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Pellet stoves convenient, but some still prefer woodstoves

  • Wood stoves in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Wood stoves in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Andiron in a Lopi Leyden enamel wood stove in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Lopi Leyden enamel wood stove in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Enviro M55 enamel pellet stove insert in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Pellet stoves in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Wendy Zadworny, a sales associate, displays a Harman enamel pellet stove at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Wendy Zadworny, a sales associate, displays a Harman enamel pellet stove at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Pellet stoves at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • A Harman Accentra pellet fireplace insert at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • A Morso 2110 wood stove at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • Wendy Zadworny, a sales associate, displays a Enviro M55 enamel pellet stove insert in the showroom at The Fire Place in Whately.
  • LARRY PARNASS<br/>At least 10 cords of wood will be consigned to flame before next spring arrives. <br/>

After digging in the ashes for coals, and finding none, your first attempt at starting a new blaze ends in smoky failure. You’re grunting to yourself now, like a Neolithic man on his quest for fire, as you crumple cardboard and cover it with kindling.

Hey, isn’t this the 21st century already? This knowledge doesn’t stop you from jumping around and hooting madly after you manage to set your robe on fire instead of the tinder.

Now this scenario may also sound familiar: You wake up, push the button on the side of your pellet stove and sit down to enjoy the morning paper with a cup of coffee. This is the appeal of the pellet-fueled stove for many local families who have endured the season of the nor’easter. Wood pellets are easy to find and easy to use, provided you have made the investment in a stove designed for this type of fuel. It is an investment that could save you a bundle considering that in the long run an oil or electric furnace will be more expensive in terms of fuel costs.

So if you are already sold on the pellet stove, just make sure you don’t accidentally grab a bag of rabbit food on your next trip to the hardware store, as the two products look similar enough to fool Bugs Bunny. The pellet shape is due to the fact that most wood pellets are made from wood byproducts like shavings or sawdust. Premium-grade wood pellets will cost more than the standard grade but a little more money down means less ash left over in the stove, users say, which needs to be cleaned out more than a traditional woodstove.

A pallet of premium pellets costs between $250 and $300, while a cord of seasoned wood runs about $250 plus delivery charges, and either option is more cost-effective than fossil fuels like oil.

Rich Scott, who refers to himself as “The Stove Guy” of Whately, says a bag of pellets produces the same amount of BTUs (British thermal units) as 2.5 gallons of home heating fuel and costs far less. Even living in a 100-year-old brick house without insulation, Scott says he’s saving about $600 a month during the heating season since he switched to pellets.

“It reduces my dependence on fossil fuels,” was his reply when asked what he liked most about his stove.

Emissions issue

Regardless of what grade you buy, pellet stoves produce fewer emissions than woodstoves. According to Consumer Reports, woodstoves can produce more than 40 grams of smoke per hour, while pellet stoves yield less than a quarter of that amount in the same time.

Joe Roy of Easthampton says he didn’t like how his old woodstove smoked, a problem he no longer has as the owner of a pellet stove.

“When you open it you get a little cloud of smoke,” Roy said, in reference to his woodstove. “The other one doesn’t do that. It’s easy to start and you got instant heat.”

Pellet stove emissions are so low that the federal Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate them like other heating systems and they can be operated completely off the grid.

Todd Sienkiewicz, co-owner of Florence Hardware, sells pellets and small bundles of cordwood and owns stoves that run on both.

“The pellets are more convenient. It’s a lot less work to use pellets and you can leave your pellet stove running all day. It runs on a thermostat so it’ll keep an even temperature all day and not go cold,” said Sienkiewicz, though he admits that he prefers using cordwood and sees it as equally environmentally friendly when done right. Still, as a retailer he understands the appeal of the convenience of pellets.

Speaking about his own pellet stove, Sienkiewicz says, “We fill our hopper and then top it off at night, so we do it twice a day, but it’s not empty unless it’s super cold. We have people who buy it (pellet fuel) by the bag or they buy it by the ton.”

That’s a lot of easily purchased fuel at your fingertips.

So why does Sienkiewicz prefer the cordwood stove? For most of the folks who have stayed old-school with their stoves, two factors influenced their decision. Many people who depend on their woodstoves for heat harvest the wood themselves from their properties or buy cords from neighbors, and thanks to recent storms there is no shortage of downed branches and trees in the wooded nooks of Hampshire County. The other reason is dependent on their heating needs.

While pellet stoves can be used for whole-house heating systems, fireplace inserts or freestanding stoves are more common and act as supplemental heat sources.

Functional? Yes. Practical? Sure. But is it as aesthetically pleasing as a roaring blaze in the fireplace or coals glowing in the woodstove?

Not so much. Knowing that pellet stoves need to fit home decor, designers work to make their products fashionably modern or retro, to suit all tastes and needs.

Is there a happy medium between functional and attractive?

Sienkiewicz believes so. “We got a very utilitarian style. It has glass so you can see the little flame and you can get fancier doors and things so they can be right in the living room,” he said. “Ours is very simple, pretty basic. I mean it’s in our cellar; we don’t sit around it or anything.”

Sienkiewicz may have the best of both worlds, owning both types of stoves — balanced between the practical needs of his family and the allure of a rustic fire.

There is no simple answer as to which is better — cordwood or pellets. There may be one for you, but to find it you have to ask yourself what you need and what you want out of your stove.

Related

Pros and cons of pellets, cordwood 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pellets PROS: Convenience, price (compared to oil), automation, low emissions. Convection heat doesn’t dry the air as much as a woodstove. CONS: The stoves require more maintenance and cleaning and are less versatile. They require electric power to operate. Cordwood PROS: Less maintenance, price (compared to oil), aesthetics. No electric power required. CONS: More work starting and tending fires, emissions. …

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