Nothing beats a nice glowing fire on a cold winter night. A good fire not only provides much-needed warmth to a home but also lends it a touch of class too. To prove the point, here is a little quiz question for you, how many Christmas movies can you name that don’t feature a delightful looking fireplace?
Fireplaces come in all shapes and sizes. Increasingly common are standalone fireplaces that can easily be placed in a room because they don’t require much in the way of modifications to the building’s existing structure. Most standalone designs only require a firm base on which to stand and an exhaust exit to allow the fumes to exit the home.
We tend to think of there only being two types of solid-fueled fireplaces – coal and wood. But there is another type of fuel that has become increasingly popular in recent times thanks to it being an efficient inexpensive alternative. This fuel is the humble wood pellet. If you haven’t heard much about pellets and are planning to buy a new fireplace sometime soon, then you should definitely take a few minutes to read this article.
Why would I even consider using a wood pellet stove?
The reason for the sudden surge in popularity of the pellet stove is quite simple, efficiency. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) is the measure of how efficient any particular fuel source is at creating heat when it burns. For fuels such as oil and gas, the AFUE is roughly 10% – 15%, while for pellets it is a staggering 70% to 90%. This means that pellets are able to convert most of their energy into heat to warm your home.
The miracle of the wood pellet doesn’t just lie in the fuel but also in the design of the pellet stoves and how they feed the pellets into the burner. Not only does this design characteristic ensure the pellets are burned in an efficient way, but it also prevents the hot/cold cycles that other types of fire suffer from because the fuel source gets burned up all at once.
Aren’t pellets expensive?
One of the first objections people have to the idea of using pellets is cost. If you are lucky enough to live in or by a wooded area then it is true that using pellets would certainly cost you more. But unfortunately, most of us don’t and so we are forced to buy the wood we need for our fires from stores. To give you an idea of cost, a 40 lbs. bag of pellets can cost anywhere from $5 to $70, depending on the quality. It is definitely worth paying more to get good quality pellets as these burn more efficiently, produce more heat, and last longer. When you factor in how efficient they are at producing heat, pellets are actually cheaper than wood, and they don’t take anywhere near as much room to store either.
The added bonus of using pellets is that they are made from waste products such as sawdust or wood chips that would otherwise be disposed of. This makes them more environmentally friendly as they don’t require fresh trees to be cut down in order to make them.
Advantage of using pellets over wood logs
- More environmentally friendly as they don’t require new trees to be cut down
- More efficient fuel
- Pellet fires don’t suffer from the hot/cold effect as wood fires do
- Require much less storage space
- No risk of them becoming damp
Advantage of using pellets over coal
- Renewable resource
- More efficient fuel
- Don’t contain large amounts of harmful sulfur
- Much less resource intensive to produce
Advantage of using pellets over gas
- Much safer than gas
- Gas is not a renewable fuel
- Pellets don’t require being connected to the mains
- Gas often requires importing, causing increase in the country’s deficit
These are just some of the advantages that have led to more than 12 million people in the United States choosing to use a pellet stove over any other type.
How does a pellet stove work?
Pellet stoves work by utilizing pellets (nearly always made from wood) as a fuel source which is then burned in a combustion chamber. In order to facilitate the most efficient burning process, the fire steadily feeds wood pellets into the combustion chamber to ensure a constant supply of fuel.
Pellets are initially fed into a storage section that is known as the ‘hopper’, which is connected to an auger that is responsible for feeding them into the combustion chamber. To adjust the burn rate/heat, users only need to adjust the auger’s fuel feed rate which will increase/decrease the amount of fuel entering the combustion chamber.
To start the fire, some stoves have an ignition system which lights the fuel, while others require manual ignition.
How to choose the best pellet stove?
There are a few important factors to consider when it comes to finding a top pellet stove.
Pellet stoves come in 2 main types: Standalone pellet stoves and those that can be integrated with the existing central heating system. This article is going to cover the standalone designs.
Standalone stoves are designed to operate completely independently, though most designs do require a mains electric connection for operation.
Size is an obvious factor when considering what stove to buy as quite simply you will need to make sure that it fits where you want it to go. Be sure to refer to the stove’s product listing to double check the stoves dimensions before you buy. As a general rule, larger stoves will be designed to create a greater heat output and therefore be more suitable for larger rooms.
BTU or British thermal unit is defined as being the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Pellet stove BTUs vary enormously, from around 8,000 to 90,000 BTU per hour. Obviously, the larger the room the higher the BTU it will require. For a good sized living room, you should look for a BTU of 30,000+. As a general rule, a 24,000 BTU heater will heat up to 1,000 sq. Ft. A 60,000 BTU heater will heat about double that, 2,000 sq. Ft.
