Are you thinking about buying a wood- or pellet-burning stove, but not sure which type of stove suits your home and lifestyle?
You’ve come to the right place. Here at Sunfire, we’re your total energy experts. Our goal is to help you determine which is the best heating appliance for your home and ensure you’re getting the most efficiency from it.
On the outside, wood stoves and pellet stoves have a lot in common, but that’s where the similarities end. “The biggest difference between a pellet stove and its main competitor, a wood stove, is that, inside, the pellet stove is a high-tech device with a circuit board, a thermostat, and fans—all of which work together to heat your space efficiently,” write John Morell and Katelin Hill in an article for This Old House magazine.
Pellet stoves are more convenient to operate than wood stoves. They burn small pellets that are 3/8 to 1 inch in length and made from wood or other organic materials, such as nutshells and corn kernels, so there’s no chopping, stacking, or hauling wood involved. And unlike wood stoves, pellet stoves don’t require tending every few hours to keep the fire going. You simply load pellets into the stove’s fuel hopper, where they’re stored until they’re used for burning. “Most hoppers hold between 35 and 130 pounds of fuel, which will last a day or more under normal operating conditions,” according to an article on the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Energy Saver website. Wood stoves, on the other hand, require you to rebuild the fire each morning and restock it throughout the day.
While pellet stoves are easier to use than wood stoves, some people still prefer a traditional wood stove—whether it’s for ambience or a simple desire for a real wood fire. “There’s something deeply satisfying, on a primal level, about wood heat,” writes Steven Fox in an article for BobVila.com. “It offers a connection to the land—and to human history—that simply cannot be matched by a system that’s controlled by a thermostat on the wall.”
If it’s ambience you’re after, pellet stoves can offer that, too, of course. Many models have a large viewing glass where you can watch the flames dance over ceramic logs.
Convenience and ambience aside, there’s much more to consider before you choose between a wood or pellet stove:
While both wood and pellet stoves can effectively heat most spaces, it’s important to select a stove that’s properly sized for your home to maximize its heating efficiency. Wood and pellet stoves are available in a range of sizes. No matter which kind of stove you choose, “a good rule-of-thumb is that a stove rated at 60,000 British Thermal Units (Btu) can heat a 2,000-square-foot home, while a stove rated at 42,000 Btu can heat a 1,300-square-foot space,” the DOE says.
Many pellet stoves have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies than wood stoves, meaning they use less fuel to produce the same amount of heat. As a result, they also produce less air pollution. “In fact, pellet stoves are the cleanest solid fuel, residential heating appliance,” according to the DOE.
Most pellet stoves fall in the 60 to 80 percent efficiency range, according to Morell and Hill. Wood stoves are in the 30 to 80 percent efficiency range, though the high end only includes EPA-certified stoves made after 1990. Pellet stoves are about twice as efficient at warming a home as older non-EPA-certified wood stoves.
Many newer EPA-certified wood stoves are outfitted with technologies that make for cleaner burning and lower emissions. “Compared to lesser-grade or older stoves, you’ll get longer burn times and use less wood, with significantly less ash to clean up,” says our retail partner Quadra-Fire in a blog post. All Quadra-Fire wood stoves are made with the company’s patented Four-Point Burn System, which involves “four combustion cycles that extend the heat, enhance the fire, and increase efficiency for durable, long-lasting performance.”
So, while older wood stoves leave much to be desired when it comes to energy efficiency, many newer wood stoves are on par with pellet stoves.
Installation and Operating Costs
The costs for purchasing a wood or pellet stove are comparable. Installation and operation are where costs can differ for the two types of heating appliances.
Pellet stoves are often cheaper to install than wood stoves, as they can sometimes be direct-vented into the room, negating the need for a more expensive chimney or flue required for a wood stove.
Operation costs can vary based on the availability and price of firewood and pellets in your area. If you’re able and willing to cut your own firewood, the cost to fuel your wood stove will be virtually nonexistent; you’ll pay only the costs to maintain your wood-cutting equipment, such as a chainsaw and log splitter, and for transportation costs (e.g., gas to fuel your truck).
There are also other costs to consider when it comes to cutting your own firewood—namely the cost of your time and energy. Cutting down trees, sawing them into logs, and then splitting those logs takes a lot of time, effort, and skill. “There are techniques and best practices here that might take the neophyte several seasons to master,” Fox writes. “You need to be realistic about your abilities and tolerance for heavy work.”
