Pellet Stove Buying Guide

Introduction

Just like any other heating appliance, choosing the right pellet stove to heat your home requires some research.

You want to get one that looks right in your home. But you also want to make sure that you buy one that heats the space you need it to (not too much, though).

There are many different considerations to take into account when choosing a pellet stove for your home and each one are key factors in how safely and efficiently your pellet stove operates.

Today’s post will hopefully offer some valuable advice that will help you choose the perfect pellet stove to heat your home.

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Table of Contents

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Why Choose a Pellet Stove

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How Do Pellet Stoves Work

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What to Consider

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How Much Heat Do You Really Need?

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How Much Do They Cost

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Pellet Stove Accessories

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Final Tips Before Buying

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Quick Tips for Hiring a Chimney Company

Why Choose a Pellet Stove

First, let’s take a look into why you’d want to choose a pellet stove to heat your home. 

The reasons we see most of the time is that pellet stoves are more economical and much easier to use than a wood stove, especially if you don’t have a viable source of wood in the winter.

chimney caps & no caps

More Economical

Pellet stoves have become more popular among customers who are looking to lower fuel costs. 

But many customers with smaller homes are choosing pellet stoves because they don’t necessarily need to buy a safety gate. 

This is because pellet stoves remain relatively cool to the touch on the exterior making them much safer for folks with pets and children. 

But also if you live in an are where harvesting firewood isn’t the best option or you don’t have someone that has readily available seasoned firewood. 

Or you just simply don’t have the time to split and harvest your  own firewood, pellet stoves are a great option.

Environmental Concerns

Another big benefit of pellet stoves is that they are better for the environment.

More people are being more mindful of the pollutants that some heating appliances release into the environment that we breathe.

Pellet stoves use condensed wood pellets that burn very efficiently and contain little moisture so less harmful gases are released into the air.

You might also appreciate the fact that the wood pellets are from recycled by-products and no trees are cut just to manufacture pellets.

Pellet Stoves vs. Wood Stoves

The biggest difference between a pellet stove and its main competitor, the woodstove, is that inside the pellet stove is a device with a circuit board, a thermostat, and fans, which work together to heat your space.

As with wood-burning stoves there are two basic types of pellet stoves: freestanding models and inserts that fit into existing fireplaces.

We made this table to help show the other differences:

 Pellet StoveWood Stove
Efficiency
60-80% of the fuel is converted to heat for your home

30-80% of fuel is converted to heat for your home
MaintenanceHigh-quality pellets limit ash pan cleaning to once a week or less. Scrape the burn pot weekly and clean & inspect vents at the beginning of burn season Remove ash every 103 days and clean the chimney & inspect the stove and door gasket at the beginning of burn season.
Venting OptionsVery little smoke. Exhaust is drafted outside with a fan through a vent pipe.A passive system requiring a vertical chimney so that smoke can rise and flow outside.
Fuel AvailabilityYou can find 40 pound bags of pellets at home centers and hardware and grocery stores in cold climates. You can also have pellets delivered by the ton. You can harvest your own hardwood. But you must make sure it’s properly seasoned. It’s also sold by the bundle at convenient stores or by the cord from tree-care companies.
Fuel StorageBags of pellets should be kept inside to guard against moisture infiltrationWood can be stacked outside under cover and away from the house to prevent termite damage.

How Do Pellet Stoves Work?

A pellet stove is pretty simple until you dg into it and realize that it’s actually pretty complex. From the outset, it just seems like you pour pellets into a hopper on the top or bottom.

An electric auger delivers the pellets to the burn chamber. Sensors in the stove monitor the fuel supply and tell the auger when to drop a new pellet.

Then it’ll drop enough to keep the fire burning small but not extremely hot.

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Parts

Pellets are automatically fed from a storage hopper into a burn pot, creating a constant flame that needs no tending.

