As winter begins to rear its ugly head and bring frigid weather to all within its grasp, people are looking for ways to heat their homes. Even with oil prices low, it's nice to have a backup that can keep the house toasty warm on a cold winter's night. Of course, there are electric space heaters, but they can be costly to run and aren't typically powerful enough to heat an entire home. Enter wood stoves and pellet stoves. Both are powerful heating options that have no problem heating small homes in the dead of winter. Let us help you decide which heating choice is better for your home.

What Is a Wood Stove?

wood stove in modern living room

A wood stove is a large, raised metal box that has an exhaust pipe hooked up to a chimney. The user builds a fire inside of the woodstove. The fire and embers inside heat the unit, which then disperses heat to the room via radiation. Many wood stoves also feature a layer of stone inside to create more even heat on the outside of the unit.

What Is a Pellet Stove?

pellet stove

Pellet stoves work similarly to woodstoves in that they burn wood-based fuel to generate plenty of heat and are also equipped to vent the smoke out of a home. Instead of logs, however, pellet stoves burn little compressed wood-dust pellets.

A pellet stove features a hopper where pellets are loaded and an auger that feeds the pellets into the burning chamber. Based on the settings the operator chooses for the pellet stove, the auger will feed pellets to the fire at a certain pace to help the room reach the desired temperature.

Wood Stoves vs. Pellet Stoves

Firewood texture. Pile of dry chopped fire wood background

Fuel

Without a fuel source, neither a woodstove nor pellet stove will heat anything. There are a few factors to consider when deciding between a wood stove and a pellet stove for efficiency purposes. These are availability, cost, and labor.

Availability

When it comes to availability, pellet stoves have wood stoves beat by a mile. Pellet stoves run off bags of pellets, generally weighing 40 pounds and sold by the ton. Bags of pellets can be purchased at Home Depot. However, you can buy them by the bag in a pinch. A single bag of pellets can burn between eight and 26 hours, depending on the pellet stove and the setting. More heat means more pellets burned.

Wood stoves burn logs of hardwood. However, don't expect to be heading out into the woods to find a few logs to burn. Firewood for wood stoves must be seasoned before being burnt in the woodstove. Seasoning is the long process of drying the wood out before burning it. Expect to place an order in the early spring at the latest as logs, even once split, take at least six months to season in perfect conditions. Choosing to season for even longer is better.

Burning unseasoned wood adds more damaging and dangerous creosote to your chimney flue. Also, since the water inside the logs must be boiled off before generating heat for a home, it's terribly inefficient.

Cost

To determine cost efficiency, homeowners need to look at the BTUs produced by both fuel types. One ton of pellets equals roughly one and a half cords of wood. A cord of wood is a pile of logs that measures 4 x 4 x 8 feet. You can get your cordwood sold as full logs or have it split and delivered ready to stack. You may have heard of a "rick" of wood, which actually describes the way a cord of wood is stacked. Expect to spend around $250 per ton of pellets or between $200-300 for a cord of wood. You can save more on a cord of wood if you shop around and/or split the wood yourself.

Labor

Pellet stoves also win in the labor department. Operating a wood stove is an all-year affair, meaning one must season, stack, and split all the firewood. Pellets are far less labor-intensive than wood stoves. This is before factoring in the kindling, and small pieces of wood that must be prepared and used to start a fire. For those wanting to know how to start a fire quickly, you can use a push-button propane torch to start a wood stove or pellet stove much easier.

Operation

Wood stoves and pellet stoves operate a bit differently from each other. Most pellet stoves operate off of electricity, which puts homeowners in a tough situation when the power goes out. Some pellet stoves, such as the Wiseway Non-Electric Pellet Stove run off a gravity feed system. Woodstoves are usually old-fashioned and don't have any electric parts unless they have a fan to circulate heat.

Operating a fire with a wood stove requires more careful attention than a pellet stove. The fire itself and airflow to the fire must be managed more carefully in a wood stove. Fuel for the wood stove must be managed manually as well. Managing a pellet stove is as easy as loading the hopper and choosing the ideal setting.

Maintenance

Both wood stoves and pellet stoves require careful and diligent maintenance to operate safely.

Wood stove maintenance is mostly related to ensuring the flue is clean and free of creosote. When wood is smoldering or slow to ignite, more creosote is released into the chimney flue, which can build up and even ignite, causing a dangerous chimney fire. A clogged flue can also cause smoke to flow back into the home. Properly seasoning wood before winter can reduce creosote, but plan on having a wood stove chimney checked each year, by hiring a professional chimney sweep.

While wood stoves are more known for creosote buildup, pellet stoves should also be checked since technically wood is being burned. Pellet stoves tend to develop issues such as ash buildup that blocks the air intake vents. When this happens, the fire will pull air from the chimney and create a backflow into the house. Pellet stoves also have more mechanical parts, which can fail and will reequire service to replace.

Final Thoughts

cozy fire

There are several benefits and disadvantages associated with both wood stoves and pellet stoves. Wood stoves require more labor to store fuel and operate daily. The tradeoff is the magic and ambiance that a wood-burning stove creates in the home. Pellet stoves are easier to operate day and night. Additionally, pellet stoves have easier access to ready-to-use fuel throughout the year but have more mechanical parts liable to fail.

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