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Pellets versus Oil

Post in 'The Pellet Mill - Pellet and Multifuel Stoves' started by houset, Apr 25, 2008.

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  1. houset

    houset Member

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    Here's something i don't understand that somebody can enlighten me.. This year alone, i spent 3300 in the cost of Oil to heat my home. So I decided that for next year, that 3300 is money well spent elsewhere, so i bought a Pellet Stove (Chose it over Coal and Wood for maintenance and cleaner). From what i read, it typically takes about 3 tons to burn your pellet stove from Oct - Mar. So with Pellets being about ~200 a ton, i am looking at 600 total for the winter.

    So my question results from a few posts I've been reading that states Pellets are in-line with Oil in terms of Pricing. If that's the case, wouldn't i expect to be purchasing 15 tons of Pellets during that same time frame if Pellets and Oil are roughly the same price. Even if it was 6 tons (approx 1 ton per month), I'd still be in the black by about 2000.00 The numbers don't quite add up to me.

    I live in Central PA and within 50 miles here from 2 major pellet suppliers, so i thought this route was my best alternative. Maybe the statement aboves varies by region where pellets are much pricier.


    PS.. Clearly, i live in a very poorly insulated home, so I do plan on investing this summer in improving that aspect. (new windows and insulation in those that need it). So this winter, it will not be a full apples to apples comparison. However, I am too scared to ever attempt to burn oil for the full winter again to test it out.

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  2. TboneMan

    TboneMan Member

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    You need to be careful with your calculations. If you are using that much fuel, you'll need more pellets.

    It makes more sense to figure your total BTU requirements.

    Using estimates:

    $3,300 of fuel oil = 900 gallons of fuel

    Fuel oil BTU/gal = 139,000

    900 gallons of fuel = 1,125,900,000 BTUs

    wood pellet BTU/pound = 8500

    Wood Pellets BTU/Ton = 17,000,000

    Equiv. tons of pellets = 7.3

    I made the same mistake when I was planning my pellet stove purchase. I was using more pellets than I thought I would. I added up my propane use and performed a similar calculation and discovered that I would actually need 4-5 tons (as apposed to the typical 3 tons usually advertised) That's estimate came close to my actual pellet usage.

    Granted you're still going to save, but you pay-back time is a bit longer.

    (**Note this number are estimates, other factors impact actual usage like stove location in the house, house layout, comfort level).
  3. PutnamJct

    PutnamJct Member

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    A lot is going to depend on if you will be able to keep the house the same temperature with the pellet stove as oil. My house was designed with a FA Oil furnace and is ducted as such. With oil, you know the whole house will remain the same temperature.

    If your pellet stove is located in an area of the house that the heat will radiate throughout the house on its own(like mine) then it probably will work. At the least it will need to be able to get the heat to whatever livable space you want heated. There are many threads discussing trying to get heat from room A to room B, up and down stairs, around the bend, etc. This is probably the biggest issue when making the switch: getting the heat where you want it.

    A lot of the cost comparisons are based on BTU per dollar spent, but that debate does not take into consideration the above factors. Instead of 1200 gallons of oil, I used a little over 4 tons for the season. My 4 tons cost a little over $900 delivered. Oil at $3.59 would have cost me well over $4,000.

    I already have next years supply, I paid $955 including delivery. I don't have to worry about a mouse farting in Nigeria causing a barrel of oil to rise again. I doubt heating oil prices are going to drop substantially between now and next season. Too many farting mice and speculators making a fortune off of commodities.

    Pellets work for me. But you will get replies that will tell you that the BTU numbers do not work and that I am kidding myself. (search forum for nuclear pellets) :)

    The only numbers that will matter are your checkbook and how warm your house is.

    John
  4. davevassar

    davevassar Member

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    For my specific situation, I personally think BTU info is crap. Here's why. I have an open floorplan with 18 ft ceilings in the living area. With just oil, I go through about 100 gallons of oil per month keeping my house at 68 duriong the night, and 69-70 during the day.