Heat Exchange Tubes: Send air heated by fire into the room

Hopper: Stores the pellets to be burned

Convection Fan: Circulates the air through heat exchange tubes and into the room

Burn pot: Holds the pellets for combustion

Auger: Feeds the pellets from hopper to burn pot where they are ignited

Ash Pan: Collects the remind of unburned pellets

Grill: Allows room air to be pulled in by the convection fan

Intake Vent: Pulls air into the burn pot

Exhaust Vent: Takes away combustion gases

Combustion Fan: Pulls in outdoor air and exhaust gases

Blowers

A pellet stove has a combustion blower that pulls outside air into the stove through a fresh-air vent and then blows out smoke and fumes through an exhaust vent. 

There’s also a convection blower that draws room air into the stove and blows heated air into the room through a series of heat-exchange tubes. 

The stove will automatically deliver heat, based on the thermostat setting. 

All you need to do is keep the hopper full of pellets.

Feed Pellets into Your Stove

There are two basic designs that are in place with the modern pellet stove that will allow you to get pellets into the stove.

The top-fed stoves work well for high heat applications because the fire that is created in the burn pot won’t come back into the hopper and cause your pellets problems.

But top-fed pellets can quickly get blocked with ash or a clinker, which happens when ash is heated again after being cooled.

This means you’ll need to buy low-ash pellets and these often are more expensive.

The bottom-fed models aren’t as popular, actually. With these you won’t have the ash build up problems so you can use the cheaper pellets with them.

They have an ash pan that the stove funnels all of the waste products into that will need to be cleaned about once a week.

Look for models that have ash pans with large capacities so that you can make cleaning relatively easy.

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What is a Pellet?

A pellet for a pellet stove is compressed hardwood that is about 1/4 inch in diameter and 3/4 inche long.

The pellets, which are commonly available in 40-pound bags, are made from compressed sawdust and waste wood that would otherwise be dumped into landfills or left to rot in the forest.

Another cool thing about pellets is that they are considered carbon-neutral

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What to Consider

Before you buy a pellet stove, there are still a few things you should be aware of.

First, you want to make sure the style fits the aesthetic of your home. Luckily, there are several styles for you to choose from.

But you also want to make sure the heat output is just right for your home. Too much and too little will keep you from being totally comfortable.

This section will help guide you on style and heat.

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Pellet Stove Styles

Pellet stoves are versatile. So you can get both freestanding stoves and inserts for an existing fireplace to compliment your home.

Pellet stoves come in different sizes, styles, and colors. They can be tailored to suit the specific needs of your home.

Even though there are many different models with all kinds of bells and whistles, there are a few key characteristics that differentiate one pellet stove to another.

First is where the hopper is located.

In top feeder models, the pellets are loaded into the auger from the top of the stove and the pellets go down a tube into the fire.

This design minimizes the chance of fire burning up to the hopper but also a lot more likely to get clogged with ashes. For top feeder models, have the advantage of better heating efficiency because pellets stay in the burn box until they’re completely burned.

Then there are bottom feeder pellet stoves.

These deliver the pellets horizontally, from behind or beside the fire. This design allows you to use standard grade pellets because the horizontal movement inherently moves ash away from the burn area.

This helps keep air inlets open and requires less cleaning of the burn box.

But bottom feed models may not be as efficient.

Here are some crowd favorites:

Lopi Leyden

This stove has a 50 pound hopper capacity and an ash pan large enough to burn an entire ton of pellets before it needs to be emptied.

Cost – $3,600
BTUs – 40,000
Color – Matte black or gloss brown

Harman Accentra

This stove has a 50 pound hopper capacity and an ash pan large enough to burn an entire ton of pellets before it needs to be emptied.

Cost – $3,600
BTUs – 40,000
Color – Matte black or gloss brown

Enviro Empress

This cast-iron insert extends 9 inches into the hearth and has a 55 pound hopper capacity and a classical arched surround.

Cost – $2,800
BTUs – 34,000
Color – Gloss black, white, or brown

Hearthstone Manchester

This stove is really nice. It has a large glass door, a 60 pound hopper capacity, and an automatic cleaning cycle that minimize upkeep

Cost – $4,300-$4,600
BTUs – 51,000
Color – Gloss black or brown

Thelin Gnome

This is a 34 inch stove that resembles the old potbellied wood stoves. Its size and output make it ideal for small spaces.

