As fall approaches, we begin to say goodbye to scorching days and nights and prepare to say hello to the colder ones. As that transition gets underway, we become more concerned with heating and begin to evaluate our options for the cool months ahead. There’s always the option of more expensive home heating via gas, but what about a good old fire? Any home can be equipped with a stove. But which type should you choose? Here the decision comes down to wood vs. pellet stoves, and each has its own ups and downs. Let’s take a look.
Buying Your Stove
You want a new stove, so the first consideration will likely be price. There’s a lot to love about wood and pellet stoves, but the price tag will undoubtedly stand out. So how do the options stack up?
Wood stoves average around $3,000 – $4,200 when you factor in the cost of bringing in a pro installer. For a premium model with all the bells and whistles, you may be looking at about $5,000. If your home has a chimney and a preexisting fireplace unit, installation may be simplified and you may be able to save money and opt for a fireplace insert, which sits directly inside the fireplace’s firebox. If not, you’re looking at lofty fees to fashion a ventilation system.
On the other hand, pellet stoves come in anywhere from $1,700 – $3,000 prior to installation fees, and could total $3,500 – $4,000 when all is said and done. That’s already lower than the higher price points of wood stoves, plus pellet stoves are able to be ventilated through a small hole in the wall, making them able to be installed anywhere in the room and saving on chimney costs.
With cost and installation flexibility, the better bet has to be a pellet stove.
The Cost of Fueling Your Stove
The primary difference between pellet and wood stoves is their fuel source.
Wood stoves operate much like fireplaces in that they burn logs. This is generally convenient and cost-effective, as firewood can at times be harvested and seasoned on your own property (free wood!) or bought by the cord from stores for low sums.
Pellet stoves utilize wood pellets for fuel, composed of sawdust or small wood chips. These chips are added to a reservoir to be burned. Pellets are harder to come by as they are specially manufactured (not available in your own backyard) and not everyone sells them. This fuel must be purchased from other areas in the US, making them somewhat less common, though plenty of regions carry them. Using pellets means planning to buy and ship the item to use.
In either case, according to the Department of Energy, you should expect to pay about $190 for a cord of wood or ton of pellets (at 6.5 cords or 7.3 tons of pellets per season, factoring in that a ton equals 1.5 cords). Pellets are slightly higher in price per year, though they burn longer than wood. So, given both the abundance of and cost per season for natural wood, wood is a winner over pellets, as it’s both affordable and accessible
Powering Your Stove
Pellet Stove Hopper
Another aspect that distinguishes wood and pellet stoves is power.
Wood stoves work essentially like fireplaces—add wood, light it, stoke as needed, etc. They operate completely free of power such as electricity, making them usable anytime as long as the timber is available.
Pellet stoves rely on power no matter what. Electricity is a cornerstone in their operation, so when the power goes out, so does your fire. The electricity powers a motorized hopper that feeds the pellets into the stove. It is possible, however, to run your stove on a UPS backup battery or generator during power outages.
So what wins on power? In this instance, wood does. Got dry wood and a match? You’ll have fire. Pellet stoves require extra resources and expenses. With the electricity used for such a unit, you may be left in the cold during a power outage, all the while paying for 100 kilowatt-hours each month (about $9).
Lean, Mean, and Green
a wood stove chimney
Pellet and wood stoves vary in their degrees of “greenness.”
EPA-certified wood-burning stoves are tightly regulated, releasing between 2 – 7.5 grams of smoke into the air every hour— an improvement over those of the olden days that emitted 40+ grams. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, wood releases 0.00612 pounds per kilowatt-hour of CO2.
Pellet stoves, however, emit almost no smoke—less than 1 gram per hour. With such a small footprint left behind, the EPA doesn’t monitor them. Additionally, as pellets are essentially wood waste, using them is a form of recycling, keeping wood particles out of landfills. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, pellets release 0.035 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.
