If you’re thinking about adding a stove or fireplace insert to your home, give pellets serious consideration. There are a lot of prudent reasons why pellets make sense and would be a good fit for your lifestyle.
Wood pellets are a biomass fuel. Biomass fuels are renewable and sustainable. Cordwood, wood pellets and chips, waste paper, corn, other agricultural products and other by-products used for energy are all examples of biomass fuels.
Wood pellets, as the name implies, are often made from wood waste such as wood chips, saw dust and scraps. You might ask the question, “Why not just burn this wasted wood or other raw biomass materials?” Reasons for processing pellets include standardization, that is, uniformity in moisture content, in size and shape, and in energy content and density. There can be some differences between manufacturers, particularly in ash content, but this is mainly due to the quality of the raw biomass materials being used in production.
Wood pellets are carbon neutral. According to the Pellet Fuels Institute, when heating with a biomass fuel, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Trees will absorb this carbon dioxide in equal amounts as they grow. This means that burning pellets does not increase the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
The Environmental Protection Association (EPA) has regulated pellet stoves for many years. The efficiency of most pellet stoves and inserts are in the 70% - 80% range. They have extremely low particulate emissions due to their high burn efficiency and the density of the fuel.
And here’s a fun fact for you: The Energy Information Administration says that one ton of wood pellets has the energy equivalency of 2.8 barrels of #2 fuel oil!
You might find it interesting how pellets are made. First, the biomass fuel is screened to remove all foreign materials. Stones and pebbles, nails and screws, plastics and other items can damage expensive equipment. Any foreign objects need to be removed.
The next step in processing is hammering. Any hard knots, hard packed sawdust or larger chunks of wood are pulverized into fibers. Hammering the raw materials ensures a standard and consistent size so they can pass through the pellet processing equipment.
The next step is actually pelletizing these wood fibers. Under extreme pressure, the fibers are heated up to 240°F – 265°F (120°C – 130°C). The fibers are fed into a pellet mill that forces the material through small, uniform size holes in a metal die, about the diameter of a pencil, approximately ¼” (or 6.5 mm) in diameter. As the wood fiber passes through this high pressure equipment, the resins in the wood fibers will act as a natural glue to bind the particles together.
Pellets are cut into ¾” – 1” lengths. After the pellets cool, they are ready for packaging and shipping.
The moisture content can vary in raw biomass materials from 20% - 60%. Once pellets have been processed, the moisture content is between 4% - 10%. Lower is better when it comes to moisture content in pellets.
We’ve explained the environmental advantages. But pellets are also very easy to use! Open the storage bin and dump ‘em in! Pellets come conveniently packaged in 40 lb. bags, much like salt for a water softener. Most customers put 2 - 3 tons of pellets through their stove or insert each season. A winter’s supply will take up an area about 6’ wide x 6’ deep x 6’ high, about 1/4th the space needed for an equivalent amount of cord word. Just make sure you store pellets in dry corner of your garage, shed, utility room or basement.
Many customers who like the idea of burning a renewable fuel do not have quick and easy access to a wood supply. Or they might not be equipped to burn cordwood . . . not enough time, no truck or trailer or chainsaw, etc. Pellets are a terrific alternative.
OK, we’ve explained many of the advantages, but what about any disadvantages? A couple points to contemplate.
The first is maintenance. If you are the type of person that does not want to get your hands dirty, do not buy a pellet stove or insert. Routine maintenance is absolutely critical for pellet equipment to perform as designed. Be sure to follow the manufacturers maintenance steps outlined in the owner’s manual. They will specify the how’s, why’s and when to perform regular maintenance on your insert or stove. They might even recommend specific types or brands of pellets to use for best performance in their appliances.
If your electricity goes out for six hours every time the wind blows more than 10 mph, a pellet stove might not be your best choice. There are two or three small electric motors that run augers and fans that rely on house current to operate. If the power goes out, you’re out of business. However, there’s good news on this issue. There seem to be more manufacturers making battery back-up systems for pellet stoves to avoid this scenario.
SO BACK TO THE QUESTION AT HAND:
Why should I burn wood pellets? Let’s summarize with these bullet points.
- Pellets are made from recycled and renewable biomass materials.
- Pellets are convenient, clean and easy to handle and store.
- Pellets are environmentally friendly and carbon neutral.
- Pellets have greater energy and high combustion efficiency because of low moisture content.
- Pellet fuel has low emissions and that means cleaner air.
Your WE LOVE FIRE expert is ready to show you some great performing and terrific looking pellet stoves and inserts. Meanwhile, get your other pellet questions answered here.