    With my pellet stove, burning Barefoot pellets, with my stove on Medium high on cold days, my house stays at about 72. The master bedroom which is behind the stove setup, is usually about 2 degrees cooler. Upstairs is usually 2 degrees warmer.

    So, with oil at 3.96 per gallon burning 100 gallons per month for November, December, January and February, it would have cost me $1600 in oil at 68-70 degrees.

    Instead, I went through a ton per month at $229 per ton at 72 degrees in the living area. Which equals out to $916, which is almost a $700 savings, plus the benefit of being warmer.
  5. smoke show

    smoke show Guest

    Now that's some very good reading for those of us thinking of buying a pellet stove.Keep those comparisons coming!
    iceguy4 likes this.
  6. smirnov3

    smirnov3 Feeling the Heat

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    The thing about comparing oil to pellets on a BTU scale is that ignores where the heat goes.

    For instance, we spend most of our time downstairs (where the stove is). The upstairs is much cooler, but that's not a problem. During Jan / Feb when the upstairs is too cold, we turn the oil heat on a little at night.

    Before we bought the stove, we would burn 800 gallons of oil a winter

    this year, I went through 5 tons of pellets and 200 gallons of oil.

    5 tons (delivered) cost me $1100, and replaced 600 gallons of oil

    The lowest oil price was if we had locked in last spring @ $2.65 x 600 = $1590

    If we had bought oil @ market value during the winter, we would have paid over $1900 for that much oil

    Which is all nice, but the reason that we bought the stove was half environmental and half so that our money would go to support Canada rather than terrorists / nations that are self-proclaimed enemies of the USA (cough Venezuala cough).
  7. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    We've been through this dozens of times - but when making comparisons, only BTU's really is accurate.
    That, AND, you have to figure initial cost, servicing, parts replacement, life of product, etc.

    The reasoning is relatively simple. A person comparing to Gas (or even oil) COULD install a free standing stove which burned those fuels, and therefore save the same amount in terms of space heat vs. central heat.

    If people bought pellets stoves ONLY for a savings of money, there would be vastly fewer sold. But they don't. People have lots of reasons, from local and renewable fuel to having a fire to look at. Many people like the gadget factor....something to fuss with. Granted, at the present price of oil pellets is looking better, but keep in mind that the million+ pellets stoves out there were purchased when oil was $1.50 to $2.50 a gallon.
  8. TboneMan

    TboneMan Member

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    As I stated in my note at the end of my previous post, the example I published does not take other structural characteristics into consideration.

    My point was if he's using 800-1000 gal of fuel, he can't replace all of that heat (BTU's) with just 3 tons of pellets. The number just don't work out. He will still save a considerable amount of money (as I did) but he should plan on needing more than 3 ton of pellets.


    In davevassar's situation, he used 100 gal of oil a month. Doing the BTU estimate, that equates to 0.82 tons (41 bags). That's close enough to estimate a 1 ton per month requirement (which he states is what he uses).

    My point was to ignore the published average tonnage and estimate tonnage by actual experience. If you over estimate the number pellets you can always save them for the next year. Adjust the next purchase according to real experience.
  9. sylvestermcmonkey

    sylvestermcmonkey Member

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    houset, I created a spreadsheet to compare the cost of heating my home with oil vs. pellets and determined that pellets would indeed cost me significantly less, but I suggest going from $3300 to $600 is unrealistic. The math just doesn't add up.

    To accurately compare the two, you need to determine ALL the variables involved, the most difficult to determine will be relative efficiencies and heat content. Realistic efficiencies for pellet stoves are hard to come by, and since the grade and quality of pellets varies so widely, their BTU content is also difficult to determine. Then you have to project future repair and maintenance and a lot of other unpredictable quantities like the cost of pellets vs. oil and whether you really want to lug that many bags into your home every winter. Bear in mind the cost of pellets is not unrelated to the cost of oil either, as is so much of the stuff we do and use.

    If you want a copy of my spreadsheet PM me and I'll send it your way.

