If you use a pellet stove to heat your home, you no doubt already know that pellet stoves are one of the best space-heating options on the market today.
“Pellet stoves are a great appliance because they are zone heaters—they can heat within a room versus the perimeter, as most central heating systems do,” says Justin Gulick, our Senior Sales Consultant/Hearth Specialist here at Sunfire Energy Solutions. “By using a pellet stove, homeowners can become less dependent on fossil fuels, and the heat is much warmer than electric heat. Pellet stoves can also be controlled with a thermostat, so they can generate a warm and cozy heat but also keep things comfortable.”
Pellet stoves reign supreme when it comes to heating efficiency—especially compared to older wood stoves and fireplaces. “They are about twice as efficient at warming your home as older woodstoves that have not been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are vastly more efficient than fireplaces,” according to an article for This Old House magazine.
EPA-certified pellet stoves are likely to be in the 70 percent to 83 percent efficiency range. They produce very little ash and emit extremely low outside air particulates. In fact, they are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance, according to an article on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Energy Saver website.
Those who’ve ditched their electric baseboard heaters or old gas furnaces in favor of a pellet stove—or started using a pellet stove in combination with other heat sources—typically see significant savings on their utility bills. “Pellet fuel appliances are almost always less expensive to operate than electric resistance heating, oil, and propane-fueled appliances,” the DOE says.
When used as a primary or secondary heat source, a pellet stove can reduce heating bills up to 40 percent, Gulick says. Your home’s potential savings depend on several factors, including how well you maintain your pellet stove, the quality of fuel you use, and the overall energy efficiency of your home.
Follow these tips to maximize your pellet stove’s heating efficiency:
Properly Maintain Your Pellet Stove
“You can gain the most efficiency from your pellet stove by keeping the unit clean and properly maintaining it,” Gulick says. “The cleaner the unit, the better it runs.”
Some pellet stoves have automatic cleaning cycles, but for most models, you should be cleaning ash out of the burn chamber and the ash pan and scraping the burn pot weekly throughout the heating season. You also should check regularly to ensure all vital components are free of ash. “Be sure to wear heat resistant gloves to protect your hands and arms, and deposit ashes in a metal container with a lid that’s stored far away from any combustibles,” advises our retail partner Harman Stoves in a blog post.
You also should have your pellet stove cleaned and inspected by a certified technician once a year, or each time you burn through a ton of pellets. While you can perform this inspection yourself by following the instructions in your stove’s owner’s manual, it’s best to hire a professional. Our certified technicians will inspect all your pellet stove’s vital components, including the auger, motor, hopper, switches, blowers, exhaust pipes, wiring, sensors, and more, to ensure they’re in functioning correctly. They’ll also clean the vent and combustion blower.
For specific instructions on care and maintenance for your pellet stove, consult your owner’s manual.
Burn High-Quality Hardwood Pellets
Because pellet fuels have a lower moisture content than well-seasoned firewood (5 to 10 percent compared to 20 percent, according to the DOE), they burn hotter and produce more heat. Not all pellet fuels are equal, though. The highest quality pellets are 100 percent wood; lower quality pellets may contain fillers or bark. While premium-grade pellets may be marginally more expensive than standard-grade pellets, they also burn more efficiently, producing less ash.
To keep your pellet stove running at peak efficiency, use premium pellets that have been graded by the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI). “Consistent, reliable quality pellets, like those from producers that have been qualified by the PFI Standards Program, will help a stove perform the way it was designed by burning cleaner and more efficiently,” according to PFI. To identify pellets from manufacturers that have qualified for the PFI Standards Program, simply look for the “PFI Graded Fuel” label, which is displayed on the front lower third of the bag.
Another way to check pellet fuel quality is to inspect the bag for excessive dust or dirt, “which can form clinkers in the stove,” the DOE says. “There should be less than one half of a cup of dust at the bottom of a 40-pound (18-kg) bag.”
Use Your Pellet Stove for Zone Heating
Depending on the size and layout of your home, you might want to consider using your pellet stove in combination with another heat source to boost your heating efficiency. “Many homeowners install a pellet stove to work in conjunction with their existing central furnace or boiler,” Harman Stoves advises. “Efficiencies are gained by turning the central furnace temperature down 10 to 15 degrees and using the pellet stove to zone heat the rooms that are used the most, such as the family or living room areas.”
Zone heating can reduce energy consumption by up to 40 percent, according to research cited by our retail partner Quadra-Fire. That translates to significant savings on your utility bills.
Ensure Your Home is Airtight
If your home has air leaks, they’re hindering your pellet stove’s ability to heat your home efficiently. Conduct a home energy audit to find any noticeable drafts. Check for gaps along baseboards and around windows and doors as well as junctures of walls and ceiling inside your home. The DOE suggests also checking for leaks on the outside of your home, such as in areas where different building materials meet.
Once you’ve found all the air leaks in your home, seal them with the appropriate material, such as caulk or weatherstripping. “The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 10 percent to 20 percent per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward,” the DOE says in another article.
If after sealing all the air leaks your home still isn’t as warm and cozy as it should be, you also may want to consider inspecting your home’s insulation level. “Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum,” the DOE advises. “When your house was built, the builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today’s energy prices (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially if you have an older home.”
Circulate Warm Air with Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans are an underutilized energy-saving resource in many homes, and pellet stove users should take advantage. According to an article on HGTV.com, using a ceiling fan in winter to reclaim hot air trapped at the ceiling can lower heating costs by up to 10 percent.
The trick is to ensure that the fan blades are spinning in the right direction for each season. Fan blades should rotate counterclockwise in summer, for instance, to create a breeze the makes your home feel cooler. “In the winter, reverse the motor and operate the ceiling fan at low speed in the clockwise direction,” advises Energy Star on its website. “This produces a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.”
Be sure to turn off ceiling fans when rooms are unoccupied, though, to save energy.
With a pellet stove, efficient home heating is a given. But by properly maintaining your unit, using high-quality fuel, and employing energy-saving strategies like zone heating and using ceiling fans, you can maximize the efficiency of your pellet stove and save even more money on heating your home in the winter.
Want to learn more about boosting the heating efficiency of your pellet stove? Call Sunfire Energy Solutions today at 304-267-3029 to talk to one of our expert sales team members and to schedule a visit from our certified hearth technicians.
Interested in purchasing a pellet stove for your home? Visit our showroom at 301 East Stephen Street in Martinsburg to browse our selection of pellet stoves from top brands including Harman Stoves, Hearthstone, Quadra-Fire, and St. Croix.
Sunfire Energy Solutions is a one-stop shop for HVAC products and installation, hearth appliances, grills, outdoor furniture, and hot tubs. We serve customers in Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, Charles Town, Ranson, Hedgesville, and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, as well as the surrounding region, including parts of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Learn more at www.sunfireenergysolutions.com.