If cutting your own firewood isn’t a possibility, then you’ll need to purchase it if you want a wood stove. To get an idea of the difference in cost between firewood and pellets, “you should compare the cost of a full cord of firewood and that of pellets and consider how long each volume will last in order to make a proper comparison of fuel supply costs,” advises Mariette Mifflin in a post for The Spruce.
You also should consider that pellet stoves require a small amount of electricity (about $9 a month) to run controls, fans, and pellet feeders. While this cost may be negligible for some, it’s also important to know that “unless the stove has a back-up power supply, the loss of electric power results in no heat and possibly some smoke in the house,” according to the DOE.
Besides installation and operation costs, there are other practical concerns that may sway your decision to buy a wood or pellet stove.
For instance, firewood can be stored outside, but pellets must be stored in a dry location. “So be prepared to give up some space in the basement, garage, or outside building for the pellet fuel,” advises Justin Gulick, our Senior Sales Consultant/Hearth Specialist here at Sunfire Energy Solutions.
But while it may be easy to visit your nearest hearth retailer to buy pellets, it’s not as easy to stock up on firewood.
Firewood needs to be properly cut, split, stacked, and seasoned, so whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring someone, consider these guidelines from our retail partner Harman Stoves:
- Use the right wood. “Dense woods from broadleaf species like oak, ash, maple, and hickory are the best for burning. When compared to lighter conifer woods like pine, dense woods provide longer-lasting coals, produce less smoke, and sparks.”
- Make sure it’s well-seasoned. Let it air-dry for at least one season after being cut, split, and stacked.
- Cut correctly. “Consider the size of your firebox when cutting wood, so it will fit. As a rule of thumb, log lengths of 16- to 18-inches will fit in most stoves and fireplaces.”
- Don’t skip log splitting. “Splitting opens the log and exposes the wood to air, helping it dry. Split firewood is also easier to handle and fits into fireplaces and stoves better than un-split logs.”
- It’s all about the stack. “Wood that has been piled in a heap won’t burn well. The key is stack it off the ground and provide air circulation so it can dry naturally. Keep the bottom layer from contacting the ground by stacking the wood on a base, like cinder blocks. Crisscrossing the layers of wood will create spaces for air. A tarp can be draped over wood stacks during wet weather, but remove it when it’s sunny to avoid moisture build-up and promote drying.”
If you’re not prepared to tackle all of the above yourself, or hire someone to do it, then a pellet stove might be your ideal heating appliance.
To keep your wood or pellet stove operating safely and efficiently, you’ll need to properly maintain it. You can handle some maintenance tasks yourself, but for others, you should hire a professional. “Every year, preferably before each heating season, have a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America inspect your wood-burning system,” the DOE advises. “In addition to cleaning the chimney, a certified chimney sweep should have the knowledge to help make sure your appliance, hearth, connecting pipe, air inlets, chimney, and all other components are functioning efficiently and safely.”
Pellet stoves, which contain more complex and expensive components than a wood stove, also should be cleaned annually by a professional.
Both wood and pellet stoves require regular cleaning and ash removal by the homeowner as well, but a pellet stove produces significantly less ash than a wood stove. By using high-quality pellets, you can limit ashpan cleaning to once a week or less, according to Morell and Hill. You also should scrape your pellet stove’s burn pot weekly to remove any combustion residue or unburned pellets.
Wood stoves require a bit more attention from homeowners. You should remove ash every one to three days, for starters, and periodically clean out the inside of the stove with a wire brush to help it heat more efficiently. “Even one-tenth of an inch of soot can drop the heat transfer efficiency of the metal by 50 percent,” according to the DOE.
In short, if you prefer less maintenance on your end, go with a pellet stove, but if you don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty, a wood stove may be a good choice.
Shopping for a Stove
At this point, you should have a good idea of whether you prefer a wood or pellet stove. So, are you ready to start shopping? Visit the Sunfire Energy Solutions showroom at 301 East Stephen Street in Martinsburg to browse our selection of wood and pellet stoves from top brands including Quadra-Fire, Harman Stoves, Hearthstone, St. Croix, and more.
Or call us today at 304-267-3029 to talk to a sales team member.
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