Wood pellet stoves on the surface seem like a pretty good solution to home heating. Many manufactures who build stoves and wood heaters, however, don’t list them in their product line.
Many questions are asked about the utility and cost savings associated with these appliances. Marketing often pushes consumers to investigate existing markets if they have not been mentioned in the mainstream. In light of the unpredictability and economic downturn, anything that offers alternatives seem to be attractive.
The market is wide open in the home heating area; prompting pellet stove manufactures to increase their marketing efforts. They are selling stoves in record numbers. Marketing is an art and science. You just take the data that emphasizes the value and quality of your product; exploit it, while ignoring facts that do not contribute to your selling proposition.
The idea of pellet stove heating goes back as far as the 1980’s. There are a couple of reasons why they seemed attractive then and remain so now. First, they give off lower emissions than traditional wood stoves. Second, they utilize a renewable resource, sawdust produced by mills. Like any other industry the owner wants to turn every bit of waste into an income stream. Exploiting this idea has given or did give pellet stoves an opportunity to flourish.
Early manufactures promoted the technology they had available at the time. It is getting better, but initially their claims received a lot of scrutiny. In light of that scrutiny, it was somehow established that perhaps pellet stoves were not quite the cost savers they were made out to be. Some of the negative complaints included, too much dust when dumping pellets into the auger, aggravating noises caused by the blower and auger, as well as inability to use the appliance during power failures.
The other key area was maintenance. It seemed to be nearly ten times in frequency compared to people who used wood or gas stoves. The critics of course used this in their argument that pellet stoves were not as cost-saving as thought originally. Suddenly, there were shortages in sawdust raw material which was quickly supplemented by trees, thus driving the cost of pellets to new highs. If you look at data from the USDA, it generally only goes back ten years in comparison. This was an area the stove manufactures could exploit.
On the other hand, cord wood has maintained a relatively steady price, despite data beyond four years that show pellets costs have increased nearly fourfold.
There is very competition among pellet manufactures. Given the attractiveness of the stoves, along with a captive audience driven more by emotion than finances, the price stamped on a forty pound bag of pellets is what these consumers will pay.
Just like any major appliance, there are hidden costs. In order for pellet stoves to be effective, they require electricity. Electricity is required to operate the auger, blower motor, and exhaust fans.
Pellet blower motors are a bit more complicated than the average blower on your furnace. Augers are mechanical devices that constantly require adjustments. Exhaust fans can use existing ducting, but require more cleaning than when used as intended. These maintenance costs as well as electricity cost must be factored into the overall operating expenses of the stove. When taking these hidden costs into consideration, one needs to factor in another salient selling point, emissions. Emission reduction was the rave, but the calculations of savings are compromised because of the emissions produced by using additional electricity.
The Environmental Protection agency introduced standards for the production of clean burning wood stoves in the early 90’s. This virtually eliminated one of the key advantages of wood pellet stoves. It caused a tremendous stir in the industry, prompting them to set pellet production standards as well. As a result, many consumers lost interest in pellet stoves and distributors of pellet stoves stopped carrying, servicing and selling them. Many manufactures who could not afford to invest in the exploration of new technology to make pellet stoves competitive ceased to carry that business line altogether.
From a wood pellet perspective, this device is no longer a cost effective solution to home heating. With technology improvements, traditional wood burning stoves maintain a higher wood to heat ratio, practice noise abatement technology and runs quieter.
However, there are proponents who would argue that pellet stoves do their part to abate CO2 gases, have improved technology that rivals traditional wood stoves and operate more efficiently. The choice is yours, economics or emotion. That really seems to be the bottom line.
Joel has been writing informative articles for several years. Come visit his latest articles on pellet stove fuel and wood pellet burning stoves for insights on winter home heating options to help combat your fuel bills during the cold season.