The U.S. federal government is offering a 30 per cent tax rebate in 2009 and 2010 for purchases of wood or pellet stoves that meet a 75 per cent efficiency requirement.
Traditional wood-burning stoves enjoy stronger sales, but pellet stoves, which burn compressed sawdust, may be gaining, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, a manufacturers trade group. Wood stoves and wood fireplace inserts saw an 81 per cent increase in shipments in 2008, the association said. Pellet stoves and pellet fireplace inserts increased 161 per cent that year.
Some proponents say the stoves can be more environmentally friendly and help cut energy costs; other experts say that can vary from household to household. Both wood and pellet stoves are meant mostly to heat specific rooms or groups of rooms, not entire houses. They cost between $3,000 and $4,500 including installation.
Here are some of the ways wood and pellet stoves compare:
Wood stoves must be fed with logs, while pellet stoves use 18-kilogram bags of pellets poured into a hopper.
Most pellet stove hoppers hold an entire bag of pellets, which will last about 24 hours before needing to be reloaded, said Leslie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the trade association.
With pellet stoves, look for a model with a large hopper opening to make it easier to load pellets, and check for an easily removable ash pan to make cleanup quick, suggested Bob Markovich, the home and yard editor at Consumer Reports magazine, which recently profiled heating stoves.
A safety precaution: Homeowners should place carbon monoxide and smoke detectors near the stoves, Markovich advised.
Pellet stoves produce very little smoke, giving them a reputation as more environmentally friendly, Wheeler said.
“There’s very, very little moisture in that pellet,” she said. “It burns very cleanly, very efficiently and leaves very little ash.”
Ken Hellevang, an engineer with the extension service at North Dakota State University, noted of pellet stoves: “Even the most efficient burning units, there’s still ash that needs to be discarded. There’s some labour involved on a daily basis.”
Pellet stoves also require electricity, since fans circulate the heat, so it’s a good idea to purchase a backup battery, Wheeler said. Wood-burning stoves don’t need electricity.
Markovich of Consumer Reports described all heating stoves as “a large version of an electric, $30 space heater.”
“People have this sort of rising desire to be off the grid and control more of their own expenditures,” he said. “People are looking for any way they can to save.”
But if you’re trying to lower home heating bills, Markovich said, you’ll need to turn down the heat in the rest of the home when using a wood or pellet stove. “To really save money, you have to keep the rest of your house colder,” he said.
Another tip: Make sure the square footage you want to heat matches the square footage the stove can warm, Markovich said.
About half of all households in the U.S. depend on natural gas for heating, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. The agency recently forecast that costs for heating fuels this winter _ including natural gas, propane, oil and electric _ should all be down.
Based on today’s costs, Markovich said, burning pellets costs about 15 per cent less than oil and 40 per cent less than electric heat, but about 25 per cent more than natural gas.
“If you’re in fact burning natural gas now, buying a pellet stove is a mistake because it costs more,” he said.
Wood stoves can be a bargain for some. “A lot of people are near rural areas where wood is cheap or free,” Markovich said. “If that’s you, that makes financial sense.”
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