Bottom fed stoves vs. top fed stoves
Top feed stoves are generally considered to be safer as the auger relies on gravity to feed the pellets into the combustion chamber. Despite reducing the risk of the fire accidentally spreading to the fuel storing hopper, the drawback to this design is that they are not as good at allowing ash to pass out of the combustion chamber’s firebox grate. Instead, the ash forms what are known as ‘clinkers’, which clog the grate and restrict the flow of oxygen into the fire, therefore reducing the amount of heat being produced. Though a number of clinkers can be reduced by using high-grade pellets, they still are a common nuisance associated with top fed stoves.
Bottom-fed stoves reduce the chance of clinkers by feeding the pellets in horizontally while removing the ash as it forms. Though there is an increased risk of the fire spreading to the hopper with this design, they are better at ensuring a steady rate of fuel combustion.
How to set up your new pellet stove
Installing any stove requires great care, particularly with all the potential dangers involved with fire. We strongly advise that you seek professional help to install any stove unless you are properly qualified.
For people wishing to install their own stove, it is much like installing any other type of stove. Here are a few things you will need to remember when installing your new stove:
- Make sure you have the right type of stove for your room (some are designed to fit in existing fireplaces, others are meant to be freestanding)
- Make sure you have fully read the manufacturer’s installation instructions before you begin
- You will need to ensure that the stove has both a solid and level base on which to stand
- Ensure that the stove is not positioned in such a way that the heat it generates will burn/damage surrounding floors/walls etc.
- Stove will need to be near to an electricity supply
- Venting. Any stove must be connected to some form of outside vent in order to carry away the gases produced by the fire. Many stoves use ‘direct venting’, which allows for the gases to be taken by pipe directly out of a wall or out through the roof. It is vital that you connect the stove in a way that allows adequate venting and doesn’t allow any of the gasses to leak into the home. Every state/country has its own laws regarding how vents must be installed, so please make sure you abide by them as otherwise, you might be breaking the law.
Our Top Choice
Castle 12327 Serenity Wood Pellet Stove with Smart Controller
This extremely well-designed stove is as good looking as it is effective. It manages to achieve a really respectable 70% thermal efficiency that can be improved further by using good quality pellets. It has an automatic ignition system and a built-in thermostat for temperature control. The unit has 5 different pellets feed rates allowing for plenty of temperature adjustment.
This pellet stove is extremely reliable and is effective with rooms of up to 1500 sq. ft. in size. For a little-added peace of mind, it has been fully certified by the EPA as safe for the home. It is beautifully designed, having a large glass window on the front so you can see the nice glow of the fire as it heats your home.
Its only real drawback is that rather than switching itself off once it reaches your preset temperature, it instead switches to its minimum heat level, thereby continuing to warm the room to temperatures that can greatly be in excess of what you want. The stove could also use a slightly bigger hopper so you can empty a full bag in one go, but this is really a minor inconvenience, nothing more.
69.8% or above thermal efficiency
Effective for up to 1500 sq. ft. heating capacity
Five different feed rates for different heat options
Electric control system ruins the effect of the look
Temperature based on/off control is not as effective as other designs
Pleasant Hearth Cabinet Style 50000 BTU’s Pellet Stove with 120-Pound Hopper
Available in 3 different sizes, the Pleasant Hearth Cabinet Style is perhaps the best looking of them all. Made in the USA, it has been certified with an impressive 85% efficiency rating and has a 50000 BTU making it suitable for even the largest rooms. This great design comes with a large hopper that allows for up to 70 hours of continuous heating.
It is a really nice looking design and comes with a great heat dispersing door handle that makes sure there is no risk of burning your hands when opening it. It features an auto-ignition system, a ceramic glass window, and a discrete control system that thankfully doesn’t ruin the overall look of the stove as is the case with some other designs. This unit comes with an outside air kit and is really easy to install. It has a great design that comes with a 5-year warranty to make sure you are covered should the worst ever happen.
Available in 3 sizes
85% efficiency rating
50000 BTU – Suitable for up to 2200 square feet
120-pound hopper – 24-70 hours continuous burning
5 Different Heat Settings
Not as sturdy as some other designs
Comfortbilt Pellet Stove HP22- 50,000 BTU
This is one of the best pellet stoves according to customer satisfaction score. Regrettably, perhaps because of its popularity, it can be quite a hard stove to get hold of.
It is a 50,000 BTU design that has an 86% burn efficiency rating, making it both a powerful heater and an extremely cost effective stove. The design is really easy to install and looks the part too. This stove is an excellent design that adds charm to your home. We all love to see the orange glow of a fireplace and this design has a large 3-part front glass door that lets us do just that.
Sadly, it is another design that houses the controller unit on the top, which is something that cheapens the look a bit. Otherwise, this is a really great pellet stove which if you can manage to track one down, certainly will look good in any home.
