- 1 Why Should I Buy A Pellet Stove?
- 2 How Pellet Stoves Work
- 3 Best Pellet Stove Features
- 4 Reviews Of The Best Pellet Stove Models
I may be writing this in the middle of summer, but now’s the time to start shopping for the best pellet stove you can get. Since they can be a significant investment, it’s important to do your homework and have it in place well before the cooler months arrive!
Heat is absolutely essential for the cold season. When you come stomping in after using the snow blower and spreading ice melt on the front steps, you have to be able to get warm! Curling up in a chair by the fire with a cup of something hot will take that chill right off.
Whether you’re looking for something which blends into an existing fireplace or something that brings a more traditional look to your living room, there is a pellet stove out there for you. Let’s talk about winter warmth and find the right model for your needs.
My Picks For The Best Pellet Stove:
- Freestanding: Comfortbilt Pellet Stove HP22
- Insert: QuadraFire Castile Pellet Stove Insert
- Wall-Mount: US Stove 4840 Wall Mount Direct Vent Pellet Heater
- Non-Electric: US Stove GW1949 Wiseway Non-Electric Pellet Stove
- Small Space: Regency Greenfire GF40 Pellet Stove
- Multi-Fuel: Harman Absolute63 Pellet Stove
Why Should I Buy A Pellet Stove?
There’s a lot of reasons why pellet stoves are popular in colder regions of the country. Let’s go over a handful to see the pros and cons of pellet stoves. By the time we’re through, you should know if getting a pellet stove is right for you!
Pellet Stove vs. Wood Stove
Both pellet stoves and wood stoves come in similar types: a freestanding variety, or an insert for an existing fireplace. What sets these two apart, and are there other variations?
First, let’s look at the efficiency of these stoves.
Wood stoves vary in terms of how they burn their fuel, as it may be different types of wood or may be damp rather than dry. They typically also vary in terms of their airflow, as the ventilation pipes are different from pellet stove pipes. It can be difficult to measure the exact efficiency of these from use to use.
By comparison, the most efficient pellet stove will hit the same amount of heat time after time. They are much more controlled in terms of what they’re burning, and it is all dry, providing a hotter flame. You will have exactly the level of heat you want from your pellet stove every use.
Next, we’ll discuss price, both in terms of fuel and the stoves themselves.
Surprisingly similar in overall pricing, there are still differences. When you are purchasing a wood stove, the stove itself will cost less than the average pellet stove. But it costs a lot more to install, as it produces much more smoke than the pellets do.
Pellet stove prices are a bit more for the stove, but they’re much less to install. By the time the stove and installation have been averaged together, they are right at about the same price for getting it in place.
But what about the fuel prices? The simplest way to compare is by the ton of fuel weight, which equates to about a cord of firewood. A ton of pellets usually costs slightly more than a cord of firewood does.
Where the pellets suddenly make it worthwhile is in their efficiency. Over time, you will be burning less weight in wood pellets than you will in firewood, because the wood pellets produce a hotter flame. After multiple years of use, that can add up quite fast.
Wood pellets also tend to be much easier to store than firewood. Since firewood is a natural product, it comes in many shapes and sizes. Spiders and bugs can move into your firewood pile, but they aren’t going to get into a plastic bag. Pellets stay nice and dry until you use them.
Both types of stoves can reduce expensive gas heating. However, pellet stoves require electricity to run. A wood stove can be used without the need for electricity, making them slightly better for someone’s cabin in the woods.
But wood stoves do not feed themselves. Pellet stoves are often self-fueling, slowly maintaining the heat level in the stove at the range you desire. By comparison, you have to poke and prod at your wood stove, add more wood, make sure it’s burning hot enough, etcetera.
If that wasn’t good enough, some pellet stoves are programmable. You can set it to self-light and start up just before you need to get up in the morning. No need to go through the cold house to poke at the fire!
And finally, pellet stoves come in a third type: wall-mounted. If space is a concern for you, this compact form of stove can heat a single room extremely well. Wood stoves don’t come in a wall-mounted, space-saving variety.
So, while a wood stove is a good choice, a pellet stove just slightly edges it out for most homeowners. This is especially true of urban residents, who often can easily have a load of pellets delivered easily to their home. No need to break out the log splitter, just grab a bag off the pile!
Is A Wood Pellet Stove Cost Effective?
I mentioned above that wood pellets cost slightly more per ton than firewood. However, they also cost significantly less than the average gas heating bill, and they heat more uniformly than firewood.
