Pellet-burning appliances are simpler to operate and more convenient than other wood-burning appliances. In fact, they are almost as easy to use as gas, oil, or electric heaters. These stoves and inserts burn wood pellets—compressed wood which resembles rabbit food.
Typical Pellet Stove Pellet-burning appliances rely on sophisticated computers and circuit boards to determine how much pellet fuel should be burned. Most models have at least two burn settings and some use thermostats to control the fire. They also use a forced-air system to distribute heat. Pellet-burning appliances are highly efficient and pollute very little. Depending on the model, they may furnish between 10,000 and 60,000 Btu per hour.
Because these appliances burn wood so efficiently, they do not typically need a standard chimney. Rather, they exhaust fumes through a small hole in the wall to the outdoors. This pipe is called Pellet Vent or Class L chimney, and consists of a stainless steel interior and an aluminum or galvanized exterior. Pellet stoves and inserts can also be vented up through existing masonry and prefab (class A) chimneys, but the chimney typically must be relined with a smaller size of stainless steel single wall pipe.
Pellet-burning appliances need to be refueled less frequently than most other wood-burning appliances. Refueling varies from once a day to twice a week, depending on the model and your heating needs. To refuel, you simply pour the pellets into a hopper, which holds between 35 and 130 pounds of pellets. A corkscrew-shaped device called an auger then transfer pellets to the fire chamber.
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There are two types of auger feed systems, bottom-fed and top-fed loading systems. Some models are capable of burning corn in addition to pellets. Others can use lower grades of pellets, a good feature for the future when pellets may be made of materials other than premium sawdust.
Unlike other wood-burning appliances, pellet stoves and inserts rely on mechanical air-supply systems (usually a forced-draft or induced-draft system) to vent air from the home. the forced-draft system uses a fan to force air up the vent into the combustion chamber. The induced-draft system, sometimes called the negative pressure system, uses a fan to draw air from the combustion area through the exhaust system.
Burning wood with a pellet stove or insert is usually convenient, neat and safe. These devices usually don’t require refueling more than once a day and the fuel is compressed and bagged for clean and easy storage and handling. Pellet stoves produce virtually no smoke, and produce less odor than other wood-burning appliances. Moreover, the exteriors of these appliances are not used for radiating heat and stay relatively cool, preventing you from burning yourself if you accidentally touch the stove.
Pellet-burning appliances, however, have disadvantages. Before purchasing a pellet-burning appliance, make sure that reliable suppliers of the fuel are in your area. Many of the pellet fuel and pellet stove manufacturers are located in the Northwest and the Rocky Mountain region. There are however, retailers and manufacturers throughout the nation - especially in heavily forested areas. To find a pellet fuel distributor in your area, ask a local wood stove dealer or check for a listing in your local telephone directory under Fuel or Pellet Fuel.
Pellet-burning appliances also use several internal fans, which require about 100 KWH of electricity each month. The need for electricity will add to your total energy bill and will also prevent you from using your stove or insert if the power goes out (unless your appliance has a battery pack). Moreover, there are restrictions on where you can place a pellet-burning appliance to allow proper combustion and air exchange. For example, you may not install a pellet stove in a new manufactured (mobile) home according to regulations of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Pellet stoves have many moving parts and therefore require regular service and cleaning in order to function properly. Be sure to check on the warranty and the cost for yearly servicing. Ask your dealer if there are any major “wear parts” which might need regular replacement.
Most pellet-burning appliances cost between $1,200 and $3,100. If you are comparing the price of a pellet stove or insert with a gas or wood burning appliance , you should compare the total installed cost of both systems. If the pellet-burning appliance doesn’t need a chimney, the cost of the entire system may be less than that of another stove. Wood pellets are available in 40 pound bags at about $4-5 each, which translates to $200-250 per ton. Average consumption will run from 1-2 tons for occasional use to 6+ tons for a heavy full-time user.