50,000 BTU – Good for up to 2,000 sq. ft.
Large Glass Front
86% Burn efficiency
Large 55 lbs. Hopper
1 Year Warranty
Very easy to install
Item is currently hard to procure
Refill opening is too small
US Stove GW1949 Wiseway Non-Electric Pellet Stove
Okay, so if you can put up with everyone who visits your home asking ‘what’s that?’ while pointing to the stove, then this is otherwise an extremely powerful and efficient pellet stove. The stove itself looks more like an exercise machine, so is a little hard to blend in with your other furniture (unless you plan to put it in your gym of course).
The reason behind its slightly odd design is that it is a non-electric stove and so uses gravity to feed the pellets into the fire as well as to remove the ash. The whole system works like a dream and has a 40,000 BTU rating, meaning that it is suitable for most small to medium-sized rooms. This stove is the ideal choice for people who have a cabin or a mobile home that doesn’t have a steady electricity supply.
40,000 BTUs – heats up to 2,000 sq. Ft
60 lbs. hopper – lasts up to 36 hours
No noisy parts
Less than attractive design
Nextstep Freestanding Wood Pellet Stove
If you are looking for a compact, easy to install wood pellet stove for an area of 1290 sq. ft. or less, then this is most certainly the design for you. Claiming an outstanding 90% efficiency rating, Nextstep has excelled themselves with this sleek and practical stove.
The stove is entirely freestanding so it doesn’t require much in the way of effort to install. The multi-directional heat vents work like a charm at distributing the heat evenly around the room. The long, sleek design, hidden door handle, and large glass viewing panel make this design as attractive as it is efficient.
90% Burn Efficiency
61 lbs. hopper 12 – 35 hour burn time
Multi-directional heat vent for better warmth distribution
Large flame viewing glass front
Discreetly positioned door handle
Easy to use
LCD has fuel gauge to show you how much is left
Not designed to heat large areas
US Stove 4840 Wall Mount Direct Vent Pellet Heater
This stove is a wall-mount design, so it’s ideal for people who want their stove offof the floor. It has a BTU rating of 24,000 so it’s good for rooms up to 1,000 sq. ft. or so. It is a bit of a challenge to install correctly, but once up and running, it features automatic ignition, 5 heat settings, and a 28 lbs. hopper that will give anywhere between 6 to 24 hours of burn time.
This design is easy to use and maintain, but sadly not as good looking as other designs. It is ideal for smaller homes, but be warned; if you like your rooms hot, then you will find yourself having to refill this stove quite regularly. The stove comes with all the brackets and vent kit that you need to get it up and running. Generally, a good all around stove, but only for lighter use.
24,000 BTUs – heats up to 1,000 sq. Ft
5 heat settings
28 lbs. hopper – Allows for 6 to 24 hours of operation
Comes with a vent kit
Easy to maintenance
Difficult to install
Summers Heat 55-SHPEP Evolution Pellet Stove 2,000 Square Foot
A ‘classic’ stove design, the Summers Heat 55-SHPEP is a reasonably good stove. Whether or not you appreciate the fake wood effect in the burner is a matter of personal taste. What will appeal to buyers is its really high burn efficiency, the large 45 lbs. hopper that gives around 26 to 27 hours of heat, and the really handy ash pan that makes cleaning up a breeze.
The viewing ‘bay’ window design gives the stove a nice lookand allows for plenty of that ‘orange glow’ to radiate into the room. Meanwhile, it’s easy to use control panel and auto ignition system make operation really simple. This good stove might not be to everyone’s tastes but it is definitely worth considering if you want a great stove that is nice and easy to use.
Made in the USA
Large viewing glass
75% burn efficiency
Good sized 45 lbs. hopper
Fake wood is not to everyone’s tastes
US Stove Company 5520 Wood Pellet Stove, 48000 BTU
For people who want a classic looking stove and one that they don’t need to be constantly refilling, then here comes the US Stove Company 5520 to the rescue. It has a massive 120 lbs. large capacity hopper that won’t need to be refueled for few days at a time, even on the highest burn setting. This feature has made this model particularity appealing for people who rely heavily on their stove, such as those who live in colder climes or the elderly.
It is designed to heat spaces up to 2,200 sq. ft. and can even be used to seriously turn up the heat in any room or mobile home, for which it is fully certified. Along with any large capacity hopper, it naturally comes with a large ash pan. This stove’s huge hopper and pan means that you only need to start it burning, and you can just sit back and enjoy days’ worth of hassle-free heat without having to so much as lift a finger.
Heats Up To 2,200 Square Feet
‘Classic’ stove design
120 lbs. Large Capacity Hopper
Large Ash Pan
Can be used with mobile homes
Easy to use Led Display
Not as efficient as other stoves on this list