Fossil fuel prices fluctuate heavily, and the price of gas tends to spike in the winter when it’s used for heating. Needless to say, your gas bill will skyrocket quickly, especially if a multiple-day storm hits.
Electric heaters aren’t much better, as electricity isn’t cheap. No matter how energy efficient an electric heater is, it’s still going to suck power. Often even the smallest ones can significantly increase your power bill, putting you at risk of jumping into a higher rate bracket.
People in the coldest areas of the country are familiar with heating oil, but the cost of heating oil can easily be double the cost of quality pellets. It’s an easy solution, but not a very cost-effective one.
But if you pair a wood pellet stove for most heating purposes with a backup gas heater, you can drop your costs down significantly. This is especially good in colder regions, where anything to drop the winter heating bill is wonderful.
Are Pellet Stoves Environmentally Friendly?
These days, many people are concerned about the impact of our heating methods on the earth. And there’s good reason for that. So let’s examine what impacts come from a variety of heating styles.
Gas heating burns fossil fuels. This leads to a buildup of CO2 in the air, creating air pollution and causing damage to the ozone layer. These emissions come from many other sources, but burning gas for warmth adds more to the problem.
Electricity is often derived from plants burning fossil fuels like coal or gas to generate it. While there are greener methods to produce power such as solar energy, they are still limited in scope.
Wood stoves can also release some carbon into the atmosphere. However, usually the riskiest aspect of burning wood is creating particulates in the air, such as tiny fragments of ash that cause air pollution.
In addition, wood stoves require wood to burn, which often necessitates cutting down trees. As trees absorb CO2, removing more trees can have a direct impact on the air quality by reducing the amount of trees that cleanse our air.
By comparison, pellet stoves are designed to burn their fuel extremely efficiently. In a properly-installed pellet stove, using a good quality fuel, there are often almost zero emissions released.
Further, pellet stoves use up waste material from lumber yards, sawmills, the furniture industry, and other similar sites. Scrap wood and sawdust is repurposed into a source of heat, making it less likely that we’ll need to harvest additional trees to produce warmth.
Certainly, no method of heating one’s home is without its potential drawbacks. But by reducing the emissions we produce, we can slowly improve the environment around us, and clean up waste products while we’re doing it.
Are Pellet Stoves Safe?
Overall, pellet stoves may be safer than a comparable wood stove for multiple reasons.
Pellet stoves radiate their heat much differently than most wood stoves. They often have fans which move heat from the source out into the room to circulate. This means that the exterior of a pellet stove is often much cooler than that of a wood stove, so there’s less risk of burns.
In addition, pellet stoves have many safety features integrated into them. Various failsafe measures are built in to ensure the safest operation possible. I’ll go over those features in a little bit.
You will need to do regular maintenance, including cleaning out ash and creosote deposits. Vent pipes should have annual cleaning done by a professional. And over time and with use, some parts may need to be replaced.
If all maintenance conditions are met, and your stove is properly installed and functioning as it should, they are incredibly safe.
Can I Install My Own Pellet Stove?
In short: maybe, but it may be more of a headache than it’s worth.
There’s likely to be local building codes for your area, just like there are for any other major renovation. Your install may need to be inspected for safety. Also, local laws may only permit certain types of stove ventilation pipes, or may require specific sealants and placements.
It’s relatively easy to install most freestanding pellet stoves and some wall mounts. but running the vent safely is the most difficult part.
Many DIYers want to simply run the vent through an exterior wall, but that may be a fire danger to your home. It’s safer if you can bend the pipe upward and have the top above the eaves for home safety.
Taking a stovepipe through the roof may require a code-approved roof jack through which the pipe will run, which may require professional assistance. There may also be building code regulations that specify fire-proof roofing around the pipe itself.
Also essential is the need for fireproof flooring for a freestanding model, or reinforced walls (possibly fireproofed as well) for a wall mount.
Insert stoves should be installed by a professional in most cases, as they conform to the shape and size of your fireplace. In addition, while installing the pipe seems easy, the fireplace damper makes it much more difficult than it would appear.
You can purchase insert stoves in a number of places, but given the complexity of the install, I have to recommend professional assistance for the actual installation itself. Ensuring that the vent draws properly is very tricky inside the narrow confines of a chimney.
In the end, if you have some experience and know-how, you can DIY some installs… but be very, very sure of what you’re doing before you start, and check the local codes thoroughly to ensure professional assistance is not required.
