Of many ways to keep homes warm, pellet stoves are easier to operate and more convenient compared to other wood-burning appliances.  As easy to use as gas, oil or electric heaters, these stoves burn small pellets made of compressed wood that look a lot like rabbit food.

Highly efficient and very low polluting, pellet stoves provide between 10,000 and 60,000 Btu per hour, and work on a simple and effective process.

How Pellet Stoves Work

Most pellet stoves work in the same way. Essentially, between 35 and 130 pounds of pellets sits in a hopper on the stove, and sophisticated computers and circuit boards systems determine how much fuel is needed.  The auger, a corkscrew-shaped device, will then transfer the proper amount of pellets into the fire chamber to burn.

A forced-air system distributes the heat that quickly emanates from the pellet stove, using either a fan to force air up the vent into the combustion chamber, or to draw air from that chamber through the exhaust system. This rapidly spreads the heat for thorough and far-reaching warmth.

Pellet stoves burn with excellent efficiency, so they do not typically require a standard chimney. Instead, they exhaust fumes through a small hole in the wall.  This “pellet vent” has a stainless steel interior and an aluminum or galvanized exterior.

Pellet-burning appliances actually require less care and concern than other wood-burning stoves.  Depending on your usage, a stove only needs to be refueled once a day to twice a week.  And it’s easy to pour the pellets into the hopper and let the stove do the rest.

When purchasing fuel, wood pellets can be found in 40 pound bags for around $4-5 each, amounting to $200-250 per ton of fuel.  An average stove will consume 1-2 tons for occasional use, while a heavy user will require over 6 tons.

Variations in Pellet-Burning Appliances

Most models of the pellet stove have similar features, like the two burn settings and the simplified “chimney”.  But there are some variations across models:

  • Many use thermostats for greater control over the heat.
  • The auger feed system can operate in two different ways: using a bottom-fed or top-fed loading system.
  • Some models can burn corn as well as pellets, or use pellets made from lower grade material.

Advantages of the Pellet Stove

  • Convenient, neat and safe
  • Minimal refueling required
  • Compressed, bagged fuel for clean and easy handling
  • Virtually no smoke and far less odor than other wood-burning appliances
  • Exterior does not radiate heat, staying relatively cool on the outside and preventing burns on contact.
  • Overall installation costs are less due to the absence of a chimney.

Disadvantages of the Pellet Stove

  • Certain regulations restrict where the stoves can be placed for adequate air exchange and combustion and are not allowed at all in some types of home.
  • Several internal fans require about 100 KWH of electricity each month, adding to your energy bill and preventing use during power outages.
  • The many moving parts require regular service and cleaning for the stoves to function properly, so check for warranty and yearly servicing costs.
  • Some areas lack reliable fuel suppliers, particularly in areas outside of the Northwest and Rocky Mountain region.
  • At $1,200 to $3,100, the stove itself can cost more than other wood-burning appliances, but consider the cost of the entire system in your assessment.

If you’re thinking about using a wood-burning applicance to keep your Milwaukee home snug and warm, you may want to consider the pellet stove. While not the right choice for everyone, pellet stoves offer an easy-to-use, low-polluting home heating option.