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Wood Pellet Stoves: A Revolution in Wood Burning Technology

For off-the-gridders and others with a hankering for self-reliance, wood stoves have become a popular home heating choice. Wood stoves are relatively easy to install, and they usually give off quite a bit of heat, sometimes even enough to cook with. There is also a sense of nostalgia connected to wood stoves, which is no doubt helping fuel people’s renewed interest in this technology. These stoves carry us back to a time when people lived simply and relied on their own labor to keep their loved ones warm, well fed, and secure. Many of us probably remember cozy family cabins or other similar types of retreats where we used to spend time on weekends or during vacations, and we may have fond memories of cutting, chopping, carrying, and loading wood into the old-fashioned stoves that were used to heat those wonderful places.

But while wood stoves have a certain rustic charm, they are also inconvenient, time consuming, and even somewhat dangerous. They are a bear to clean, and they have a tendency to overheat and belch smoke. If you own one of these old-fashioned stoves, you have probably discovered that it takes a lot of work to harvest enough wood to meet your wood burning needs for an entire winter (or that it costs you a lot of money if you are purchasing it from someone instead).

Fortunately, there is another alternative available that preserves the most efficient and most attractive features of the traditional wood stove, but without creating a fire risk or costing anywhere near as much in time, money, and/or labor. What we are talking about here are wood pellet stoves, and if you don’t know anything about them, you might be pleasantly surprised when you find out what they have to offer the prospective wood stove owner.

Wood is More Good Than Ever

Because the technology of wood burning has advanced significantly over the years, anyone buying a wood pellet stove will reap the benefits of this evolution. For example, the newest wood pellet stoves do not get hot on the outside, thereby reducing fire risk dramatically. These stoves are designed to prevent smoke from backing up into the house, and many are outfitted with removable ash pans that make cleaning the interior of the stove a breeze in comparison with an old-style wood stove.

As for the wood burning itself, pellets have an advantage over unprocessed wood because their small, customized shape allows the stove to be packed more fully. Additionally, the density of the compressed wood facilitates a more thorough and efficient form of burning that reduces the amount of waste product left unconsumed. Pellets are made from recycled wood byproducts like sawdust and wood shavings, which means they don’t require any trees to be felled just to provide firewood. Another great thing is that because the materials used to make wood pellets are essentially just waste products, the cost of the wood fuel a pellet stove owner must purchase is relatively inexpensive. As a guideline, you can expect to spend approximately five to seven dollars for a forty-pound bag of pellets, which could be enough to keep a modest-sized home heated for up to two days.

Old-fashioned wood stoves needed to be loaded constantly, by hand, and if someone didn’t get up in the middle of the night to feed them, the fire could go out and the house could be freezing cold by the morning. But wood pellet stoves usually come equipped with an electronic thermostatic system that monitors fire temperature and automatically adds pellets to the fire when it starts to produce less heat. The hopper that holds the wood pellets only needs to be loaded once a day, or once every other day with some pellet stoves, and a device called an auger will transfer pellets from the hopper to the fire chamber in response to the signals it receives from the electronic control system. Depending on the size of the pellet stove purchased, the hopper may hold anywhere from 30 to 130 pounds of pellets when filled to the brim.

Wood pellet stoves are usually manufactured to plug in easily to any type of home heating vent system. There are also pellet stoves that can be inserted into the older style of wood stove, allowing for an easy transition to the newer and better technology. The cost of a new wood pellet stove generally runs from $1000 to $2500, which is not an inconsiderable investment, but once the stove is installed, your heating costs will decrease by a significant amount, since wood pellets are a cheap source of heat in comparison to electrical heating energy purchased from the grid. This means that a wood pellet stove will pay for itself in just a few years time.

Finding wood pellet suppliers can be challenging in some parts of the country, but it is now possible to purchase pellets from a few dealers who sell online if you cannot find anyone who sells them in your area. Be forewarned, however, that if you expect to buy your pellets this way, you probably will have to purchase them in bulk, and you will have to pay delivery costs as well. But thanks to the Internet, lack of access to reliable supplies of pellets should no longer be a deterrent to anyone who is thinking of buying a wood pellet stove as a heat source for their home.

©2011 Off the Grid News

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

20 comments

  1. Those heaters are ok until an emp hits then the old fashioned stoves will start to look pretty good.

    • Or a winter storm, riot, earthquake, etc. shuts down the electrical grid. If one is reliably generating and storing their own power, this might be a good choice but, otherwise, you are again at the mercy of “The Grid”.