If you have any concern about your ability to do the task, let a professional handle it. It may cost more, but the peace of mind is worth it.
How Pellet Stoves Work
I mentioned earlier that there were only a few varieties of pellet stove – freestanding, insert, and wall mount.
An insert is inset into an existing fireplace, often with a ventilation pipe running up the existing chimney. Freestanding stoves are large boxes that take up space in the room and require you to run ventilation pipes. Wall-mounts also require vent pipes, but sit flush against a wall.
Regardless of which type you are using, there are a few different components of a pellet stove: a hopper for the pellets, a burner, a fan to distribute heat around the house, and some form of control system (often digital, but some models have remote controls too).
To use it, you place your wood pellets (either hardwood or softwood depending on the manufacturer) into the hopper. Piping leads from the hopper into the burner of the stove, with an electric auger inside controlling the speed of pellets dropping into the burner.
Your control panel will allow you to set your stove to the desired heat level, and the device will add pellets as required. Some models may also have a timing system to allow you to run it for just a few hours or for certain times of the day or night. The fan evenly spreads heat through your space.
For people in colder winter environments, you may go through up to a 40-lb bag of wood pellets per day. Warmer climates may only need to run their stove for a few hours during the coldest times of night, which takes much less fuel.
Maintenance is generally quite simple. The consumer will need to be sure that they remove excess ash when it builds up in the catch basin. In addition, they’ll need to remove “clinkers” – impurities from the pellets which collect in the stove, eventually forming hard masses.
It’s recommended that users make use of an ash vacuum to suck out any excess residue, and brush down the inner surfaces to remove built-up carbon dust. Annual inspection of the ventilation pipe by a professional is also advised to make sure it’s venting properly.
Wood pellets can be stored in an outdoor shed, garage, or other ventilated area. These usually come in 40-lb bags, although they can sometimes be purchased in large quantities loose. The goal is to keep them dry and where air moisture will not cause them to disintegrate.
Best Pellet Stove Features
Top Vs Bottom Feed
The feed system, whether top or bottom feed, delivers pellets to your burn chamber via an electric auger.
In a standard top feed system, the pellets will be transported to the top of the burn chamber, where they will drop inside. This can create small showers of sparks as a new batch of pellets drops into the existing fire, but they are contained in the chamber.
Top feed systems tend to be more common, but they also have a couple drawbacks.
You will need to use high-quality pellets for these to avoid clinkers, masses of impurities that gather in the bottom of the burn chamber and form hard clumps that won’t burn. Alternative fuel types are not an option for these stoves.
In addition, the ash may pile up more quickly in a top-feed system and require regular cleaning. And some people do not believe the fire looks as realistic as a log fire might, especially when new pellets land in the flame.
Bottom feed systems use the auger to push pellets into the back of the burn chamber. Ash gets naturally pushed forward into the ash pot, reducing the likelihood of clinkers forming in the burn chamber. These can also be used with alternative fuels like corn or lower-quality pellets.
However, bottom feed systems tend to run a bit more in terms of price, and are much less common than their top feed counterparts. While they’re more variable in terms of capability, you’ll pay a bit more to get it up and running.
While a large part of the stove type is based on your personal aesthetics, there are some variables that should be planned for.
Insert pellet stoves require you to have an existing fireplace. These models are great alternatives to expensive-to-run gas logs, and can be a great alternative to splitting firewood and buying grates. Ventilation is usually very easy to install with these as well, since it can run up the chimney.
However, inserts can be harder to maintain, and may require a professional to do a deep-cleaning once per year. If the ventilation pipes get clogged, you’ll almost always need to call in a specialist.
Freestanding pellet stoves can have an old-fashioned charm or can look modern and streamlined depending on what you choose. But these stoves will take up a significant amount of space, and you’ll need to be sure they’re on a fireproof tile surface.
In addition, freestanding stoves will require ventilation pipes to be run, often straight up through the ceiling. There’s no moving your stove once it’s in place without some significant repairs to the room, so you’ll need to plan ahead on its placement.
Wall-mounted pellet stoves are major space-savers. These sit even and flush to the wall, with the hopper positioned alongside or overtop of the burn chamber.
However, wall-mounted stoves should be placed on a reasonably heat-resistant wall for safety. Also, their weight (albeit lighter than other types) requires that your wall is extremely sturdy or in some way reinforced. Pre-plan for your ventilation pipe to be hidden inside the wall!
