Heating your home with a central air system might be the norm these days, but many people still rely on tried-and-true heating stoves to deliver warmth and comfort. Traditionally, a wood-burning stove has been the go-to option for these homeowners, but the best pellet stoves of the modern era have come into prominence in recent decades due to their ease of use and their efficiency.
Never heard of a pellet stove? Check this out!
A pellet stove acts as a heater that can be transferred from room to room (see more on safety below), but instead of relying on traditional wood or gas to produce heat, this type of stove uses special pellets that are loaded into a hopper and then introduced into the burning chamber.
These pellets are generally made of sawdust and small amounts of wood binders.
The benefit of this is that these stoves are self-regulating and act almost like a central heating system. You set the thermostat like you would on a traditional heater and the unit then distributes the correct amount of pellets using an internal auger in order to achieve the right temperature. When the thermostat senses the temperature has been reached, the hopper closes until more pellets are needed.
These appliances have been around for a while, but in recent years, they have seen an upgrade in appearance and in efficiency. Modern stoves of this type utilize things like LED displays and remote controls in order to bring the heat, giving users more freedom than ever to monitor and take charge of their heating costs.
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Whether you’re looking for such an appliance in New Brunswick, Alberta, Halifax, Manitoba, Winnipeg or any other colder-climate area, there’s an option for you.
If you’ve never looked into such a stove before as an efficient option to heat your home, below are some of the most modern models, their features and benefits and information on how we tested them:
If it’s real heating power that you’re looking for, Vogelzang has it. The company’s VG5790 model packs a serious punch by delivering 65,000 BTU and the ability to heat 2,800 square feet.
In terms of style, the VG5790 mixes the contemporary with the traditional and has easy-to-use controls sleekly hidden on the side.Read Our Review
NextStep takes the pellet stove into the 21st century with its 20,472 BTU model. The unit features a metallic exterior with an LCD display on the front, making it more digital than traditional. This stove is perfect for people who want to show off their style without conforming to the old-world look of most models. It’s also a very affordable stove when compared to other options and can heat smaller areas with ease.Read Our Review
If you’re looking for a model that exudes a rustic, traditional look, then you’ll love the Summers Heat 55-SHP10. The unit is small in stature but big on heat, providing enough warmth for up to 1,500 square feet. Although this unit looks traditional, you’ll be surprised to find a digital panel along the side to deliver fast and precise control of your heating needs.Read Our Review
Although the US Stove 5660 pellet stove looks small, it delivers big heat with the ability to warm up to 2,200 square feet. The unit’s compact design makes it ideal for people who want a lot of heat without having a huge unit in the way.
In addition, this stove offers convenience with digital controls and onboard diagnostic tools to keep you warm when you need it most.Read Our Review
How We Tested
Because pellet stoves require a constant amount of fuel, we decided to ensure quality and consistency in our reviews by using the same pellets. This was also done in order to ensure safety across the variety of stoves that we tested.
Please be advised that fuel pellets can vary in material by manufacturer and we always encourage you to make sure that the pellets you are using are compatible with your particular stove to avoid fires and injuries.
In order to measure temperature changes, which were the simplest measurement, we first took an indoor temperature using a digital thermometer. This thermometer was then used to measure heat changes as each stove was heating up and as each stove reached the temperature set on each stove’s thermostat.
We went the extra mile!
Additionally, we made sure that each testing room was given a full day in between tests so that the room’s temperature could return to normal. This was done to prevent temperature contamination from the previous test.
Testing the efficiency of each stove, however, was a little bit more complicated. Without access to very expensive monitoring tools, we relied on equations to get an estimate of each model’s efficiency.
This was done by measuring the cost of the pellets used in each test against the time it took for each room to reach the temperature set on the thermostat. Additionally, we had to take into account outdoor temperatures, the size of the room, the room’s insulation and any window draft.
Without going into specifics, which would honestly be pretty boring, we were able, in most cases, to match the efficiency as provided by the manufacturer of each unit.
All Types & Brands of Gas Fireplace Insert
Although such units are a great option for heating your home, many people opt for gas fireplace inserts. These essentially function as a traditional wood-burning fireplace, but instead of actually burning wood, they use natural gas and a faux-wood display to produce heat.
The benefit is that, on the outside, they resemble normal wood burning in a fireplace, but there is no mess to clean up, no need for actual wood to be cut and the temperature can be controlled manually for optimum heat. There are also pellet stoves insert fireplaces can accommodate.
So what’s the real deal?
