Will pellet stoves replace woodstoves?

Wood stove heating with in foreground wood pellets Photo by By Mike Fouque/Shutterstock

A pellet stove can ease the burden of splitting wood while delivering the cheery flames that make cool-weather cottaging so much fun. Pellet stoves burn compressed cylinders of waste sawdust. A stove’s hopper typically holds a 40 lb bag of pellets—enough to heat the average cottage for two or three days during shoulder seasons. Expect to burn a bag per day in the depths of winter. An electric auger feeds pellets into the burn pot more quickly or more slowly depending on the heat output you want. Many models connect to a thermostat and are self-lighting with a built-in electric ignition.

Pellet stove combustion is quite complete thanks to air forced into the fire by an internal blower. No creosote or smoke (except a little at startup) hits the stovepipe. Since pellet stove exhaust gases are cooler than those from a woodstove, pellet stoves don’t necessarily need a chimney—an insulated pipe exiting through a wall can direct exhaust outside. Ongoing maintenance? Each morning, knock the ash out of the burn pot into the bottom of the stove; once a week, empty ash from the stove; once a year, take the stovepipe down, and brush out dry fly ash.

On the downside, pellet stoves need electricity to operate, so they won’t keep you warm during a blackout unless you’ve got backup power. And even the quietest pellet stove combustion and blower fans generate steady background sound that can’t compete with the silent operation of a woodstove.

Pellet stoves
• Environmentally friendly—burns waste sawdust; carbon neutral; no creosote buildup
• Efficient—40 lb bag heats for two or three days in shoulder seasons or a bag per day in winter
• Burning cost—a bag of pellets costs approx. $5 to $7
• No chimney
• Less ongoing maintenance

• Unit cost—about 50 per cent more than a woodstove
• Needs electricity to operate; won’t work in a power outage
• Noise from background fan

• Wood burning smell
• Unit cost—cheaper and more options available
• Operates silently
• Works during a power outage
• Wood more widely available

Firewood needs to be chopped and seasoned before use
• Creosote buildup possible; not as clean burning
• Cost—firewood could cost a couple hundred dollars
each winter
• More complicated installation and chimney access
• Frequent maintenance necessary

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