The previous owners of our house used a wood stove for a time as their only source of heat. When we talked about it, they told us how much effort it took to split the wood, keep the stove going and clean it out. They said the air was always dry and they had problems with soot, but it was so much cheaper than oil they stuck with it. Until they didn’t. When we came, the only remainder of their wood stove was a register vent on the ceiling and a bank of really ugly tiles along the wall.
Well, it’s a new world. Our house has a new source of heat, a Harmon Pellet Stove. We installed their fireplace insert, and now I’m grateful for the register vent, because the heat from the stove disperses through the entire house (1800 sq ft). More on this later. Pellet stoves are actually high-tech furnaces, with built-in thermostats that can keep your living environment a consistent temperature. They turn themselves on and off, depending on the need. They use electricity, unlike a wood stove, and the air is dispersed through a blower fan rather than just emanating heat. Our stove uses about 100w.
The fuel, in our case sawdust pellets, is created from the byproducts of the lumber industry, sawdust that would just be pure waste otherwise. A pellet factory can actually use pellets themselves as fuel to run the machinery that makes the pellets! Alchemy if I ever saw it.
Pellets claim the lowest emission of any biomass fuel. Our stove creates no visible smoke; units can be vented out the side of a house ten feet from a neighbor and no one will ever complain. Given that the trees generated oxygen for their lifespan before becoming sawdust, it’s safe to say this fuel is “carbon neutral”. Added to this is the extreme efficiency of the stoves themselves. I only need to empty the ashpan about once a week, after it has burned up to 14 forty lb bags of fuel!
Pellet fuel is also a non-volatile market, unlike oil. They’ve gone up in price about $1 in the last ten years, to somewhere between $5 and $6 a bag. A few years ago, there was a big pellet shortage, but that was because the industry was not ready for the unbelievable demand. No problem with that now.
Speaking of 40lb bags, it’s time to admit a pellet stove isn’t for everyone. When I was extolling it’s virtues to my mother, she wished she could get one too. She lives in a drafty old 30 room house with four fireplaces. She’s 82. Sorry mom, not for you. It’s also not for anyone who wants to just not think about the heat in their house.
*A pellet stove does need feeding. For me, it’s nothing; I get up, I feed the cat, I feed the dog, I feed the stove.
*You need space in the basement; we get two tons delivered at a time, and one ton takes the space of a pallet four ft high.
*Every three weeks of use, I let it go out completely, take the vacuum cleaner and clean it out, which takes about 20 minutes. Once I’ve done it enough I think I’ll get that down to ten.
*There is definitely an audible white noise that is a new sound in the house, but because it is so consistent and gentle, we adapted after only a couple of nights. Our oil burner, by comparison, sounded like a jet taking off when it ramped up.
During the coldest winter months, the stove wasn’t quite making it on the second floor, and we needed to keep the thermostat turned up. This annoyed me, so I did a little more research and found a “register booster” by Airstream. It’s a little heat sensing fan device that detects warmer air from one side, and redistributes it to the other side. Once that little thing was on the floor in our second floor hallway, we were golden.
Now, all our thermostats stay completely turned down (except the upstairs zone when it’s really cold), and we are mostly free of oil. And we got rid of the ugly tiles, by the way.