Difference between wood burning & pellet stoves

Written by jeffery vidrine
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  • Introduction

    Difference between wood burning & pellet stoves

    Wood burning stoves and pellet stoves are alternative heating sources to fossil fuels that use a renewable energy source. Fuel costs for these stoves are equal to coal and natural gas but well below oil, propane, or electricity. Both stoves are far more efficient and safer than fireplaces. But there are big differences too.

    Wood burning stove. (Old Stove and Antique Chair image by bawinner from Fotolia.com)

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    General Differences

    Wood burning stoves and pellet stoves differ in the fuel used, the amount of work required to operate, and in how the heat is produced. Wood burning stoves get very hot, stay hot for a long time, and are a burn hazard, especially with children. Pellet stoves don't get hot to touch, so burns are not a problem.

    Old wood burning stove. (wood burning stove image by Paula Gent from Fotolia.com)

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    Fuel Used

    Pellet stoves burn small pellets that look like rabbit feed. Pellets are made from compacted sawdust, wood chips, bark and waste paper. Some pellet stoves can burn a variety of biomass fuels like shelled corn, soybeans, cherry pits or sunflowers. Pellets can be delivered or bought in sacks and stored in a basement. Wood stoves burn hardwoods like oak, walnut and hickory. The wood must be cut to length to fit in the stove. It must be split and dried before using. Stack wood outdoors away from the house to avoid termites. Cover the top but leave the sides of the wood stack open so air can circulate to dry the wood.

    Pellets appear like rabbit feed. (pellets image by Rupert Roth from Fotolia.com)

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    Wood burning stoves must have a chimney or approved vent. There is no need for electricity unless the stove has a blower to circulate air around the hot firebox and into the room. Wood burners produce radiant heat. Pellet stoves use a conventional flue. An auger powered by an electric motor moves pellets from the hopper on top into the stove. Filling the hopper with 18.1 Kilogram of pellets can heat a home for 40 hours, depending on the temperature setting and the size of the house.

    Modern flue extending through the roof. (chimney image by lefebvre_jonathan from Fotolia.com)

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    Pellet stoves are usually self-igniting with the temperature controlled by a thermostat knob on the front of the stove. Empty the ash bin every few days and fill the hopper with pellets as needed. Wood burning stoves are a lot more work. Cutting, splitting, stacking, hauling wood indoors, and the need for kindling (small sticks to start a fire) are some of the chores required. Ashes should be removed daily. You must physically start the fire. Wood burners are messy, adding time for cleaning and dusting.

    Firewood, split and stacked (firewood image by Janet Wall from Fotolia.com)

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    A wood burning stove costs less than £650, as of 2010. They work without electricity, and so are good in case of power outage or in a remote area with no electrical service. As of 2010, Pellet stoves cost over £1,300 and require electrical power to work, adding to the cost of operation.

    Fire within a wood burning stove. (flame image by jeancliclac from Fotolia.com)

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    Environmental Concerns

    Wood burning stoves are less efficient, which means more of the heat goes up the chimney, especially older stoves. Older models produce as much as 40 grams of smoke per hour. Newer EPA certified models produce no more than 7.5 grams of smoke per hour. Use a carbon monoxide detector when burning wood. Pellet emissions are so minimal that they are not regulated by the EPA.

    Smoke rises from a chimney. (chimney with smoke in winter image by PHOTOFLY from Fotolia.com)

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    Wood burning stoves are less expensive and work well if you are "off the grid," that is having no electricity because of a remote location or power loss after a storm. Because wood burners radiate heat, it is possible to cook on a wood burning stove. Pellet stoves, while more expensive and needing electrical power to operate, are safer for the family, burn cleaner, make less of a mess and are less work to use. Have the chimney and flue inspected and cleaned annually.

    Clean chimney annually to remove creosote and prevent house fires. (chimney sweeper image by michele goglio from Fotolia.com)

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