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Pellet Stove – What it is and How it Works

Updated on March 27, 2018
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Avid, self-taught gardener (I learn as problems arise), bird watcher, and nature lover.

Pellet Stove
Pellet Stove | Source

Many people have been going with wood stoves and pellet stoves to curb the blistery weather of winter. The type of radiant heat these stoves create warms every corner of your home. My family has had a wood stove for a number of years, but lately, we have been contemplating buying a pellet stove. Needless to say, our questions were many. Among them, how does it work, what type of fuel does it use and is it economical to use?

What is a Pellet Wood Stove?

The pellet wood stove offers a new way to heat your home over gas, electric and the traditional wood stove. Instead of burning big chunks of wood, it will burn pellets the size comparable to that of rabbit feed.

A typical pellet wood stove has at least two burn settings and a thermostat to control the fire, with a forced-air system to distribute the heat. Since the pellet stove burns wood efficiently, they do not typically need a standard chimney. Instead, you can exhaust the fumes through a small hole in the wall to the outdoors. A "pellet vent" or a "Class L chimney", which consists of a stainless steel interior and an aluminum or galvanized exterior, will connect from the stove to the opening to the outside.

A hopper is used to hold the pellets. Depending on the size of the unit, a hopper can hold from 35 to 130 pounds of pellets. An auger, which is a corkscrew-shaped device, is used to transfer the pellets to the fire chamber.

There are two types of augers:

  • Bottom fed auger
  • Top fed auger


How Pellet Wood Stoves Works?

How does a pellet wood stove work? Is it similar to that of a wood stove? With a wood stove, once the chimney is in place, you just place chunks of wood in the stove, light it and let it burn. A pellet stove works a little differently.


First, a pellet stove needs electricity to run. Thus, you will have to make sure the unit is plugged into an outlet.

Second, add wood pellets to the auger. The auger will move the pellets into the combustion chamber, at set intervals determined by either a set timer or sensor within the unit. As stated above, the auger can be either at the top of the unit or at the bottom of the unit. There are disadvantages and advantages to both the bottom fed and the top fed auger.

With a bottom fed auger, pellets are fed into the unit from the side. Since the pellets are fed into the chamber horizontally, it will cause the ash to fall to the side, making it easier to clean.

A top fed auger, moves the pellets into the stove from the top of the unit. The top fed auger helps to minimize the chance of a fire burning up to the hopper. However, ash can build-up quickly in this type of unit.

Third, press the automatic ignition switch to start the unit if you have one. To manually start the unit, add starter gel to the pellets, light a match and drop it into the chamber.

Fourth, adjust the feeder and thermostat to the comfort level that you want. The thermostat is a nice feature, because it allows you to control how much heat you want, and how long the unit will run between fillings.

Fifth, keep the ash cleaned out of your unit.


Buying Pellets for your Stove

There are pellet stoves that can burn more than one type of fuel. Some multi-fuel pellet stoves can burn cherry pits, hulled wheat, and waster paper pellets, corn or wood, with corn and wood being the most commonly used fuel used in the pellet stoves.

However, I am going to limit my discussion to softwood and hardwood pellets because they are what is most commonly used by many.

From my past experience with a wood stove, I learned that hard wood was best at keeping the wood stove burning a long time. So, I assumed that hardwood pellets would be the way to go. Nope, not the case, for the pellet stove. It is the softwood pellet that seems to perform better. Now these leads to two several concerns about the softwood pellet.

First, which would give me more bang for my buck? My assumption was that hardwood pellets would be the optimum choice. (This premise works with the wood stove, so why not the pellet stove, right). Again, I was surprised to learn that it is the softwood pellets that would burn longer and hotter.

My other concern was how much creosote would these softwood pellets create? Remember, now, I’m old school and had been using a wood stove for years, and always preferred the hard wood so as to keep the creosote at a minimum. However, according to woodpelletreview.org, the softwood pellets, when compressed in pellet form and burned in stoked flames will burn off all the creosote.

As to the many different brands, I will leave that up to you.

Is a Pellet Stove Worth It?

Is a pellet stove worth it? I can only answer that by stating some of the advantages and disadvantages of the unit.

Advantages

1. It is easy to operate

2. Does not have to be filled daily. Of course, this depends upon the size of your unit and the pellets you choose.

3. No external heat on the outside of the stove

4. Efficiently burns pellets with low moisture, which means there are less harmful gasses that are released in the air.

5. Environmentally neutral fuel.

Disadvantages

1.Can you easily get wood pellets in your area. (My suggestion is to buy the pellets in the off-season so you can get a better price.)

2. Internal components of pellet stoves operate off electricity to run the motors, pellet feeders, controls and fans which can become a hassle when the power goes out for more than a day or so. Which means, when the electricity is out for a while you will need a generator to keep the pellet stove going.

They use around 100 KWH of electricity every month. However, some pellet stoves come with battery packs. If yours does not, it would be wise to get a battery pack, to prevent smoke backup in your home, and to allow the stove to stoke down when there is an outage.

3. Pellet stoves cannot be used in manufactured homes (mobile homes or trailers.)

The pellet stove is an option to look at, if you want a clean way to heat your house, as long as you have a battery backup and/or generator to keep it fired up when the electricity goes out.

© 2011 vwriter

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