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Understanding Wood and Pellet Stoves: Burning Wood for Heat

Updated on September 13, 2013
Wood stoves provide an economical source of heat for a room or a whole house.
Wood stoves provide an economical source of heat for a room or a whole house. | Source

Why a Wood Stove?

Wood stoves and pellet stoves save money on heating costs compared to oil and gas furnaces.

The option that suits you best is based on several considerations. If you already have a masonry fireplace, your options will be different than if you have no chimney in place. Wood stoves require a chimney built to safety specifications. Pellet stoves don't require a chimney, but do need a vent and a backup source of power in case the electricity goes out.

If you want more detailed information on any of the types of stoves introduced here, see the links at the bottom of this page. The website can also be helpful for finding general information.

Many different types of heating appliances fall under the term "wood stove". If not specified, wood stove tends to refer to the traditional log-burning stove. But there are also pellet stoves that burn wood pellets (the most common pellet stove) or a corn product. Fireplace inserts and hearth stoves use preexisting fireplaces with masonry chimneys to heat more efficiently and produce less smoke and ash.

Stove insert
Stove insert
Wood Burning Cook Stove
Wood Burning Cook Stove

There are even wood burning cook stoves that not only heat your house, but also serve as a cooking appliance. Some stoves are elaborate and powerful and can be used to heat water in your plumbing system!

Which Type of Wood Stove is Right for You?

As mentioned, a fireplace insert or hearth stove takes advantage of a preexisting fireplace and chimney. A fireplace insert installs into the inside of the burn area of your existing fireplace. A hearth stove sits in front of the fireplace and connects to the existing chimney to vent smoke and ash.

If there is no existing chimney, the cost of building one might be prohibitive. But, there are other types of efficient wood burning appliances that don't require a chimney. A pellet stove, in this case, becomes a great option. Pellet stoves work by feeding a supply of specially produced wood pellets from a "hopper" into the "firebox". This feed mechanism requires electricity but battery backup is available for many models. Many people like this because they don't have to be home or around the furnace to keep the fire burning as you do with a wood stove. Pellet stoves don't require a chimney, but must be vented with special double-layer pipe.

Firewood vs. Pellet Access: One and a half cords of firewood and one ton of pellets are roughly considered to be equivalent. Both need storage space, but the firewood will take up much more space. A cord of fire wood measures 4 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft of stacked wood. If you don't live in an area with easy access to firewood, or have a place to store it, then do consider the pellet stove. In some places, firewood is available and is not expensive and a traditional wood stove becomes an obvious choice.

Pellets are shipped to your home and can be found locally or through internet vendors. Before finalizing a decsion about the type of stove you will buy, check for sources of fuel. See what the going rate is for a cord of wood, delivered vs. a ton of pellets, being sure to include tax and shipping charges.

Cost: There is no doubt that a wood-burning device will save money in the long run on fuel. It may not seem so at first. Start up and installation costs make initial set-up seem expensive. Costs are recouped after a couple years of use by reducing the use of fossil fuels for heat.

Looks: If you are picturing the flame of a fireplace and want to duplicate that in a wood burning appliance then a traditional log-burning stove is the best option, keeping in mind the other requirements. Pellet stove flames don't give the same look and feel, but there are ceramic log inserts that simulate a log flame, much like in a gas fireplace.

Pellet vs. Log?

Would you rather have a pellet stove or wood-log burning stove?

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