For those looking for alternative home heating options, many home owners have discovered the Pellet Stove (a.k.a. Pellet-Burning Stove). Although not entirely new, with today’s mindset of lowering energy costs and helping the environment, there is a bit of a boom for the pellet stove. Like its cousin, the wood-burning stove, the pellet stove burns a wood-based biomass fuel known as pellets and can be used as a secondary or primary home heating source. Below is some information to help you learn more about the pellet stove.
Today’s methods of manufacturing the fuel pellets use newer technology and ideas to make sure the pellets are environmentally safe. Yet, the pellet stove has been around since the 1930s. The Presto-log (or Prest-to-log) was the first commercially available artificial wood-fuel created by the Potlatch Corporation in Idaho in 1933[i]. At the time and for decades prior, scrap material from sawmills, paper mills and other industrial waste were commonly used by the lower-classes for heat in the winter. In the 1930s during the Great Depression, scarcity of home heating fuel reached epic proportions. The necessity drove innovation and the early versions of the pellet stove were invented.
Later in the 20th century, during the oil crisis of the 1970s, alternative fuels were developed again as result of scarcity and necessity. Biomass stoves, colloquially known as “Cook Stoves”, were improved using modern science and the idea of finding cheap, plentiful fuel that could be sourced locally and not dependent on the economies of world-trade like crude oil. Cook Stoves are as ancient as mankind and the primitive types are still used in third-world countries for everyday cooking and heating. The Pellet stove is a direct result of improving this ancient technology and creating cheap, clean, and efficient fuels to burn and simultaneously exploiting materials that would otherwise end up in a useless landfill or incinerator.
What is a Fuel-Pellet Made of?
Pellet stove fuel consists of a wide variety of biomass material primarily wood and waste paper. Included in the mix are agricultural by-products including crop-stalks and other organic refuse. Essentially, biomass fuels are left-over waste products from various industries put to good use including fuel pellets. This material is refined, compressed and treated to remove all moisture in order to create a dense and efficient fuel product thus generating more heat per unit that comparable home heating fuels.
The Modern Pellet Stove
The origins of the pellet stove harken back to days of burning refuse in a barrel or stuffing a wood-burning stove with whatever biomass material one can find. Modern pellet stoves are far different. Like many modern gas and wood stoves, many pellet stove models have electronic ignition and controls, remote controls, thermostats and the works. The have safe outer material to avoid fire hazards, and sophisticated exhaust systems to make sure the owner only gets the heat, not the waste. Most models have a hopper with an electronic feeder that will keep a steady supply of fuel for optimal performance.
Typical Cost of Ownership
According to iBuyfirepaces.com, the average cost of a modern pellet stove unit is about $1,900. Installation costs vary depending on many factors including how much or how little reconstruction has to be done to accommodate the stove in your house. According to the Pellet Fuels Institute, the typical fuel costs per season per household for a pellet stove working as the primary home heating source is about $800[ii]. For those who experience longer, colder winters this may be more. On the average, when compared to conventional fuels, this can generate an annual savings of $400 – $800 dollars which will pay for the stove in a only a few years of use, and continue saving the owner money over its lifespan.
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Derek Smith is a freelance writer and blogger located in Updstate New York.