Although the price of oil has now dropped back significantly the long term trend is upwards as demand for oil grows in the developing countries of the world. These escalating oil and energy prices have caused the annual cost of heating homes to rising rapidly. The original government DoE estimates of between 25 and 40 percent higher fuel bills this coming winter for people whose primary heating source is oil, gas or mains electricity are now looking a bit overstated but the long term trend is up. What can be done to reduce these costs other than relocating to Florida? Many homeowners are investigating the possibility of installing pellet stoves to provide either supplementary or primary heat. Externally, pellet stoves look very much like a traditional wood burning stove or fireplace insert. Internally lies a complex and sophisticated appliance that delivers a regulated supply of wood pellet fuel into the combustion chamber.
Fuel combustion in a wood pellet stove usually occurs at the center of the unit and can be seen through a viewing glass. If you like the look and warm glow given off by a living flame, you should look for a unit enclosed with both an attractive flame pattern and a large attractive viewing glass. Some pellet stoves have artificial logs or coals to make the stove more attractive and traditional. The artificial logs/coals can also help to disperse the flames in a more attractive natural looking manner.
Pellet stoves come in two main types of model, either top fed or bottom fed models. Top-fed wood pellet stoves include a pellet delivery system that virtually eliminates any possibility of fire backing up back into the hopper, but the combustion chamber is more likely to become clogged with ash and any residual solidified deposits called clinkers. Manufacturers of top fed models usually recommend burning high grade pellets with a low residual ash content. Bottom-fed pellet burning stoves are less likely to suffer from a clogged combustion chamber as the ash and clinkers simply fall into the ash pan and therefore high grade low-ash pellets are not usually necessary. Some pellet burning stoves are capable of burning shelled corn as well as wood pellets or indeed a mixture of the two. This is a useful feature that can help to reduce fuel bills when the price of corn falls lower than wood. Corn burning creates more clinkers than wood pellet burning and so slightly more attention to the cleaning schedule may be required to avoid clogging the combustion chamber.
All pellet burning stoves require residual ash to be disposed of on a regular basis depending on how much fuel has been burnt. An easily accessible high capacity ash container makes the job easier and less frequently required, though as a general rule this chore should be done at least once a week during the heating season. The problem of ash disposal also needs to be considered though should not present too much of a problem especially with low-ash grade pellets. Wood ash is a natural material rich in potash that can be usually spread over the lawn or dug into the garden as a fertiliser without causing any major problems.
The complex fuel delivery systems of pellet stoves are considered by some people to be a drawback as the motors and mechanical parts will require occasional maintenance and so its a good idea to take out a service contract. A good service contract usually includes an annual maintenance service which minimizes the risk of the pellet burning stove breaking down and leaving you in the cold. In the event that your pellet stove does break down, a good service contract will also provide cover for parts and labor.
Pellet stoves incorporate electrical motors to deliver the pellet fuel into the combustion chamber. Some models incorporate battery backup power so the stove an be used during power outages which can be common in some places. If your home suffers from frequent or even occasional prolonged power outages then you really ought to consider keeping a backup power generator if you don't want to be left in the cold.
Pellet burning stoves are available in a wide range of sizes depending on the required heat heating capacity or heat output range. Heating capacity is measured in BTU's (British Thermal Units) and most pellet stoves will output between 7,000 and 80,000 BTU's per hour. The heating capacity that your home requires will depend on its size, the severity of the local climate, construction type and how well your home has been insulated. A reputable dealer should be able to help you to choose a suitable stove after taking the various factors into account.
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