The reason these are referred to as inserts is that they fit into most traditional fireplaces and seal off the chimney. Because natural gas does not produce smoke, there is no longer a need for any type of exhaust. Instead, a fire can be lit in seconds and can burn for as long as you’d like.
The insert is shaped to the specific dimensions of the existing fireplace, forming a tight seal that provides safe insulation. Ceramic logs that resemble real wood can then be added to give the appearance of a traditional cozy fire on a cold winter night.
There are a number of brands and pricing available for gas fireplace inserts, but some of the most notable brands include Emberglow and ProCom. Both manufacturers offer vent-free gas inserts that can easily be installed in existing fireplaces and can run off of either natural gas or liquid propane.
The cost of a gas fireplace insert from either company will largely depend on the size of your fireplace. Smaller sizes may cost somewhere in the range of $300, while larger sizes may run north of $600.
Ash Vacuum for Pellet Stoves
Keeping any type of heating stove can be a challenge due to the ashy mess they typically leave behind. Thankfully, these models, due to the composition of the pellets, often leave much less mess to deal with when compared to traditional wood-burning stoves.
Unfortunately, burning any type of material is going to leave some type of residue, but with an ash vacuum, cleanup is fast, simple and efficient.
The key to choosing the right vacuum to get rid of ash is to look at the filtering methods. Ash from a stove can be very fine, and if not handled properly, this fine ash can be spread through the air or even ground itself into the carpet or other fabric materials.
This is why having a filtered, dedicated vacuum is important. The right vacuum can not only quickly remove the ash, but it can prevent the fine particles from escaping and causing other problems through the use of specialized filters.
Below is a list of some of the best pellet stove ash vacuums:
The PowerSmith PAV10110 Amp Ash Vacuum is specifically designed to clean up ashes from, even if the they are still warm. This is a big benefit in that you don’t have to wait until your stove has completed cooled, leaving you in the cold, before cleaning.
This unit also includes a fire-resistant filter for added protection while filtering out fine particles that a traditional vacuum might miss.
Once you’re done vacuuming, the unit and its filter can be washed quickly and easily for repeated and frequent use. PowerSmith also claims that the unit is clog-resistant and that it includes an ash level indicator to ensure that customers know when it’s required to empty the collector for more efficient use.
VacMaster offers a six-gallon wet/dry vacuum that is designed to handle all of the rigors of ash cleanup, including warm, wet and cold ashes. This is a great product if you find that you needed to pour some water on your stove’s ashes in order to cool the flame down faster.
Instead of trying to scoop out a soupy mess, you can simply use the VacMaster to clean out the burning chamber and get started with fresh pellets.
Due to its weather-resistant design, you can also count on the VacMaster to stand up to all kinds of conditions, and it also provides a seven-foot hose, so you won’t be limited in confined spaces.
Currently, this vacuum includes a two-year warranty, meaning you won’t have to worry about problems with craftsmanship. You can also roll the unit on included castors for easy access across a variety of flooring.
The Snow Joe was designed specifically with the need to remove ashes in mind. When pellets are burned, they turn to a fine ash.
Unlike traditional wood-burning stoves, whose ashes are often thick, pellet ashes are fine and can be missed when being scooped out by hand. This can send fine particles up into the air where they can contaminate air quality and even ruin furniture, flooring and walls over time.
The Snow Joe includes a fine-dust filter that captures these particles before they have a chance to affect the user, and the unit is also portable enough to be used in a variety of indoor settings. Once enough ash has been collected, you can easily dump it through a quick-release.
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All of these options are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased through retailers like Amazon. Keep in mind that any expense for a solid ash vacuum is worth its weight in gold when compared to having to routinely clean out ashes, pay for carpet cleaning after an ash spill or having to deal with damage or injuries due to warm ashes spilling out of your unit.
Something else to consider is that you need to make sure you’re emptying your ash vacuum on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s specifications in order to avoid damage to the vacuum.
Allowing ashes or any type of debris to build up on the receiving canister can cause the vacuum’s motor to burn out due to overheating.
Pellet Stoves vs Wood
By and large, wood and pellet stoves work on the same principle. Each burns a wood-based product using an open flame and each leaves behind an ash residue that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis.
The big difference between the two is that a wood stove requires the user to manually load fuel in order to keep the fire going, but a pellet one does this automatically using a hopper and a thermostat.
Another difference between these two types of stoves is cost for fuel. Because a pellet model requires special, pre-manufactured pellets, you’ll likely need to purchase these on a regular basis in order to keep the stove working effectively.