    Pellets are just one more potential fuel source, and it's a good idea to have redundant supplies of them. Right now pellets are a cheaper fuel than oil, but who knows what the future will bring. Surely our culture cannot endure $120/bbl oil without fundamental and significant change. Such "change" is rarely peaceful.

    It's also a good idea to invest in insulating your home. As long as oil, gas, pellets, coal, and electricity aren't free, that investment is guaranteed to pay for itself - eventually.
  10. PutnamJct

    PutnamJct Member

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    Using Thoneman's calculations above (7.3 tons) for the season, if OP can get pellets for $200 per ton, he is spending $1600 for 8 tons of pellets vs $3300 for 900 gallons of oil at this season's prices.

    As long as the pellet stove keeps the part of his house warm that he wants it to, he comes out ahead.

    This is purely the money argument and does not take into consideration the gadget factor, the green factor or the not giving money to Chavez, OPEC and/or Ackmajinidad factor to boot.
  11. pegdot

    pegdot New Member

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    All good points but I'd like to emphasis the difference between a central system versus a space heater. No matter how new or well insulated you lose some heat from a central system through the duct work before it reaches the living areas of your home. That is just like throwing BTU's out the window. With a space heater you get every BTU the unit produces in the living area. I'm really not certain how legitimate it is to compare a pellet stove to a central heating system of any type. It would likely be more accurate to compare it to other kinds of space heaters.

    In our situation we replaced a 100,000 BTU oil furnace with a pellet stove that's only rated to heat 2,100 sq. ft. Our house is only a little over 1,400 sq. ft. so it does a really good job of keeping us warmer than we'd be with the furnace. The big difference is that while the pellet stove does a good job of keeping a warm house warm it struggles to reheat the house if the inside temperature has dropped due to the stove being turned off or set to low. The furnace was rated to do that. The stove simply isn't so, the trick for us has been to never allow the house to get below about 65 degrees. Not a big deal but if I need to shut the stove off for cleaning I turn on a couple of ceramic heaters to help keep the temperture up.

    Just for the record we burned 2 1/2 tons in a poorly insulated house in a southern climate this year. $650 for pellets versues the minumum of $1800 we'd have spent on oil. Even with the occassional use of those ceramic heaters our power bill dropped running the stove rather than the furnace. Factor in the cost of gas to get pellets and I still figure that the stove will pay for itself before the mid point in next years heating season.
  12. iceman

    iceman Minister of Fire

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    this is a very interesting topic
    i use a pellet stove for about 800-1000 sq it beats the hell outta elec.... however, one thing that we must agree on is your setup (how well the air can move)
    and you insulation value and where you place the stove .....
    EVERYTHING is cheaper than oil right now.... 1600 for pellets is better than 3300 for oil.... but oil wil stabilize soon could be 4.25 gal or something but it will start to stabilize .... then pellets and gas will go up ...pellets will be around 300 ton within 2yrs ..but you will still be cheaper
    most of the time pellets do not equate to oil 1 for 1 ...if you spend 3500 in oil you will not spend 600 in pellets ...unless your furnace was pre 1980 or something like 60% eff and if thats the case you are prolly better to get a new furnace...
    i wouldve paid 3500+ this year in oil my house 3000+sq ft
    i did burn 2 tons of pellets
    about 4 cords of wood (from dec 1st)
    less than 100 gallons of oil (had to heat the basement kept it at 55 unless company came)
    and i do have a gas insert in my den that has therm so that stayed at 60
    normally (this year) like i said 3500 in oil (900-1000 gals)
    i spent 400 on pellets close to 1000 on wood (that was a nightmare) and gas bill was about 75 month about 30 -40 for heat
    plus 300 for oil. it cost me almost 2000 (i stillhave wood so subtract some) i saved a bunch but there were many things i had to do to "replace my furnaces eff"
    so the point i am making is to assume 3 tons is eq to 900 gallons is false MOST OF THE TIME (i would say 85-90%) unless there are other factors
    my furnace is relatively new runs at 88.7% so you can see why my savings is great but not 600-vs 3500
    i suggest you look at it like this... if you are in cold weather climate figure 1 ton a month for a cold winter from (around here) dec-mar . so for me it would be 30bags for oct and april and 25-35 bags for nov =5-6tons i would get depending on price and how much i had leftover from last year
    personally i think the op will be around 5.5 -6 tons
  13. TboneMan

    TboneMan Member

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    "The big difference is that while the pellet stove does a good job of keeping a warm house warm it struggles to reheat the house if the inside temperature has dropped due to the stove being turned off or set to low."