Pellet stove size matters, and there’s a good reason for that. An underpowered stove will not provide enough heat, where one that is too large can provide too much heat. So finding the right stove for your heating needs is slightly more complex.
Stoves are rated by how many BTUs, or British thermal units, they can produce. A good rule of thumb is that 20-30 BTU equals one square foot of space. So, a good range for a 2000 square foot home would be a stove capable of producing 40,000-60,000 BTU of heat, right?
Not necessarily. Tall or cathedral ceilings will add more space to be heated, and walls or doors may block heat distribution. Open floor plans are easier to heat than complex halls and multiple bedrooms. Your windows may actually allow heat to escape, as well.
For people with many rooms to heat, pairing a fan system with the stove to disperse the heat around the house will be a necessity. If your home is relatively open, you may be able to get by with having your stove in one centralized location where the rest of the house can benefit.
Weather conditions also play a major factor. People in colder climates are going to need higher-powered pellet stoves to heat their home, as their conditions call for more heat in general, and thus higher-powered stoves. Milder climate dwellers can get away with having smaller ones.
Finally, a stove that’s too small will constantly be running on high heat, which may cause the electrical components to break down more quickly.
In contrast, one that is too large will constantly be running on low heat, which is inefficient and wastes your fuel. Low smoldering creates higher quantities of smoke instead of vaporizing the pellets, which causes more pollution. Creosote can form in the pipes, causing fire risks.
Whatever size you choose for your space, be aware that your stove is not a lightweight thing. Pellet stoves can easily weigh in excess of 200 pounds. These can’t easily be moved elsewhere, and will need to be in a fire-safe location with proper ventilation systems installed.
Pellet Vs Multifuel
Remember how I mentioned that bottom-feed stoves can handle other forms of fuel? There are a number of lower-grade fuels that are available, including fine wood chips, low-quality pellets, feed corn, cherry pits, and even fuels made of compacted and pressed dry grasses.
While the wider range of fuels sounds appealing, different types of fuels will produce different levels of BTU. As an example, dried and cleaned cherry pits often produce higher BTU ranges than hardwood pellets, but compacted grass pellets produce much less heat.
To get the proper BTU rating that the manufacturer recommends, they generally will advise a specific type of fuel. You’re welcome to experiment with other kinds as well, but they may not all perform with the same reliability as a pellet fuel.
Most pellet stoves have one or more safety features, as I’d mentioned earlier on. Among those are some of the following:
- Exhaust Sensor Probe: This probe keeps track of the exhaust temperature and will shut down the unit if it gets too hot
- Automatic Shut-Down: If the burn rate seems to be off, or other unusual conditions occur, most pellet stoves will shut down.
- Door Sensor: If the door of the burn chamber is open or the ash-removal door is open, the feed motor will not operate. Some models include an additional sensor that will detect when the vent system isn’t functioning properly.
There are some models of pellet stove available which don’t require electricity to operate.
These are typically meant for small-space heating such as in mobile homes, or in conditions where electric power is not readily available. Most of these are gravity-fed, allowing pellets to slowly drop from a top hopper down into the burn chamber.
However, non-electric models are not the best for heating large homes. These work by radiating heat rather than by fans spreading warmth, and typically will only heat one or two rooms. They only work with a limited range of pellets, and cannot be used with non-standard fuels.
For most conditions, I don’t recommend one of these stoves. However, if you have a single-room cabin or a tiny house, this may be perfect for you.
Reviews Of The Best Pellet Stove Models
Best Pellet Stove: Comfortbilt Pellet Stove HP22
An awful lot of people start out with a Comfortbilt, and for good reason. With automatic ignition, a good-sized ash pan, and a programmable thermostat, they are a rather foolproof model for most homeowners.
The HP22 is designed to be placed at an external wall for DIYers, but can be professionally installed elsewhere if you want stovepipe running to the roof. A 55-pound hopper capacity gives you plenty of pellet space to get you through the coldest winter’s night.
Operating this particular pellet stove is simple as can be, and maintenance is relatively painless. You’ll still want to have your local fireplace guy come by to clean out your pipes in most cases, but homeowners can do routine maintenance on their own unit.
All things considered, for the average person, this is going to be a very easy model to use. And for the price, it’s a great way to get into pellet stove use. It is not the fanciest model available, but it’s definitely worth taking a serious look at.