  2. Another problem with pellet stoves is that you are limited to a fuel supply that has to be supplied by others. That would seem to be contrary to the position of self sufficiency that Off The Grid News has championed in the time that I have subscribed to it. Although I agree with many of the claims made in the article, I still prefer my woodstove made by a well known manufacturer that can be used with wood that I harvest if I so choose or wood from a local supplier. While the weather has been relatively mild, it’s stiil been nice not having to fill the oil tank every month and only burning about 1/3 a cord a month.

    • I have a pellet mill and am learning how to best use it. There is a lot to figure out and the documentation wasn’t that good (comes from China). The one real advantage to a pellet stove is it is forced air…you don’t need a tall chimney to provide a hot air column for the draft. To install the stove, you simply have to cut a hole in the wall (about 16″) and a 2 foot insulated exhaust tube, and you’re done. Given the choice between a pellet stove and a wood insert into an existing fireplace, I’d go with the insert. I have 2 pellet stoves and two inserts. You can produce pellets, but it is a lot of work, and my efforts aren’t equal to commercial pellets yet. You have to put out effort cutting wood for the insert, but more than likely the wood is downed wood that you’d have to be cutting up anyway, so there is no or little additional effort. The pellet is generally cleaner than the standard wood insert however.

      I’ve produced pellets from waste materials, sawdust, ground up twigs, bark, cardboard, pine cones, pine needles, and I’ve got tons of this stuff, so its kind of neat to not be buying oil or electricity from the grid. I have solar panels and batteries, but haven’t tried running off these to power the auger and fan for days. It will power the fan on the insert, but it is over 100 watts, so not insignificant. Of course, we also have generators, so cloudy days or night time hopefully won’t cause problems.

      • One thing I forgot to mention, we stopped by the place that we buy oak wood fuel pellets from, ($5 for 40 lb bag) and they don’t have a shipment in sometimes. So we also saw they had wood pine pellets for horse bedding and other bag for cat litter, and tried both of those and they work great. The horse pellets were $6 for 40 lb bag, the cat bags were small and likely more on per pound basis. It seems like you can put about anything in a pelletizer and it burns well, the energy content doesn’t vary that much from one type of material to another IMHO. We can buy a pallet of 50 bags for $250 and it will last a year or more at the rate we burn it, and that is using strictly using commercial pellets. Now that I’m making my own, I’m mixing it half and half with the home made stuff, as I’m still trying to figure the best way to dry the pellets before storing them. I’m currently making a number of 1/4″ wire mesh drying trays.

  3. Sorry about the above. We have had a wood pellet stove for a few years now, that is inserted into our fireplace. Personnally, I like the ambiance of the fireplace, but as a true heat sorce, it is not exacttly efficient. We have also had a wood burning stove in the past. It does make a lot of heat, but it is capable of getting too hot which can be a problem, and the effort of getting the ammount of wood needed to keep the house warm is indeed a lot of work. That I cooked on it all the time was one of my favorite advantages of it. The stove we have now burns not only wood pellets, but corm kernals, soy beans, or biomass products. (I am not sure what biomass is. Maybe you could do an article of that?) Instead of burning wood pellets, we burn corn. At first I objected, thinking that corn should have some more important use that to heat my house, but my husband buys it in bulk directly from a nearby farmer, who must sell his crop to live, for whatever purpose. He goes with his pickup truck and buys a ton at a time,, which we store in a large bin he built on the side of the house. We have found that the dried corn kernals burn much hotter than the wood pellets, and leave even less waste. I know nothing about the other fuels.

    • Corn Kernels! How brainy is that. Dried corn kernels!!!! What kind of price do you pay? is it cheaper than pellets? I would think a lot cheaper. And you think it burns more efficiently than the pellets?

      You may respond to me directly to my email…otherwise I may miss seeing your response to my questions here.

      Frank

  4. Take at look at the Sedore stove; It is a multi-fuel stove that burns wood, pellets, corn, and various other grains. And it need no electricity so won’t be affected when the power goes out.
    http://www.visionstonestoves.com

  5. Anyone wanting to use their regular wood stove to burn pellet fuel might want to check out this Canadian guy. http://www.bradleyburner.com

  6. I have agree with richard and Tim. If lack of power will stop it, and it is limited to a fuel source whose availability can be disrupted by any number of things, it seems to be a reasonable answer for the moment, but questionable in the event of an “event.” Corn was mentioned as a work-around, are there any other sources of fuel, preferably fuel that we could create, that works in these also?