So for greenness, which stove comes out on top? Pellets stoves. While both wood and pellet stoves have come a long way toward operating cleaner and greener, pellet stoves have minimal smoke and CO2 impacts and also promote recycling. Both fuels are “carbon-neutral” and are not considerable hazards.
wood stove fire
“Playing with fire” is risky business all around and one must take necessary safety precautions when tending to a fire. Everything from using appropriate kindling to wearing gloves may be essential. Beyond this, however, are the safety factors of the stoves themselves.
Wood stoves give off flame sparks, which may lead to burns, and these units could accumulate creosote deposits resulting in dangerous house fires down the road. Additionally, firewood has the potential to bring mold or pests into the home from outside.
Pellet stoves burn cleaner and safer, without the risk of harming you or your home. The contained flames keep your family safe from flying embers and sparks, however, the pellet stove will become hot to the touch. All members of your household should be made aware that the stove will become very hot, and efforts should be made to keep pets away from the device.
In terms of immediate safety, wood stoves get a big thumbs-down here, leaving pellet stoves to take center stage. Sparks, creosote buildup, and house fires from wood stoves are great risks associated with wood stoves. Pellet stoves contain flames and prevent users from getting unexpected burns from flying burning debris.
Your stove is there to keep you warm, so which type does that better? This all depends on the units of heat measure, or BTUs and how effectively they’re used between the fuel sources and getting heat to your space. Each stove uses great amounts of BTUs to burn logs or pellets throughout the season. However, not all of this energy is converted into usable heat.
Firewood is used by the cord (stacked wood equaling 4 feet high x 8 feet long x 4 feet deep). According to the Department of Agriculture, every cord utilizes 15.3 million BTUs. In heating your home, you benefit from 10.7 million BTUs out of that total, enjoying a stove efficiency level of 70%.
On the other hand, pellets come in 40-lb bags and the stoves have a BTU output of 13.6 million per ton of pellets. From this, you soak up 11.3 million BTUs of heat. The result is greatly improved efficiency over wood stoves, coming in at about 83%.
Pellet stoves come out on top.
Some maintenance is required no matter what type of stove you opt for. Cleanings, component checks and more all must factor in.
Wood stoves are maintained like chimneys, requiring that a certified chimney sweep be brought in annually to do an inspection of the system, including the flue and other components, and need to have residue and soot cleaned out periodically. A major maintenance consideration for wood stoves is inspecting the catalytic combustor, and that must be done 3 times per season alone.
Pellet stoves, however, are simple to maintain, so long as you follow manufacturer recommendations. It may be as simple as checking the working order of motors and fans or removing excess debris. Maintaining a pellet stove is a straightforward and potentially less-costly process. You can do much of the checks yourself by following guidelines and don’t need to pay for as many inspections. However, if your pellet stove needs serviced, finding repairmen with the necessary skills can be difficult, and repairing one of the three motors or electronic circuit boards can become costly.
Pellet stoves win here, too.
Ok, admit it. After all of this talk about wood and pellet stoves, you’re wondering, which is prettier? Well, each option comes in a variety of shapes and models designed to fit well with your home décor, many fit into preexisting fireplaces and still others are freestanding models that may be moved if necessary. Both wood-burning and pellet stoves are made to be attractive whilst being functional. Therefore, the deciding factor here has to be the burn itself.
When you look into a wood-burning unit, you see orange flames licking at dried, aged logs. Still more, you take in the smoky aroma of the burning timber.
Pellet stoves have the same bright flames, however, that “wow” factor may be diminished for some, as the logs you’d expect to see are replaced by minuscule fragments.
Aesthetically-speaking, then, wood’s got it won.
In the war of wood vs. pellet stoves, you may still wonder which stove is the better option. Strictly speaking, pellet stoves may be a better investment due to such factors as maintenance, efficiency, safety, and more. But ultimately, the decision lies with you. What things are most important? If it’s the crackle of logs burning, wood may be good too! YOU decide!