Cost – $2,490
BTUs – 27,000
Color – Gloss black, matte black, or gloss cream

Lennox Bella

This stove has an LCD panel to monitor the stove’s operation. It also has a whisper quiet combustion fan and auger motor.

Cost – $4,300
BTUs – 43,000
Color – Gloss black or brown

How Much Heat Do You Really Need?

An incredibly important part of buying a pellet stove is determining how much heat you actually need.

The heat you’ll get will depend on where you’re at (climate), how much BTUs are needed to heat your home, and how many BTUs are put out by the pellet stove.

In this section, we’ll talk about each of those in more detail.

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What is a BTU?

Before we get too far into the thick of this section, I need to let you know about British Thermal Units (BTUs). This is an international energy measurement, not just for the Britons.

Basically, a BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water 1 degree F.

Sounds like an odd requirement, but knowing the amount of heat and energy is necessary to keep your home comfortable.

The easiest way to figure out the BTUs needed is to take a look at the square footage of the space you want to heat. In warmer climates multiply this number by 10-15. In moderate climates multiply it by 20-30. In colder climates multiply by 30-40.

For example, if you’re trying to heat 1000 square feet in a cold climate, you’re looking at 30,000 to 40,000 BTUs to warm the air in your home.

But to help you out, we’ve also put together this chart:

BTUs for 8 foot Ceilings

12-ft Length18-ft Length24-ft Length30-ft Length36-ft Length
12-ft Width5,18847,77610,36812,96015,552
18-ft Width7,77611,66415,55219,44023,328
24-ft Width10,36815,55220,73625,92031,104
30-ft Width12,96019,44025,92032,40038,880
36-ft Width15,55223,33831,10438,88046,556

 

BTUs for 10 foot Ceilings

12-ft Length18-ft Length24-ft Length30-ft Length36-ft Length
12-ft Width6,4809,72012,96016,20019,400
18-ft Width9,72014,58019,40024,30029,160
24-ft Width12,96019,44025,92032,40038,800
30-ft Width16,20024,30032,40040,50045,600
36-ft Width19,44029,16038,88048,60058,320

These are basic estimates and the actual BTUs you’ll need depend on several other factors:

  • Number of windows
  • The climate
  • Age of the building
  • Orientation to the south
  • Type of and amount of insulation
  • Construction techniques
  • And more

When you are calculating the BTUs you’ll need for your whole house, you need to include the worst-case scenario. Which means that you should account for the coldest that it will get.

For example, maybe the coldest it will ever get is -30 degrees F. And maybe that happens once every 3 years. You’ll want to make sure the BTUs you are accounting for considers that huge outlier.

There are a few more things you’ll need to consider to will help determine the BTU range, hopper capacity and size of the pellet stove you’ll need.

How Often will the Stove be Used

Decide on how often you’ll be using the pellet stove. If you need constant heat, you’ll need a higher BTU rating and a bigger hopper so that it can hold more wood pellets and provide longer burns.

But if you’re looking for something with supplemental heat or you won’t be using it that often, you’ll be fine with a smaller hopper and a lower BTU range.

Area to be Heated

Determine how much area you’ll be heating with your pellet stove.

Decide if you want to try and heat your entire home with your pellet stove and use it as a primary heat source or a single room or as a secondary heat source.

Where to Put a Pellet Stove

Freestanding pellet stoves have a minimal footprint in a room.

They can be placed 1-3 inches from the back wall and 6-7 inches from the side walls. There are still some other considerations you’ll need to think about.

Safe Clearances

Because of the heat that pellet stoves put out, you’ll need to keep them at least 36 inches away from furniture and draperies. Plus keep them out of the way from main traffic areas, especially if you have small children and pets.

Venting

The exhaust pipe, which can go straight out of an exterior wall or will go up through the roof or chimney must be tightly sealed. This is to prevent flue gases from entering the home. 

You can also install a second intake line to provide outside air for combustion. 

Power Supply

Almost all pellet stoves require a nearby outlet to run the fans, thermostat, and circuit board. If the stove is your sole heater, consider adding a battery backup in case the electricity goes out. 

