How to compare pellet stoves
Last updated 1/22/2020
Depending on the unique aspects of your property, like square footage and layout, certain pellet stove options will be better for you.
First comparison: freestanding vs. insert
The first decision to make when considering a pellet stove purchase is whether you want a freestanding or insert pellet stove.
Freestanding pellet stoves are self-contained units that can be placed anywhere in your home that you like, as long as you can run power and an exhaust pipe to them. Insert pellet stoves, on the other hand, are designed to be installed in an existing fireplace opening and use your chimney as an exhaust vent.
The major differences between freestanding and insert pellet stoves isn’t in their performance, but in their aesthetics and efficient use of space. With a freestanding stove, you’ll have to use up a small amount of otherwise usable floor space in your home, while an insert stove simply repurposes unused space by sitting in an existing fireplace. If you’re concerned about safety, insert stoves may also be a better option, as they keep the hot glass window on your stove further from reach.
There can also be some price differences between freestanding and insert stoves - in general, inserts are more expensive than their freestanding counterparts, but not by too much. Installation can also be more expensive for insert pellet stoves, as you’ll need a long chimney liner to run up to your roof.
Key metrics for comparing pellet stove equipment
As far as performance goes, there are two key metrics to keep in mind when comparing pellet stoves: efficiency and heating capacity.
Much like other clean heating technologies, such as geothermal and air source heat pumps, pellet stoves have an efficiency rating that is a measure of how well they convert energy into usable heat. The more efficient your pellet stove, the less money you’ll need to spend on electricity to supply it with power and pellets.
Pellet stoves certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generally have efficiencies between 70 percent and 83 percent. The higher the efficiency rating, the more heat your stove will produce with its fuel input. Importantly, pellet stove efficiency isn’t just dependent on the appliance itself - placement, cleanliness, and even the composition of the pellet fuel you burn all impact a stove’s practical efficiency. So, even if you purchase a stove with a high efficiency rating, it’s essential to clean and maintain your stove and to supply it with high-grade pellets if you’re concerned about operating at optimal efficiency.
A pellet stove’s heating capacity is a way to compare how much space it can properly supply heat to, and is provided in British Thermal Units (BTU) per hour. Heating capacities for pellet stoves typically range from 8,000 BTU/hour to 90,000 BTU/hour. As a general rule of thumb, 5,000 BTUs of heating capacity can adequately heat about 200 square feet of space. To save you the trouble of figuring out how much space a pellet stove is designed to heat, most manufacturers simply include a space rating (in square feet) for their stoves along with a BTU rating.
Other ways to compare pellet stove options
Aside from the main metrics of efficiency and heating capacity, there are a few other ways to compare individual pellet stoves.
If you’re willing to pay more, there are many extra features that come with pellet stoves to make them easier to use, more effective at heating, and require less maintenance. For example, you can opt for stoves with smart control features that allow you to program different levels of heat for different times of the day and days of the week. There are also self-cleaning options, which automatically empty the burn pot every so often so you don’t have to manually remove the waste ash as regularly.