Because a wood stove simply requires wood, you can chop up your own wood from trees and feed the fire. In most cases, this can be done for free with a little elbow grease on your part. Even if you don’t have trees available to cut, many people can find inexpensive firewood for sale nearby.
Another difference is that most pellet models require electricity in order to run. This is because a it uses a small fan to deliver air into the burning chamber in order to keep the fire going.
Additionally, these stoves use an auger internally to move the pellets from the hopper into the burning chamber. With a wood stove, the amount of flame is up to the user based on how much wood is used, how the wood is configured and how much airflow is provided via a damper.
While this can be advantageous for someone who has a lot of experience in working with and burning wood, many people simply want to set the desired temperature on a thermostat and relax. This is where the beauty of the pellet stove comes in.
Are you really safe?
Now, one of the biggest and possibly most important differences between a wood stove and a pellet one is the exhaust issue. A wood burning stove must be connected with some type of exhaust system, much like a traditional fireplace.
If you were to burn wood in a confined space, it is going to produce smoke, and this smoke will quickly fill the room with carbon monoxide and can be lethal in a very short amount of time. This means that wood stoves are generally not portable and must require some type of installation into a space that has an exhaust pipe.
Wood stoves, on the other hand, do not produce the same smoke. The pellets used in these types of stoves are generally made of compressed sawdust and a small amount of wood product. As a result, they burn cleaner, meaning a wood stove does not need to be connected to an exhaust.
An added benefit to this is also that wood stoves leave less mess behind when they need to be cleaned and they are considered to be generally better for the environment as a whole.
Pellet Stove Installation
In most cases, they are fairly simple to install. Because these units are largely portable, a pellet stove can be placed wherever heat is needed. It’s generally a good idea to keep at least six inches between the stove and any walls if the unit is going to be installed in an area like a corner.
While modern stoves generate far less heat on their sides and from the bottom, leaving a bit of room allows for better heat transfer and is safer. You will also need to install the stove in an area that has access to an electrical outlet.
One thing to note about the installation process is that, due to the weight of some stoves, it would be a good idea to employ the help of others in lifting the unit.
A smart idea is to utilize a small rolling dolly to move the stove into place. Using a dolly means you and your partner or partners will only need to lift the stove on and off the dolly, reducing strain and the risk of accidents or injuries.
As always, if you’re unsure regarding the installation process of such a stove, don’t simply rely on your gut or some YouTube videos. Instead, contact a professional installer who can take care of the task for you.
The difference this makes could be between damage to you, your stove and your home or a well-heated dwelling where you can feel comfortable in knowing that everything was done correctly.
Care and Maintenance
Pellet stoves are typically low maintenance, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore your unit. Cleaning out the ash left behind after consecutive use is important, both for safety purposes and for cleanliness. If too much ash builds up, it may cause a fire hazard.
Likewise, too much ash means some could spill out onto the floor once the door of the burning chamber is opened.
In order to clean out the ash, you could use a small hand brush, but a more efficient way to take care of the cleaning is to use a vacuum. A small ash vacuum makes the cleaning process a breeze by reducing the time needed to clean while reducing the potential for a mess.
Additionally, an ash vacuum will reduce the potential for ash particles to be thrown into the air where you or others may breathe them in.
One thing to note is that, if at any time you notice your heat level is low, despite your hopper being full and your thermostat being set properly, it might be time to call a professional.
In some circumstances, such as using the wrong pellets, the auger may not be able to properly churn out the right amount of fuel. When this happen, the risk of fire increases as the unit is warming up and receiving air without the fuel to burn off.
Likewise, if an air duct gets clogged within the unit, you may not experience proper heat. This may lead to the auger providing more pellets, and thus, you end up wasting fuel. If you ever hear any strange noises coming from your stove, or if you notice a sudden lack of heat or flame, turn the unit off and contact a repair professional in order to avoid damage to the unit or to yourself.
What you need to know about cleaning:
- It’s also a good idea to clean the inside glass of the outer door to the burning chamber. This not only allows you to see clearly what’s going inside the unit but can possibly prevent damage to the unit.
- In most cases, using a standard cleaner will do the trick, but always follow the instructions for cleaning provided by the manufacturer when choosing a cleaning product. Some cleaners can produce dangerous fumes that can interact with an open flame.
- It’s also a good idea to leave the outer door open after cleaning and prior to the next use in order to let any cleaning chemicals to dry or dissipate. Once again, always follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions.
