Lemms
  19. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    Yeah, you're missing the fact that a ton will last you one month, so unless you are heating a home in South Carolina, you'll need at least 3 tons.

    -- Mike
  20. MrGriz

    MrGriz New Member

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    From some of the other posts I've been reading here I would buy all you can store at that price.
  21. Lemms

    Lemms New Member

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    Okay...So I am naive.
    Well, let's still say $180/ton x 3 = $540. Compared to $1,000 in natural gas...
    Eventually, I should come out ahead, not?

    I don't know...
    Lemms
  22. GVA

    GVA Minister of Fire

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    3-4 tons seems to be the norm but that is with the temp in stove area probably 10 degrees warmer than you are used to..... With a zone heater you have to have it set a bit warmer to have the surrounding areas being as warm as a central heating system... My wife loves the warmth throughout the house we used to set back t-stat while at work with NG now we just let it run steady at 75* and still save a couple of hundred $ a year :)
  23. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

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    Wow Sandy, your hubby is lucky!

    My lady can pack a stove so full for an overnight burn that fitting a twig in there in nearly impossible!

    Good job and pat yourself on the back!
  24. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    Sigh...this is unbelievable...If My wife is happy with a wood stove ANYONE can be. My wife is the queen of convenience.

    Still she LOVES the stove....Loves the warmth and the fire burning. Granted...I'm VERY diligent about keeping up on it being clean, but I knew that if it were a mess it wouldn't fly. Still, she has no problem loading when needed. I mean get real...tossing a log on once every few hours is not hard. (two boys to fetch wood helps a lot though)

    But from a womans point of view...Just two mornings ago (when the stove was burning from the latest picture I took over on the picture forum) she came down from her shower in the morning...and said to me..."I LOVE our wood stove...I'm so glad its there..nice and warm...very cozy"
  25. Jay Shank

    Jay Shank New Member

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    i'm sure Warren will agree there are stoves that have a good fireview.(osborn1600&1800 with the baydoor).and way more effic than a fireplace
    Jay
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