Floor Protection

Pellet stoves are only safer to sit on certain materials. Be sure to check with your dealer to see if your floors are okay or if you need to add a new flooring material.

A rule of thumb is that pellet stoves must rest on a noncombustible surface, such as stone or ceramic tile to guard against embers.

Build of Your Home

Before picking out the pellet stove, you’ll need to do a walk through of your home to take some notes on a few particulars, such as the layout and build of your home.

These notes will be key parts on which pellet stove you choose. Here’s what you need to think of.

Insulation

How well is your home insulated should be one of the first things you consider.

This is because a home that is poorly insulated will need a more powerful pellet stove with a higher BTU range to compensate for the lack of insulation.

If your home is well insulated you will not need as powerful of a pellet stove.

You can make an educated guess to determine how well your home is insulated. Basically, newer homes are well insulated, while its safe to assume older homes aren’t as well insulated.

Windows

A lot of heat is lost through windows. Take a note of how many windows you have in your home. Also pay close attention to the condition the windows are in.

If there are a lot of windows or windows are in bad shape, then you’ll need to increase the BTU range of your new pellet stove.

Ceiling Height

If you have high ceilings, like a cathedral ceiling, you’ll require a more powerful stove with a higher BTU range.

This is because hot air rises and heat can collect above the living area and get trapped where it is of little use.

You can fix this by installing paddle fans along with your pellet stove to push the warm air back down to the living space, where you’ll need it.

Climate & Geographical Location

There’s not much you can do here. Unless you want to move.

If you live in an area that is usually warm and maybe it reaches 30-40 degrees a few times a year, you don’t need a powerful pellet stove.

But if you live in a cold area, then you’ll want to increase those BTUs.

Pellet Stove Size

There are two major categories of pellet stoves, including high output and low output pellet stoves.

Whether it’s placed in the high output or low output categories will depend on the amount of heat your stove is able to generate.

This is known as the pellet stove’s efficiency or heat output range. Generally pellet stoves have efficiency ratings of 75-90% and a heat output range of 40,000 BTUs or higher.

The physical size of the pellet stove you choose will depend on the heat generating capabilities and the hopper size of the pellet stove.

A smaller pellet stove will keep you room warm but if the hopper is small, then it won’t stay warm long due to the small amount of wood pellets it can handle at any given time.

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Zone Heating

Zone heating uses an alternate heating source along with your central heating furnace to heat the rooms in your home that you and your family use the most.

This is useful because it prevents you from wasting fuel and money by putting the heat where you need it when you need it.

Pellet stoves are great zone heaters because they warm the area within the room and around the stove rather than the whole perimeter walls like most central heating systems do.

Zone heating with a pellet stove is a very energy efficient way to heat your home because it creates warm and cozy living areas and cooler outlying bedrooms for sleeping.

How Much Do they Cost?

As you can see in the fan favorite stoves mentioned above, they can get upwards of $4,000. A better range is anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the style, size, and heat output.

Plus you can expect another $300 for the vent pipe or chimney liner.

Then you’ll need to consider if you want to hire a pro or do it your self.

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DIY vs. Hiring A Pro

If you’re comfortable cutting a hole in your house for the venting, you should leave installation to the pros

Pipes can run horizontally out an exterior wall, vertically through your roof or up the chimney if you add an insert.

Cost Comparison

As the sole heater for a 2,000 square foot home in a cold climate, you can expect to spend $3,000 to buy and install the new stove. Plus another $980 for four tons of pellets.

The time it takes for the stove to pay itself off depends on your current heating fuel.

FuelCost Difference
OilAverages $1,857 per winter. Or $877 more than pellets. You can break even in 4 years
ElectricityAverages $2,306 per year, or $1,326 more than pellets. You’ll break even in about 3 years.
Natural GasAverages $623 less than pellet stoves, but if you’re using a fireplace or an older wood stove for supplementary heat, you’ll still save in the long run by switching to pellets.
WoodThe average 2,000 square foot home should use 6 cords of wood for a season. That’s $1,200 or $220 more than pellets.