Whenever you’re working with an open flame in a confined space, safety is of the utmost importance. Even if you have experience in using wood stoves, fireplaces or pellet stoves, all it takes is one small mistake or even an ember landing in the wrong place to burn down a structure or cause serious bodily harm or death.
As a result, you must always place safety at the top of the list when working with an indoor heating stove.
One of the best pieces of advice from experts is to place a stove where it can be monitored. This means placing it within a room where you spend most of your time.
While you don’t have to sit around and stare at your new stove 24 hours a day, it’s better to have it in an occupied room so that action can be taken immediately if something does go wrong.
Another safety tip is to set the stove on the lowest comfortable setting when going to sleep. If you’re home during the day, it’s fine to crank things up, but at night, when you aren’t around to monitor the unit, try to keep things on a low setting.
This not only saves on fuel costs, but it can also help to prevent a fire in the event that something does go wrong while you’re not around. Keep in mind that most modern thermostats include an automatic shutoff function if things get too hot, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Are you truly safe?
Next, understanding the mechanics of your pellet stove is vital in knowing how to operate the unit safely and respond to incidents if they occur.
It would be a good idea to read thoroughly through your stove’s owner’s manual to ensure that you understand the mechanics of the stove and how to troubleshoot or respond in the event of an emergency.
You should also never move the stove while it is in use. This can cause hot ashes or flames to come through the unit’s door. Always wait until the unit is unplugged and sufficiently cool before attempting to move the unit.
This is also true for cleaning ashes from the unit. Keep in mind that such stoves burn very hot, and therefore, ashes can remain a safety hazard for potentially hours after the unit has been turned off.
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Never try to lift a heavy appliance on your own. This goes for both installing and moving. Most units weigh hundreds of pounds and can lead to severe injuries.
Everything from sprains and strains to broken bones if a unit falls on you can be hazards that can occur when trying to move a stove on your own.
Only use approved pellets for your specific stove. Most units use standard sizes and compositions of pellets, but to be on the safe side, only use the pellets recommended by your unit’s manufacturer.
Using improper pellets could lead to feeding issues from the hopper, potentially leading to a fire and damage to your stove. If you use the wrong pellets, even if they seem to be burning properly, you might be throwing away money because the unit isn’t operating as efficiently as it could be.
As with any home appliance, you’ll want to consider the warranty of any appliance you’re planning to purchase. A warranty can be the difference between wasted money and warm, cozy heat throughout the colder seasons.
In virtually all cases, the manufacturer will provide at least a one-year warranty, but some offer longer terms. Keep in mind that the vast majority of manufacturer warranties only cover things like faulty parts, so don’t count on a warranty if you damage your unit.
On the other hand, many manufacturer’s or sellers offer the option of an extended warranty, which can ensure your unit is replaced for years to come due to faults in the manufacturing process, yet still, others will sell an extended warranty that covers accidental damage.
Do you really need that extended warranty?
Deciding on whether to choose an extended or accidental damage warranty will depend largely on your circumstances. If you’re living by yourself and plan to solely supervise the operation of your stove, then you’ll probably be safe simply taking the standard warranty.
If, however, you have a family, especially with young children who are prone to throwing things, you might consider other warranty options. Once again, you don’t want to find yourself out of heat and out of money because someone decided that your pellet stove would make a good surface to throw hard toys at.
Finally, as with any warranty, make sure you understand the terms and conditions, including how the manufacturer plans to remedy the situation should you need to use the warranty. Some manufacturers require the user to pay for shipping to return the unit, and given how heavy most units are, this can be quite costly.
The bottom line?
You don’t want to find out that you’re looking at hundreds of dollars worth of shipping costs after a problem arises.
Pellets can be purchased at a number of hardware stores, but keep in mind that you will need to purchase the correct pellets for your unit. In most cases, pellets are universal, but this does not mean that there are not variances. Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer regarding what type of pellet you should use. Purchasing the wrong pellet could mean less efficiency and even damage to your unit.
The reason for an electrical connection to a pellet stove is so that the fan and auger can work in conjunction to keep the unit fed with fuel and at the precise temperature you set. When the unit’s thermostat senses that the desired temperature has been achieved, the auger will stop feeding pellets to the burning chamber. Likewise, the thermostat will control the internal fan that feeds air to the flame, thus determining the temperature. While it would be possible to operate the unit without electricity once the flame gets going, the temperature will not remain consistent and the flame will die down quickly without the introduction of new pellets and air.
