Wood pellets measure approximately 1-inch long and resemble rabbit feed, but provide convenient, smooth, controllable heat from a pellet stove, insert and even a pellet fireplace. Wood pellets are “the new wood” for many homeowners, especially those who are paying record high prices for heating oil and propane again this year, want an economical alternative, and have lifestyles that simply don’t lend themselves to maintaining a wood stove.
The bottom line on wood pellets
While prices for fuels can vary, on average the price per BTU for pellet heat is most often considerably lower than heating oil, propane and electricity. You can see for yourself how pellet stoves and pellet inserts measure up to the fuels common to our geographic area using our fuel comparison calculator. In New England, wood pellets are 3x less than the price of traditional heating fuels. And, when compared to the volatile prices of fossil fuels, pellet prices have remained steady for most of the past decade.
Where to get wood pellets
Pellets can be purchased in 40 lb. bags at fireplace dealers, nurseries, building supply stores, feed and garden supply stores and some discount merchandisers. Pellet quality varies: look for low moisture and low ash content, consistent pellet length (no more than 1 1/4″ long), a low amount of “fines” (sawdust in the bag), good dry packaging, and generally a light color (which indicates more wood, less bark). Quality wood pellets provide more heat per pound, create less ash and so require less frequent cleaning of the stove. Conversely, low quality wood pellets will quickly clog up your venting and exhaust blower, soot up the glass, and fill the ash pan more quickly. Because convenience is a major driver for consumers to choose wood pellet stoves, experienced wood pellet stove owners tend to opt for higher quality pellets (for less frequent maintenance and less wear and tear on their stove’s components). At Enchanted Fireside, we sell only high quality wood pellets, because we want you to have a great experience with your new pellet stove. We recommend you start with our high quality pellets before you experiment with cheaper options. That will give you an opportunity to see how your stove should operate under the best conditions, and use that knowledge to determine the trade-offs in convenience and heat output for which you are most comfortable.
How much of my home can I expect to heat?
This is the $10,000 question! The answer? Let’s start with wood stoves, which work primarily through radiant heat. The rooms closest to the stove will be the warmest, those further away will be cooler. Pellet stoves are different. Pellet stoves heat through convection – they heat the air and then blow the heated air out. So, the pellet stove will more evenly heat whatever area that heated air can flow to. The overall area in your home that will benefit from pellet heat will depend on how easily the heated air coming out of the pellet stove can flow through your home. “Open Concept” homes allow air to flow very freely; homes with many small roooms will be more challenging. Areas of the home that do not seem to get the pellet stove’s heat often benefit from a ceiling or doorway fan. Our experience? No one has ever told us that they wished they had purchased a smaller stove; however, we have had customers surprised at how well the stove pushes the hot air around their home – finding that the pellet stove’s heat spreads further than they had anticipated, and that a larger or 2nd stove is what is needed to bring the whole home up to a comfortably warm temperature.
Quantity of wood pellets needed
When burned in a high efficiency appliance with a programmable thermostat, one bag of wood pellets can provide up to 24 hours of steady heat. On average, a winter’s supply of pellets consists of 100 to 150 bags (2-3 tons), depending on climate, home size, and lifestyle variations (some like it hot!). We suggest you plan on 1 to 1.25 tons per 1,000 sq. feet of area to be heated with your pellet stove. Some advice: don’t overbuy – even the best packaging allows moisture in the air to be absorbed by the wood pellets. Wood pellets should be used within 18 months of delivery.