Is a pellet stove right for you? Comparing pros and cons
Last updated 1/22/2020
Pellet stoves are an innovative heating technology, but they may not be suitable for every property. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of pellet stoves, and how your property’s unique characteristics can help determine whether a pellet stove installation makes sense for you.
Factors to consider before installing a pellet stove
It’s important to understand what makes a property more or less suitable for installation prior to signing a contract. A few primary considerations when deciding if it’s worth it to install a pellet stove include: pellet storage, the quality of your property’s insulation, and your property’s layout.
Unlike most home heating systems, pellet stoves (usually) require you to manually load fuel into them and to store that fuel (i.e., pellets) on your own property. On the other hand, traditional fuel sources like oil and gas are transported through underground pipes directly into your furnace or boiler. With pellet stoves, you’ll need to purchase 40-pound bags of pellets and store them on your property if you don’t want to have to run to the store and back every few days to keep your property adequately heated.
In order to get through an average snowy winter, you’ll need over one ton of pellets, which can take up a fair amount of space. What’s more, pellets need to be stored in a cool, dry place so they remain high quality before you actually use them.
Moreso with pellet stoves than with any other type of heating, having good insulation is essential. Most pellet stoves don’t use any sort of ductwork to distribute heat; instead, they rely on warm air circulating naturally from room to room in your home, sometimes with the help of a fan or two. As such, any areas of poor insulation mean a pellet stove will be much less efficient at heating your home.
Luckily, home energy audits are often provided for free by your utility or by a local nonprofit. It’s always a good idea to consult with a professional energy auditor to assess your insulation before investing in a new heating and cooling system.
While pellet stoves will work for almost all properties, there are a few physical characteristics that make some homes more suitable. For one, rooms and properties with high ceilings are traditionally more difficult to adequately heat with pellet stoves. This is because hot air rises, meaning it will take more time for the entire room to reach your desired temperature.
Another important factor to consider about the physical makeup of your home is the availability and placement of vents. In order to properly heat a multi-story home, you should position your pellet stove beneath vents that connect each story to one another.
Pellet stoves don’t have to be your main source of heating - in fact, they are often ideal as a supplemental heating source. Much like a space heater, you can place a small pellet stove in the main room of your home for some additional heat during particularly cold winters. This can be an especially effective setup if you also have heat pumps installed, as extremely cold temperatures can limit how effective heat pumps are in some regions.
Pros and cons of pellet stoves
As with any important energy decision, there are a number of pros and cons to consider when examining your pellet stove options. Here are some top ones to keep in mind:
|Pros of pellet stoves||Cons of pellet stoves|
|Low upfront cost||Pellet fuel can be inconvenient|
|Save money compared to traditional options||Most require regular cleaning|
|Carbon neutral energy source||Require an electrical connection|
On the pros side, pellet stoves have a relatively low upfront cost and save you money while operating as an essentially carbon neutral energy source. On the cons side, fueling and cleaning your pellet stove can be an added inconvenience, and you still need to be connected to electricity to operate a pellet stove.
Below, we'll explore these pros and cons in further detail.
Advantages of pellet stoves
Here are some of the top advantages of installing a pellet stove:
Low upfront cost
Compared to other clean heating options like air source or geothermal heat pumps, a pellet stove has a much lower upfront cost. This is primarily due to the lower complexity of pellet stove installations compared to heat pumps. While you may not be able to realize the same long-term savings as with heat pumps, pellet stoves won’t necessarily put a short-term strain on your budget.
Pellet stoves are also a way to save money. According to the Department of Energy, when compared to traditional fuel sources like oil and propane, pellet stoves are almost always less expensive to operate.
Carbon neutral energy source
Although wood pellets do emit a small amount of carbon when burned, they are considered carbon-neutral by many because they are made from recycled biomass, such as wood waste and sawdust. As long as you’re purchasing your pellets from a reputable manufacturer, pellet stoves can be considered a “clean” way to heat your home.
Disadvantages of pellet stoves
Here are some disadvantages of installing a pellet stove to keep in mind:
Pellet fuel can be inconvenient
In order to run a pellet stove, you’ll need to both store the pellet fuel and transport it manually from storage to the actual stove. Given that wood pellets come in 40-pound bags, this can be a hassle. Storage can also be an issue - you’ll need a cool, dry spot on your property to store over one ton of pellets at any given time.
Additionally, pellet stoves require refilling fairly often. You can expect one 40-pound pellet bag to last for about a day, which means you’ll be refilling your stove’s hopper manually at least once a day.
If you want to get the most out of your pellet stove, you’ll need to clean out the burn pot and the glass window regularly to prevent excessive ash buildup. Cleaning doesn’t take long, but you can expect to clean a pellet stove about once a week to make sure your stove is operating at maximum efficiency. Some high-end pellet stoves come with an automatic burn pot cleaner, which can reduce but not eliminate the need to clean it out yourself.
Require an electrical connection
Pellet stoves are basically higher-tech, wood-burning stoves that use electrical power to monitor and continuously adjust how much heat they are outputting. Unfortunately, this means that in the event of a power outage, your pellet stove will stop working unless you have a source of auxiliary backup power (like a generator or battery). If you are concerned about heating your property during extended electrical outages and you don’t have any form of energy storage or backup, a wood-burning stove may be a better heating option.