As outdoor temperatures drop, what’s the most efficient way to keep your home warm and cozy? Stoves that utilize pellet fuel instead of regular wood logs can be an amazingly energy-efficient and cost effective option.
Wood burning stoves may seem like a “dirty” solution to home heating, but the newest pellet stove designs are extremely efficient. The pellet fuel they consume is much more environmentally friendly than wood logs, and the stoves themselves convert this fuel into heat much more efficiently than an old-fashioned fireplace.
The fuel pellets, which resemble rabbit feed, can be made from a wide range of readily available organic materials like compacted sawdust, waste paper, wood chips, and agricultural waste. Some manufacturers even utilize “deadfall” wood sources such as diseased trees, which means the pellets can be considered a carbon-neutral fuel source: if these trees were left to decompose on the forest floor, their embodied carbon would be released into the atmosphere just as it is by combustion.
The best pellet stoves can convert nearly 90% of their combustion into usable heat, and they emit fewer pollutants than traditional wood fires because their high heat levels burn fuel so completely. Pellet stoves are usually cheaper to install than other types of wood stoves too, since they can often be direct vented without needing a full chimney. Bags of pellet fuel are also much more convenient to handle than cordwood.
Pellet fuel stoves generally range in price from around $1,500 to $3,000, and they are available in capacities from 8,000 to 90,000 BTUs/hour. For maximum efficiency homeowners should be sure to install an appropriately-sized stove, since an oversized model burning too slowly will release much more pollution than a stove burning at its optimal level. Many models use a built-in fan to distribute heat around a room, and some even have automatic settings linked to a remote temperature sensor.
Of all the pellet fuel stoves available on the market, these are three of our favorites:
Harman XXV Pellet Stove
The traditional-looking cast iron Harman XXV Pellet Stove can heat an area up to 1,700 square feet (50,000 BTU rating). A large, 65-lb. hopper means less frequent refills, and the stove features an automatic ignition and temperature sensor. At around $3,000 it’s at the upper end of the price range, but it delivers quiet, powerful performance.
Englander Stoves Summers Heat 55-SHP10L
Priced around $1,300, the Summers Heat 55-SHP10L from Englander Stoves is a solid value. It’s a bit noisier than the Harman XXV, doesn’t feature an ashpan, and requires higher grade pellets – - but it heats an area up to 1,500 square feet, and the included outside air vent system helps eliminate cold drafts.
Hearthstone Heritage Pellet Stove
The Hearthstone Heritage Pellet Stove delivers big-time performance with a number of convenient features. Sizes up to 51,000 BTUs can heat an area up to 2,000 square feet, and it’s one of the cleanest burning models available (up to 86% efficiency with an EPA rating of 1.3 grams per hour). The Heritage offers a thermostat-ready programmable controller, a large 50lb. hopper, and quiet fan. It’s also part of Hearthstone’s Soapstone Collection, with integrated stone panels that absorb and radiate more heat than cast iron.
Learn more about pellet fuel stoves at the DOE’s EnergySavers website.