    I learned this lesson in a much less forgivable climate. I thought I'd be able to run the pellet stove like I run the furnace (programmable thermostat, basically only heating while at home and awake). This however, didn't work well. In order to keep the house comfortable I had to heat 24/7.

    All my "heating" appliances (range/oven, hot water, furnace, clothes drier) are propane. I calculated that the furnace accounted for 2/3 of the total propane usage. Despite having to buy more than the "average" number of pellets (I too, was hoping to get away with just 3 ton), I'm still in line to save about $1,000 this year. I'm buying 5 ton this spring. The savings from buying early vs during the heating season, equates to getting the 5th ton almost FREE.
  14. Shooter

    Shooter New Member

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    Good point. Sheet-"rock" being what it is....a huge stone heatsink covering the walls of the home....this something to keep in mind. Those rooms furthest from the stove would benefit from another (temporary) heat source to boost heat rise times.
  15. Tinman

    Tinman New Member

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    Here is a easy way to figure how many tons of pellets to order based on the number of gallons of oil used.
    7 Gallons of oil = 121 Lbs of Pellets.
    To size a stove Multiply SqFT By one of these 3 numbers If you house is well insulated X 20 Not much insulation X 40 between these two use X 30
    1500 Sq Ft House well insulated would be 1500 X 20 = 30,000 BTU
    these numbers have always worked for me
  16. MainePellethead

    MainePellethead Minister of Fire

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    I throw the BTU theory(even though it may work for some) right out the window. I am a plain and simple look at the hard core savings right in the face. I had my Quadra~Fire installed on Jan. 8th of this year....from Jan. 8th until now I used $340.00 worth of pellets and stayed toasty warm. If I was using my furnace at todays oil prices...I would have used at least $340.00 in oil JUST for January. Now THATS real "easy figuring" facts. I estimate for the whole season next winter will cost me 600-700 instead of 2 grand. Doesnt take a 30 year rocket scientist figure that no brainer out that my pellet stove is far better than my furnace. I have a pretty good insulated house. (1270 sq. ft.) Now thats my savings this winter....wheres yours? :)
  17. Tinman

    Tinman New Member

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    I installed a Harman p68 3 years ago I locked in my propane based on what I used the year before and I just finished using in 3 years what I would use in just the winter my house is just under 2400 sqft and I was nice and toasty warm I burn 5 tons a year. I have been in the heating bus. for 20 years and my pellet and coal customers call me all the time to tell me how much they saved screw the arabs this year I am doing some solar hot water!!
  18. UpStateNY

    UpStateNY Member

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    Math correction in the above post

    900 gallons * 139,000 BTUs = 125,900,000 BTUs

    The above post wrongfully stated
    900 gallons of fuel = 1,125,900,000 BTUs

    The other numbers look good.
  19. Jerry_NJ

    Jerry_NJ Minister of Fire

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    Upstate, thanks for the correction.

    For those planning, use the BTU numbers, to which please add the efficiency of the heating device. I suppose a new oil furnace (I don't know from experience as I have a geothermal heat pump/electric) gets at least 85% efficiency and doubt any pellet/wood/coal/corn stove does any better than 80%, consider equal if you like, but there is no efficiency advantage to stoves. Also add chimney cleaning, if you DIY, great then consider you work recreation if you like.

    Anyone who says they are staying warmer throughout their home by expending fewer BTUs in their home is giving you bad advice. If they use fewer BTUs they have less heat.

