Monday, March 25, 2013

Air Time: Pellet Stoves are still a good idea

By Rod Tinnemore, Wood Stove Coordinator, Air Quality Program

Pellet Stoves

Photo of pellet stove, Source: EPAThe pellet stove manufacturers that I’ve met have been creative people who care about the environment. They envisioned pellet stoves back in the 1970s as a remedy to the open burning of sawdust and wood shavings at lumber mills. Today the crude “tee-pee burners” are gone and those wood by-products are made into pellets or compressed logs that heat homes and produce little pollution.

Pellet stoves now come in many styles and levels of sophistication. Some can burn a variety of other pelletized products. Still others can be operated remotely from a smart phone. Nearly all produce less pollution than most wood stoves.

There are also challenges along with these benefits. Pellet quality is not standardized or regulated, much to the dismay of consumers. Pellets sold as “premium” may in fact be of lesser quality with a higher percentages of bark. They may also contain mixtures of potentially toxic materials like plastics and pressure treated wood. EPA plans to address pellet quality through a national pellet standard in the near future. A strict standard is already in place in Europe.

Another drawback to pellet stoves has been their need for electricity, which renders most of them useless during power outages. Current technology has overcome much of that problem with improved motors, advanced battery back-up systems that can run the stove for days, and even pellet stoves that require no electricity at all.

The cost and transportation of pellets continues to be another challenge. Parts of Europe have replaced their fuel oil delivery network with a wood pellet network. Homes are equipped with bulk hoppers; trucks deliver bulk pellets through pneumatic hoses, and homes utilize high efficiency, very clean pellet devices. The concept is achievable here in the U.S. but price and delivery barriers must be overcome.

Pellet stoves can be stylish, have low emissions and don’t require wood hauling, splitting, and storage. So if you want to burn wood but don’t want the mess or effort of cordwood, consider a modern pellet stove.

For more information about using heating with wood in Washington, see Wood Stoves, Fireplaces, Pellet Stoves and Masonry Heaters.

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