With the constant fluctuation in the cost of oil and gas, a wood (or dual-fuel) pellet stove or fireplace insert can be an especially good alternative source of heating for your home. However, as with any wood stove or fireplace purchase, there are several things to consider before you make the final decision.
Getting Insurance Approval
Adding any type of wood-burning heat stove to your home can slightly increase your insurance rates, but not informing your insurer can void your coverage in the event of a fire. Before buying a stove, obtain a clearance diagram and installation specifications from your insurance company. This will detail the amount of space you must provide between your pellet stove and nearby furniture, floor coverings, draperies, and walls.
Follow these installation guidelines and return the completed form to your insurance company for approval. Keep in mind that your insurer will be more likely to approve an installation if is done by a professional. They may also want it to be inspected (at your expense) before approval is given. In addition to insurance company requirements, every area has fire and/or building code restrictions regarding wood-burning appliances. Review and follow these guidelines for a safe and legal installation.
Planning a Pellet Stove Installation
Your authorized pellet stove dealer can confirm the best place to install a stove as well as what accessories you'll need and how it will be connected. Before shopping for a stove, be prepared to discuss possibilities and your preferences. Bring photos of the indoor area where you intend to place the stove, as well as photos of the outside and roof of your home, for potential chimney placement. In the end, it may be best to arrange a home visit with the stove installer. Try to negotiate a free installation for the stove you are buying, if possible.
If there are multiple locations where you can place a stove, consider access to pellets and how far you will have to carry the bags, congestion in the room (beyond the required clearances), and how the heat will circulate to the rest of your home. You'll also need a standard 120-volt electrical outlet close to the stove.
Pellet Stove Purchase and Installation Costs
While actual purchase and installation prices vary widely, you should expect an initial outlay of $2,000 to $3,000 plus installation and accessories for a pellet stove. Be prepared for additional costs for delivery, insurance inspection, a protective floor pad, and connection piping and accessories. Some pellet stoves have a direct-vent type of chimney that does not require a full above-the-roof chimney system. These can be much less expensive to install than conventional chimneys.
Operating Costs for Pellet Stoves
Standard 40-pound bags of wood pellets cost around $4 to $8. Prices vary with availability and the type of wood used for the pellets. Before buying a stove, it's a good idea to check on price and availability in your area for wood pellets and, if you're considering a dual-fuel stove, for corn or other fuels. The amount of fuel you'll use during the heating period will vary by the type of pellet, the stove setting, and your climate.
Pellet Use and Storage
Pellets are typically sold in 40-pound plastic bags, and this weight can be a constraint for many. Bags will need to be hauled from storage to the stove every day (or two) and poured into the stove's hopper. Pellet bags can be stacked but must be stored in a dry place indoors or in a garage or shed. They must be kept dry, as dampness will cause the pellets to swell, and they will not feed properly through the drop mechanism in the stove.
If possible, try to negotiate the price of pellet delivery to your home. You may be able to get a discount by buying by the ton. Wood pellets are made of sawdust and switch grass, and the type of wood used will affect their burning efficiency, or how much heat is produced per pound of pellets.
Pellet Stove Maintenance
Pellet stoves are easy to start and maintain. Ash buildup is minimal, but stoves do need regular cleaning. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for when and how to clean your pellet stove. A shop or ash vacuum works well for regular cleanings; just keep in mind that the wood ash must be cold before vacuuming. Do not use a standard carpet vacuum for cleaning wood ash.
Heat Stove Performance and Operation
Pellet stoves produce a very comfortable and dry radiant heat. The heat is radiated out to the room from the stove to the surrounding area. To ensure even heating, keep the hopper filled with pellets. The stove will shut down automatically if the hopper is empty. To help circulate warm air throughout the room, use a heat-powered fan on the stove. These require no electricity and help make the most of a stove's heat by blowing warm air into the room.
If the home's electrical power is interrupted, the stove will automatically and safely shut down. A power surge or slight interruption may or may not affect stove operation. Since a pellet stove must be pellet-fed, usually on a daily basis, if you're planning on being away from home for several days, you must make arrangements with someone to feed the heat stove regularly—that is, if you rely on the stove to keep the house warm and prevent pipes from freezing.