Best Pellet Stove: QuadraFire Castile Pellet Stove Insert
One of the best things about pellet stove inserts is that they can really blend into your style needs. The QuadraFire line is extremely reliable, and they’re gorgeous as well. This is my personal favorite, but honestly all of them are strong contenders.
While this model is meant for smaller spaces, ranging between 700-1800 square feet depending on your home and heating needs, it has an easy-clean firepot and a jam-free system. 45 pounds of hopper capacity ensure it can take an entire bag of pellets without leftovers.
For a traditional fireplace look without needing to fuss with logs, simply add some ceramic logs inside the back of this model. It gives a realistic appearance while having the efficiency of a pellet stove.
Even though this will require professional installation, I have to recommend this model. Hands down, it looks better and works better than most of the lesser-priced variations on the market, and will improve your home value once it’s in place.
Best Pellet Stove: US Stove 4840 Wall Mount Direct Vent Pellet Heater
While I prefer freestanding and insert pellet stoves, a wall-mounted stove offers a compact solution. And in that situation, the US Stove 4840 allows for easy installation on an external wall, and can in most cases be installed by DIYers as well as professionals.
Let me reiterate one tiny point: this is meant for use on an external wall. This isn’t good on any internal walls in your house without significant modification and in-wall piping!
This stove only has a 28-pound capacity due to its size. While that’s plenty for lower heat settings, you may find yourself needing to refill it when running it on high heat. It also will not heat a large space, and has a maximum range of around 1000 square feet.
But when space is an issue, this unit certainly delivers. If you’re looking for something to heat your mobile home or your home office, or even a small apartment, this pellet heater may be a great choice for you.
Best Pellet Stove: US Stove GW1949 Wiseway Non-Electric Pellet Stove
Again, I’m not a huge fan of non-electric models because of their limited capability. But if I were looking to outfit my one-room cabin with a non-powered option, this is the one I would pick.
Gravity does the work in this model, dropping the pellets as others burn down. A system of airflow adjustment valves allows you to allow in more air for a hotter burn, or less for a cooler one. And it has a 60-pound hopper, which will last through at least a day and a half of burn time.
However, the lack of built-in fans means that the fire never builds up the bellows-effect that can amp the heat upward, and while the manufacturers claim it can heat 2000 square feet of space, that may be a bit erroneous. Reliably it’ll heat about 1000 square feet of open space.
With those caveats in mind, this can be an extremely good choice for the tiny house dweller or for the off-grid person. Just know what you’re getting into before you buy!
Best Pellet Stove: Regency Greenfire GF40 Pellet Stove
When looking for a good small-space stove, I was searching for something that could adequately heat a mobile home. I found my answer in the Regency Greenfire, a reliable and small-space solution which is not only functional, but mobile-home friendly.
With a surprisingly-large 67-pound hopper creating most of its mass, the Greenfire looks like a small, space-saving model. But its features are anything but small.
Narrow and streamlined, it has a small foot pad. It creates convection heat which suffuses the room with warmth. A quick-start ignitor makes it easy to start up, and its easy-use controls are tucked out of view. A large ash pan catches burn residue.
If you need something that has the power of a bigger model, but in a much smaller footprint, this is what you need. You won’t go wrong here.
Best Pellet Stove: Harman Absolute63 Pellet Stove
With a 72-pound hopper that can handle both soft and hardwood pellets or alternative fuels, Harman’s Absolute63 pellet stove is top of the line. If I was getting a new pellet stove for my home, it would likely be this one.
A digital keypad allows you to set your desired ambient temperature. Its bottom-feed system deals with clinkers and ash, pushing it into an easy-to-empty receptacle. It’s nearly silent in terms of its operation, and it provides even, reliable heating for most users.
Programmable heat settings allow you to literally set it and forget it. It will carry on heating until it automatically shuts off at your desired time, or until its hopper is empty. And because you can tell it the exact temperature you want, it works like any central air heat system does.
The drawbacks of this model are that it is typically only available through showroom sales or from the manufacturer. Installation is highly recommended for this pellet stove, as well, and some sellers may not allow purchases without an installation contract.
This is not just the best pellet stove for multi-fuel use, but I feel it’s an overall winner in general for anyone who has to deal with winter weather. It’s not cheap, but you absolutely get what you pay for with this stove.
While there’s a lot of variables to plan for, a pellet stove can be an effective, eco-friendly, and reasonably-priced option to warm your home all winter long. Have you used a pellet stove before, and if so, what kind? Tell me all about your pellet stove experience in the comment section!
Last update on 2018-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API