It is generally advised that you not move your stove while in use. Pellet stoves are often very heavy, and dropping a stove while trying to move it could mean that the doors open and flames and ashes spill out. Also, while the sides of the unit will not be very hot, the top will be as this is where the heat is coming out of. To add to this, shifting the unit while it is working could cause additional pellets to be added to the flame, thereby disrupting the thermostat. To be safe, always unplug the unit and wait until the flame has been completely extinguished for at least a few hours before moving the unit to a new location.
Even though both pellet and wood stoves burn materials on an open flame, the pellets used in such an appliance are designed to give off no smoke. Wood, on the other hand, does give off smoke when burned and therefore should not be used in such models. Even small wood chips may seem like they would work, but the chips would burn slower, giving off less heat, and once again, they could cause smoke. This, in turn, could cause damage to the unit. In order to avoid potential problems, you should never burn wood in a pellet stove and you should always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Many people purchase pellets in very large amounts in order to have a steady supply throughout the colder months. As a result, pellets are designed to last a very long time when stored in the proper conditions. You should store your pellets in a dry area that is not susceptible to rain. If the pellets get wet, even over a short period of time, they can begin to disintegrate due to their composition.
In the past, lighting it often required some type of lighter fluid or kindling. Modern stoves often include an electric starter that makes the process as simple as pressing a button. As with any open flame in a dwelling, use caution when lighting your stove and follow your manufacturer’s instructions. If in doubt, call the customer service phone number provided by the manufacturer to speak with an expert. Failing to light your stove correctly could result in a fire, damage to your unit and serious injuries to yourself and others.
The question of how much heat a stove provides depends on a number of factors. Everything from the size of the stove to the size of the area to be heated come into play. In addition, the insulation in your home, including its windows, can determine the efficiency of heat transfer. In our testing, it seemed that a standard 40-pound bag of pellets was sufficient to heat a 1,700-foot home for nearly three days. Once again, this varies from model to model and does not take into account the age of the home, its insulation or window sealing. To add to this, it will also come down to your temperature settings. Obviously, the higher you set the stove’s thermostat, the faster you will burn through pellets.
In general, using such an appliance will dramatically reduce costs for electricity. Most research suggests that half of the electricity bill for the average house during the winter is due to the heat pump. For homes that use gas for heat, costs often double, triple or quadruple during the colder months. Because a pellet stove only uses electricity to run a small internal fan, an auger and sometimes to regulate the thermostat, the amount of energy consumed through electricity is minimal in comparison.
When it comes to selecting the right size, you’ll need to think about the area that you’re planning to heat. Some people use it to heat an entire house while others use a stove to simply heat an area, such as a downstairs finished basement. Selecting a stove that is too small will mean that you will burn through pellets much faster as the stove will struggle to keep up with the heat demand. Selecting a stove that is too large can lead to the potential for overheating. In either case, damage to the unit can occur and you will likely be uncomfortable in either case. To avoid this, check with each manufacturer’s suggestions regarding space heating.
In virtually all cases, this stove can heat an entire home with far less cost than traditional fuels, including oil. Another advantage is that wood pellets can be purchased on demand. In most cases, homeowners who use oil for heat will need to have a bulk delivery made to fill a tank several times a year. This may mean waiting for the oil supplier to deliver, and in the meantime, you’re left shivering in the cold. With this stove, if you run out of fuel, you can likely go down to your local hardware store and purchase some more. Once you get the pellets home, just pour them in the hopper and let the stove handle the rest.
Here’s the true leader…are you ready?
The Pleasant Hearth Cabinet Style 50,000 BTU model really took the cake with its multiple tech features and its huge output and hopper capacity. Putting out 50,000 BTUs, this unit can easily heat 2,200 square feet, making it the best option for anyone living in a large home.
When you throw in the Comfort Control System we were blown away at just how easy this unit was to get the place warmed up. On top of that, it comes with an astonishing 120-pound hopper capacity, giving it the ability to handle nearly a week’s worth of heating with one fill.
We can easily say that the Pleasant Hearth is the king of pellet stoves if you want the best of the best.
In addition to the brands mentioned above, we also recommend you check out models by Harman, Englander, Quadra Fire, Enviro and Breckwell.
These brands provide units for non-electric usage and pellet stoves for hearth usage. You might also consider seeking out stoves with battery backup in case the power goes out.
As mentioned, deciding on the best pellet stove is going to be a process that takes into account a number of factors, including home or room size, heat needs, home insulation and more.
Using the above information, along with your own knowledge of your unique situation, you should be able to find an affordable and efficient unit that can provide you with warmth and comfort no matter what the weather does outside.