Pellet Stove Accessories

You won’t need to tend the fire, so fireplace tools aren’t necessary. But just like everything else, you can accessorize.

A few choice accessories can improve the look and function of your pellet stove.

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Log Set

You can get the look of a wood burning fire by arranging ceramic logs around the pellet burn pot.

Steamer

You can get the look of a wood burning fire by arranging ceramic logs around the pellet burn pot.

Scuttle

You can keep a plastic bag beside your stove with the pellets, or you can have a scuttle. They’ll have a spout to make it easier to pour the pellets into the stove.

Many will also have a double handle to make it easier to pour.

Prefab Pad

It’s 2021. You can control the heat with a remote. When paired with a transmitter that monitors stove and room temperatures, a remote will let you adjust the heat anywhere.

Remote Control

You can get the look of a wood burning fire by arranging ceramic logs around the pellet burn pot.

Final Tips before Buying

We’re almost done. There are only a few more things that you need to consider before buying the pellet stove for your home.

This is EPA certification, how to identify pellet quality, and if your need insurance approval.

We’ll cover each of those in this section.

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EPA Certification

You should purchase a stove only from an authorized dealer, especially if you’re shopping online. If your dealer doesn’t have the stamp of approval, your manufacturer’s warranty might not be valid. 

Look for a label from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that your stove has passed all inspections. And check to make sure the label states the overall efficiency range and the heat output in BTU. 

That EPA stamp is your guarantee that the stove you’re buying will burn cleanly and efficiently. But also will reduce your home heating costs and protect the air. 

Because they pollute so little, pellet stoves actually don’t require an EPA certification. But some manufacturers voluntarily seek this certification to prove that they: 

  • Burn more completely, 
  • Offer greater heat output, and
  • Produce less creosote build up

How to Identify Pellet Quality?

I’ve mentioned a couple times that top feeder pellet stoves require higher quality pellets, whereas the bottom feeders allow for more standard pellets.

The Pellet Fuels Institute has two grades for pellets: premium and standard. Premium pellets are usually made of only wood. Standard contains some bark.

Premium pellets are marginally more expensive than standard, but they produce less ash.

Another indicator of quality is the amount of dust at the bottom of the bag. That should be less than 0.5%, which is about 1/2 cup.

More dust creates fused ash chunks, called clinkers, that will block the airflow into the stove.

The last variable is sodium content. Pellets should have less than 300 parts per million to ensure efficient burn.

Get Insurance Approval

Adding any type of wood burning heat to your home can slightly increase your insurance rates. But not informing your insurer can void your coverage completely in the event of a fire.

So before buying a stove, obtain a clearance diagram and installation specifications from your insurance company.

This will detail the amount of space you need to provide between your pellet stove and nearby furniture, floor coverings, draperies, and walls.

Follow these installation guidelines and return the form to your insurance company for approval. Keep in mind that your insurer will be more likely to approve the installation if it’s done by a professional.

They’ll likely also want it inspected before approval is given.

Additionally, every area has fire and building code restrictions. Be sure to review and follow these guidelines.

Quick Tips for Hiring a Chimney Company

When you’re ready, you should schedule a time for a certified chimney expert to go to your home to take a look at the area you want your pellet stove installed.

You can easily reach out to your local chimney company and have a done-for-you solution in no time!

But navigating through all of the chimney companies in your city can be a chore all on its own. And it makes sense, too.

Hiring anyone to come into your home to install a heat source involving fire shouldn’t be a task you take lightly. So I created a list that you can use to make sure you make the right decision when you need someone to help you in your home.

CSIA Logo

How to Hire, What to Look For

When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:

  1. Can the company provide references? 
  2. Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy? 
  3. Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job? 

If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA. 

This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass. 

 

Certifications

I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable:

  • Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation?
  • Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit?
  • Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam?
  • Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
  • Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification?
  • Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics?

If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney.

Besides, it’s probably cheaper for them to buy a cap at the dealer discount than for you to buy one at retail cost.

It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at mitchell@patriotchimney.net or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!

Final Thoughts

Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection. 

We’re licensed, insured, certified, and guarantee you’ll be happy with your service.

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