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Not every home is equipped with a traditional fireplace, and for those residences without one, a pellet stove is an excellent option for providing energy-efficient warmth and even an element of ambiance without having to undertake any major renovations or installations.

But if you’ve never actually used a pellet stove before, you might find yourself wondering whether it’s the right choice for you and what burning a pellet stove will entail. How does a pellet stove work?

You will probably recognize a pellet stove as soon as you see one. It’s a device made from cast iron that burns little cylindrical pellets of densely packed recycled material, usually wood or food waste. You store these little pellets in a container on top of the stove called a hopper. When you’re ready to light a fire, you open up the stove door and let the pellets come down into the firebox where they’re burned to produce heat.

That’s a very quick, straightforward explanation of how a pellet stove works. In general, you can expect them to cost a lot less than a fireplace, both in terms of installation and in terms of using them. Pellets tend to be much less expensive than firewood, and they take up a lot less room to store. About 50 bags of pellets can be used to fuel a fire for the same amount of time as about a cord and a half of wood.

You can control the amount of pellets that come down out of your hopper and into your firebox via a thermostat built into the stove. Turning the thermostat up will prompt the hopper to release more pellets into the firebox so that the fire burns hotter, ultimately bringing up the temperature in the room. When you lower the thermostat, fewer pellets are deposited into the firebox so that it doesn’t burn so hot.

Warm air from the burning pellets is pushed out of the stove via fans. Each pellet stove comes equipped with two fans: The first one is to blow air across the fire and keep the temperature in the stove at a steady level. The second fan serves as an exhaust fan that takes gas emissions from the burning pellets through a narrow duct into the outdoors.

Generally speaking, pellet stoves are easy to maintain and don’t require a lot of expensive maintenance. If your stove was properly installed, you can expect it to last about 10 years, but it isn’t unusual for a stove to last twice that amount of time. 

If you have a pellet stove, you can expect to undertake such regular tasks as emptying the ash pan every time you use it and cleaning off the fans. You will also need to brush the vents off regularly. During the winter, when you’re using the pellet stove more frequently, be prepared to check its ignitor at least three times throughout the season to make sure it’s still functioning properly. When the season is over and you’re preparing the stove for a few months of dormancy, clean it out completely so there are no ashes or pellets sitting in the firebox for an extended period of time.

Thinking of installing a pellet stove? Consider these benefits and drawbacks:

Benefits of Owning a Pellet Stove

  • Pellet stoves don’t require a lot of work to get a fire going. Unlike a traditional fireplace, which requires you to assemble seasoned firewood and get it going with a starter log, a pellet stove can usually be started with just the push of a button.
  • You have more control over the temperature at which a pellet stove burns, which is ideal if you’re using it as a source of heat in your home. With a fire, you really have no option but to appreciate how hot it’s burning. With a pellet stove, you can bring the thermostat down so that your stove burns fewer pellets
  • Bags of pellets are easier to transport and store, usually taking up a lot less space than a stack of firewood.
  • Because pellet stoves don’t produce less ash than traditional wood-burning fireplaces, and don’t produce any creosote, they are more environmentally friendly and much easier to clean up.

Drawbacks of Owning a Pellet Stove

  • While a pellet stove is usually much less expensive to install than building a traditional wood-burning fireplace, the long-term cost of burning pellets compared with burning wood is much higher.
  • Pellet stoves do have a charming ambiance of their own, but they are not the same as a wood-burning stove. If you enjoy watching the flames crackle, you’ll miss out on that visual element with a pellet stove. Additionally, you might hear a mechanical sound from the fans whirring inside the stove.
  • Even though a pellet stove doesn’t have as much ash that you have to clean up as a traditional fireplace does, there is still some cleanup required. Expect to empty the ash pan at least once a week but maybe as often as every day if you’re using your stove frequently.

If you are thinking of installing a pellet stove and need advice, or if you have a pellet stove in need of maintenance, reach out to our team here at Chimney TEK today by calling 410- 796-8450.