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Could Installing a Pellet Stove Take the Edge Off Energy Bills?

By: Scott Gibson , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

One reader writes: I’m thinking of buying a pellet stove to heat my small, three-bedroom ranch. If I put the stove in the basement, would I have to cut vents in the first floor to circulate heat through the house? I love the smell of wood stoves and don’t mind the work. But they’re dirty and dusty. Are pellet stoves that much cleaner, and are they any less expensive?

Who wouldn’t like lower heating bills? Both pellets and seasoned hardwood provide more heat per dollar than natural gas, propane, or heating oil, and they may look even better when prices for fossil fuels begin to climb again. Plus, compressed wood pellets burn cleanly and are more convenient than firewood.

As long as you’re willing to accept the work that goes with owning a stove you should be able to save money in the long run. But be prepared for a hefty initial investment. New stoves aren’t cheap.

Of the two, pellets are easier to handle, more convenient, and they produce less ash as they burn. Pellets are made from compressed scrap wood and other forms of wood fiber and are sold in two grades. You can buy them in 20 and 40 pound bags.

Pellet stoves have many automatic features, but you still have to keep the hopper full. Leaving the stove unattended for long stretches isn’t an option. Periodically, the firebox needs emptying, and you have to keep an eye on your chimney for occasional cleaning. Consider, too, where you are going to store a couple of tons of pellets, which is what you need to get through a heating season.

Unlike a wood stove, a pellet stove doesn’t work when the power goes out unless it’s connected to a battery backup or a standby generator. If you live in an area where power outages are common, that’s something to consider. Pellet stoves also have more moving parts than a wood stove, so there’s more to break.

A pellet stove installed in your basement does not circulate heat around your house as efficiently as a furnace with an electric fan and dedicated ducts. Cutting a few vents in the floor can certainly help. But you’re still relying on natural convection for heat distribution. Something else to consider is whether you have a dedicated flue to accommodate a pellet stove. Building codes don’t allow two heating appliances (a furnace and a pellet stove, for example) to be vented by the same flue.

If your house was built with supplemental heat in mind, there may already be two flues (with separate connections) in your basement. Otherwise, you have to provide a new one or install “PL” vent pipe designed for pellet stoves.

Stoves are rated by the amount of heat they produce, measured in British thermal units (BTUs) per hour. A reputable stove shop can recommend the right size based on the square footage of your house, how much insulation it has, and what kind of winter temperatures you can expect.
Whether you decide on a wood or pellet stove, do yourself a favor and have it professionally installed. And before you do, get your chimney inspected by your local fire department or a qualified technician to make sure it’s safe.

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  1. 7 Responses  to “Could Installing a Pellet Stove Take the Edge Off Energy Bills?”

  2. victor Cerne
    Aug 29, 2011
    If your pellet stove is located in the basement by your return air vent, can you use the fan function without the heat being on to distribute warm air?
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    Pellet stoves generally cost very low and the Installation costs are relatively low, Regards/- Jason Webb
  4. Aug 29, 2011
    Currently the problem is due to the recession and a low oil price, the cost incentive of a pellet stove has been reduced. However, consumers do need to realise that the oil price will once again rise, and rise to new height’s, and waiting till this happens may mean there is a shortage of pellet stoves in stock, as happened in 2008-2009. Therefore it makes sense for consumers to consider installing a pellet stove sooner rather than later.
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    It is true that the wider the sources of fuel the more likely it is that people will look to wood pellet and pellet stoves in general as a viable alternative to home heating oil and propane. However I still feel that there is a reluctance on the part of households to embrace wood pellet as some see it as less convienent than homeheating oil or in some way more expensive (which is not the case - well not in the long term anyway.) From what I have seen is that when the price of oil goes up so does the price of wood pellet and the two of them move in tandem. From a household budget point of view the ideal scenario is if you can purchase your wood pellet now when prices are low as a hedge against increasing oil prices. People tend to close the barn door after the horse has bolted i.e. only look into wood pellet after the price of oil has shot up.
  6. Aug 29, 2011
    I would like to put a wood stove in my basement and I would like to find out how to run the Pipe from the stove into a cement wall. How far do I need to run the pipe and what type of pipe should I use.I would like to put a wood stove on the west wall in thw basement, My basement wall is 12 block high. How do I run the pipe right threw a hole in the block and the the pipe turned upward then what ? Than you
  7. Ronnie
    Aug 29, 2011
    We have a 3600 sq foot Victorian home and cut our oil heating bill in half with a pellet stove, a year later we added a second pellet stove. Now we only run our oil heat as supplemental to keep pipes from freezing in outlaying areas of the house and rooms closed off from the pellet stove heat. We cut vents but installed fans in them to draw the heat into the rooms. The work is minimal, basically filling once a day and cleaning out once a week, during the winter you should plan on going through one bag per day per pellet stove. Also it's very helpful to get one with a thermostat, you can then purchase a programmable thermostat to put on it to further your savings by only heating during those hours you need it.
  8. Aug 29, 2011
    If you live in a rural area, I would go with a corn stove. Getting corn for feed from the feed store or in bulk delivered is cheaper than pellet.