    Besides Geothermal Electric I use wood and hard coal, I like the Geothermal best...and as long as electric rates are held down by regulation, and I'm in an area that generates most of its electric power form coal and nuclear, the heat pump gives me the best economy, but not by much, wood and coal are close and if I gather "free" wood, well free is best. I can't find any pellets on my property after a wind storm, I do find wood.
  20. UpStateNY

    UpStateNY Member

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    Here is a handy calculator. With today's prices its looks to me that a Wood Pelllet boiler or stove could cut my heating bill of $3000 in half. That is not a bad savings. Plus burring wood pellets leaves a significantly less carbon foot print on the planet earth.

    http://www.pelletheat.org/3/residential/compareFuel.cfm
  21. ugenetoo

    ugenetoo New Member

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    i stole this from another forum but it seems appropriate.

    old proverb;
    white man build big fire. stand waaay back
    indian build tiny fire. sit close
  22. mjbrown

    mjbrown Feeling the Heat

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    price of K-1 in maine this winter... nearly 4.00 per gallon

    to fill my 275 gal oil drum 3 times...$3300.00

    if price of pellets went $300.00 per ton , and i burn 4 ton...$1120.00

    roughly $2000 savings for me next winter and didnt have to handle fire wood six times.

    that is a no-brainer for me. i will buy my pellets throughout the summer and tell the oil company where to put there oil.i have a full drum now and that should last me the next 5-6 years...i will only use it for backup in my k-1 heaters if needed.


    mike
  23. Jerry_NJ

    Jerry_NJ Minister of Fire

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    mjb,

    Just for others who take your numbers without any thought, I assume you already know.

    275gal x 3 x 0.139 MBTU = 115 MBTU
    4Tons x 17MBTU = 68 MBTU

    And this assumes the same burn efficiency, whatever it is, for Oil and Pellets. I'll be a new oil furnace is slightly more efficient.

    So while you're saving $$ you're also enjoying at least 47MBTU less of warmth/heat in your home. Folks, the message is the big (if any) savings come only if you practice the Indian proverb: "indian build tiny fire. sit close".

    To get 115 MBTUs for Pellets (100% efficiency) you'd need 115/17 = 6.75 Tons of pellets, still a savings, just not as big as some would want to believe.
  24. MoeB

    MoeB New Member

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    "Pellet stove envy" is a new psychological condition that is sweeping the country. Symptoms are varied, but one major symptom is hanging out in pellet burner message boards without owning or using a pellet stove. :)

    I know this only because I used to suffer from it. I still do to varying degrees even though I have two Harman Accentras. Whenever I see other people's stove installs, I have to resist the urge to buy another one.
  25. Jerry_NJ

    Jerry_NJ Minister of Fire

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    So much the better for my open minded input, I have indeed removed an old wood insert that worked well and own a coal airtight in my basement. I am now preparing to spend a few Thousand dollars on a new insert and a economic study (not self justification) of various fuels is in order: wood, coal, pellets, corn. I've just about decided to buy either Quadrafire 3100-I or 4100-I (upwards of $5,000 installed) for wood. There's no pellet envy here, just the facts, and here's another fact in favor of pellets (corn I assume) and coal. These are sold as measured by a "certified" scale, you get what you pay for. With delivered wood you get what the local guys want you to think a cord is, around here it is usually no more that 80% of a cord....consider that too when doing your economic study using 20+ MBTU per cord of hard wood.

    My reading and commenting on this forum is driven by a need for a decision, not as a justification for a decision made. The reading has confirmed my earlier economic study comparing wood/pellets (forget corn, our cattlemen can't get enough)...and the threat of a pellet shortage is another factor that leads me back to wood. I still have the coal stove, it can also burn wood. My conclusion, yet to be executed, is buy an new wood insert and one that will run without electricity, albeit at lower output.

    My contributions here are just part of my unbiased economic study, and has in my case nothing to do with the cost of oil, but reading I am compelled to warn others who read here mystery economics that show they'll pay off their pellet (or wood for that matter) hardware investment in a few years...when in fact it will take a lot longer, ten years may be closer and then only if the economics don't shift.
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