I don’t really understand using wood pellets for heating fuel.

I just got back from helping D&L unload a full pallet of wood pellets into their garage…


…and as always it makes me question the value of wood pellets as heating fuel.

I get that pellets can let a stove run for hours on one load. I get that there’s less mess and labor than with cut wood. I don’t get where pellets offer any particular advantage over propane.

A pellet stove needs electricity to work – absolutely won’t function without it. When you live off-grid, there are going to be times when electricity is something of a luxury. Your basic home heating should not require electricity.

Even out here where services are often of … suspect quality, I know of three places that will trundle out to the boonies to sell you propane if you have one of those big tanks. There is no reliable supply of decent quality wood pellets. Oh, yeah: It turns out that pellet quality is variable between manufacturers, and makes a big difference in how well your stove runs. So when D&L can score a pallet-load of the good stuff, they run to nail it down.

D&L’s house is huge and has tons of thermal mass beyond number: they can’t afford to let it get cold the way I do nightly. In a really cold spell they go through sixty pounds – one and a half of those sacks – daily. So that big row of 40-pound pellet sacks might not be much more than a month’s supply. Leading to the last item in my list of “why do people use pellets:” It’s by far the most expensive option.

Lots of people use pellets around here – not so much in the actual boonies, but lots of townies do. There must be some advantage. I surely don’t know what it is.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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7 Responses to I don’t really understand using wood pellets for heating fuel.

  1. matismf says:

    How much ash do they have to deal with once those pellets have burned???

  2. Robert says:

    Ya can’t cut off useful body parts “harvesting” a bag of pellets. A neighbor with a chain saw took off the toe of his boot and, undeterred by common sense, almost severed his carotid later that day.

  3. bobbookworm says:

    We pulled pellet stove and put in a regular wood stove first thing when we moved up here on the rim…just for the reason you mentioned…no power no heat. Navopache Electric is real good at keeping the power on up here, but then again everybody has a bad day and with my luck it would be when it was -5 outside.

  4. howard says:

    In your location I don’t see much point in a pellet stove. I understand that you can substitute whole corn for wood pellets so if you are a farmer it might make sense. Also if you are on grid and a commuter they may make sense depending on local prices. I suppose some green people might favor pellets made from waste wood over oil or gas for automatic heat.

  5. Harry Steele says:

    The “Wiseway” pellet stove doesnt use any electric.. and there are a couple others. Also not really difficult to make one yourself if you can weld. I plan on making one myself. (it will be able to use long strips of wood also (think lots and lots of kindling).

  6. Norman says:

    Originally attached this comment to the wrong post. Duh…Need more coffee, earlier…..

    Many years back had a neighbor who went with a pellet stove. The only things that made it work were reliable grid power with a small solar/battery backup, and a local plant that sold pellets in bulk cheap, “bulk” meaning “by the ton.” No idea what he spent converting a trailer to haul & hold a couple tons or the tin carport to park it under.

    I’ll concur with your estimate – if one accurately compiles the total costs – which includes human time – pellets vs propane is a tie and it’s easy to have propane come out ahead.

    What I fail to understand is people’s propensity for seeking cheaper ways to gain BTU input and near total disregard for limiting the need for BTUs by insulating and air-intrusion prevention. Designing and building the structure to require fewer BTUs changes the math substantially, but it seems $$ for insulation, caulking and proper material fit during construction ain’t as sexy as even more $$ in a BTU-generating source (or fancy countertops and plumbing fixtures, for that matter; yes; you’ll admire those spiffy high $$ countertops every day and then pay the extra $50 in the heating/cooling bill every month forever and not ever think about it, but put another $3K into insulation and caulk instead of marble or sandstone? Never.).

  7. Mike says:

    Joel once again you sound like my Bro-in-law, the HVAC guy. I still remember the conversations we had about how we were going to heat our home when we were building it 19 years ago. It all came down to BTU cost in money and time/effort, plus ROI for heat retaining measures. .

To the stake with the heretic!