  7. Check your pellet stoves electrical needs. Mine converts 110 to 12V for the blowers and auger.

  8. You can reduce your costs of pellets, by making your own. See Youtube or google pellet mills and you will find a variety of sizes and prices. You can use biomass not just sawdust for the pellets.

  9. I bought an all electric acreage in South Dakota in ’09 and installed a stcroixstoves.com corn burner in it that fall. I bought the Greenfield for the looks but all their models have the same inside working parts.
    When burning corn it is important to use a quality 3 wall all stainless steel vent pipe as the acids in the exhaust will eat up normal galvanized venting tubes. These stoves are extremely reliable and shut themselves off if something goes wrong. Clean dry fuel is important. It will run off of a 12v battery and inverter which can be charged with your car altenator if things get that desparate. Right now, electricity is cheaper than corn. If the power goes out, there are several ways to make electricity including an old briggs and stration gas engine and an old truck altenator charging a battery and then running an inverter of whatever size needed to run lights and the corn burner as a backup to solar. Don’t forget things like 12 volt LED clearance lights off of semi trailers are extremely efficient and economically priced at your local semi trailer dealer.

  10. I have a wonder coal stove from Tractor Supply. It is a suburban style looking stove. It cost about 650 dollars compared to $2000. It looks identical to the wood version except thicker metal to handle the higher heat content of coal. If I burn oak, black walnut, maple, and especially hedge apple or locust, my fire will easily last over 8 hours. It will last over 6 hours using pine. It is by far not the most effecient wood stove out there. Now granted, my living room stays around 80 degrees or more with the window slightly opened and its 25 outside. LOL. I I just figure of all the fresh air I am letting in the house at no expense to the electric or gas bill. I use my gas furnace very little to heat my 2100 SQ.FT house. You can always tell who has a wood stove by the ones that gets their mail or takes out their trash in a tank top and shorts and its 20 degrees outside. Pesonally, I love cutting firewood and splitting wood with a maul. I and my father have probaly cut over 15 cords of wood this year due to some bad summer storms and some logging a freind of mine had done so I have cut alot of wood. It is a great stress reliever for me. Aslo, I rarely look for wood to cut. Between cutting up storm damaged trees and tree lapse, healthy trees are not cut down to be just burned in my stove. People often find me at church to come get it out of thier way.
    I understand the part of the wood pellet or corn pellet stove being esier on the back and amount of time not having to be used to cut it. Personally, I agree that you are still dependant on someone supplying you the wood pellets unless you grew the corn for your stove so you could still be self-reliant to a point. I would however, have a wood stove somewhere that could be hooked up in its place or hooked up in another part
    of the house as back-up.

  11. I had a pellet stove, an expensive one and took it out and replaced it with a wood burner. In the event of a power outage, it was useless. The pellets come in heavy bags and are not cheap. They run on sale in our area about $279 per ton. Mine required as much or more cleaning as my wood stove, and they are as dusty and messy to run as a wood stove. The top of the pellet stove does not get warm enough to cook or boil water on. I thought it was a waste of effort in having a fire to be honest. And I was glad to get rid of it. Also the blowers and augers need replacing often. Again, wood stove has no moving parts to mess with. Not worth the expense and effort.

  12. Hi:
    I am seriously considering installing a pellet stove in an all metal aircraft hangar. I’m very much aware of the danger of any fuel or other combustible liquid or vapor. It is a large 40′ x 40′ x 20″ heigth (32,000cft) structure with a full width door and more than adequate ventilation. Presently it is wired for 120 & 220 power supplying high intensity lights, air compressors and ceiling fans. Additionally a 1000 watt electrical heater with fan is installed in the ceiling area. The door power is provided by a 3hp electrical motor. Electrical heating is grossly inefficient and with the abundance of electrical arcing and potential fire from the numerous accessories -plus occasional electrical arc-welding -I am pursuing as an alternative, a pellet stove. I am seeking your professional opinion and possible sources of information on the practical possibilities of such an installation. I live on an island in Puget Sound, 90 miles North of Seattle, WA. I’m concerned that it will not be acceptable to our local fire dept despite the electrical and welding fire potentials. There are 38 other hangars all of the same construction and basic floor plan. The owners are equally interested. I will be most grateful for any professional counseling you can provide or recommend. . .

  13. For using wood pellet stove, you may need a wood pellet machine. find here http://www.pelletmills.org/

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