Wood Pellet Stoves 101

Not everyone is able to heat their homes with natural gas, because some areas of the country, particularly the northeast and rural areas throughout the United States, do not have natural gas lines yet. Instead, these people must rely on electric or oil heat, which can be extremely expensive.

Another option is heating with wood, but a wood stove is not only messy, but it is also extremely labor intensive. Every summer is spent "making" wood—finding trees, felling them, cutting them into 16-inch lengths, splitting them, and stacking them, all potentially dangerous activities as well. And if you don't do it yourself, you have to pay someone to procure and prepare the wood for you.  

Fortunately, there is another option—heating with a pellet stove. Here is a look at what you need to know about this heating alternative.

What Is a Pellet Stove?

A pellet stove often looks quite similar to a traditional wood stove. Rather than using logs, however, it uses pellets as the heat source.

What Are the Pellets Made from?

Pellets are typically made from recycled wood and waste material, such as sawdust. Other biomass may be used as well, such as corn or peanut hulls. These materials are tightly compressed into capsule-shaped heating dynamos that look similar to commercial animal feed pellets. Each pellet is about one-half inch to one inch in length.

What Are the Benefits of a Pellet Stove Over a Traditional Wood Stove?

In addition to being far less labor-intensive, a pellet stove has many other advantages:

  1. Pellets are easier to maneuver. Logs are heavy. When you consider how many times a log needs to be moved, you're getting a workout! Pellets are lightweight and come in a bag that is easily manageable for most anyone.
  2. Pellets don't create as much ash as logs. With a traditional wood stove, you have to constantly let the fire die down long enough to be able to remove the ash that builds up on the bottom of the stove. This can be dangerous as hot ash can easily spark and cause a fire. When the fire is out, you then have to use more kindling and wood and spend the time getting it going again.
  3. Pellets don't create as much creosote. Creosote is a byproduct from burning wood. It builds up in your chimney and must be regularly cleaned. If it is left unchecked, it can easily cause a chimney fire. With a pellet stove, you won't need your chimney cleaned nearly as often as pellets don't create as much creosote as logs do.
  4. Pellet stoves have a hopper. The way a pellet stove is designed means you don't need to spend as much time feeding and tending to the fire. You simply open the hopper and add pellets, and the stove will self-feed as it needs the pellets. This means you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to keep the fire going anymore.