Monday, December 10, 2012

Pellet vs Wood: A public service announcement

Our gas bill averaged $700 a month last winter. Outrageous. We had to do something.  We couldn't afford to heat with gas again for another long, cold New England winter. We needed to find an alternative heat source. The two most popular choices were either a pellet stove or a wood stove.

We spend weeks debating the two. We asked everyone we knew how they heated their home and collected all the data. We decided on pellet because it was cheaper. If we wanted to do wood, we would have to line our chimney and that alone would cost us $2500. We just couldn't swing that at the moment and we wanted instant gratification in the form of economical heat.

A lot of our research took place online. When I searched "pellet vs wood", I got consumer forums and stove dealers trying to sell their goods. What I wish I came across was an honest, personal account like the one that I am going to share with you here. I would have had my answer in minutes and saved us about 2 grand.

This is also an excellent example of things going awry when a person does not follow their gut feelings. Yes, gut feelings are important when choosing major appliances as well as the deep ethereal stuff. If I go back and analyze my feelings, all the signs were all there:

Upon learning stove needs to be plugged in:
Feeling: Well, that's just not right.

Devil on my shoulder leading me away from true feelings: That will be fine. Living in town you never lose power anyway. You can hide the plug.

On using strange, wooden, bunny-turd like things to heat my home:
Feeling: That just doesn't sit well with me. How much energy is being used to make these things and package them and ship them around? Am I going to be at the mercy of some retailer now? Will the cost of pellets be driven up whenever they see fit?

Devil: It's fine! Fine, I say! Its just the logging industry efficiently using their waste. Jobs are being created!

Concern about the fan noise:
Feeling: A fan going all the time? I don't know. Living with a house chock full with 7 other humans, I am very sensitive to noise. Silence is more than golden; It is sacred. I'm not sure I can live with a fan blowing constantly.

Devil: Would you stop your whining? For the first time in 18 years your house will be toasty warm all winter and you can comfortably pay your heating bills. You can live with a gentle "whir" in the background.

When our expert technician came and installed the stove and turned it on, I looked at him, stunned. "You're kidding, right?". I had to ask him this question in my head because the embarrassing reality was that I had never heard a real pellet stove in action. The fact is (as I bow my head in shame), I watched a YouTube video to hear what one sounded like. The Devil said it was fine.

The truth is that fucking fan drives me insane. Bonkers. Once one of the kids accidentally unplugged (!) the stove and I almost wept with the gift of the sudden quiet. I took a deep, cleansing breath and thought, "Oh my, that is so nice."

"You are being a spoiled, ungrateful brat!" my devil friend told me. "Suck it up."

...And then we had the following experience this Saturday morning. The experience that allowed me to slap that devil off my shoulder and look at our situation clearly. And that's what it is: our situation  There are lots of valid opinions out there, but now the answer to what is right for me is crystal clear. When I was in the throes of the decision making process, I did not tune in to my real feelings and I let the feelings related to money make the decision. In the end, I did not get what I really wanted and now we are living with the consequences.  Damn. I hate when that happens.

So here it is: my gift to those grappling with this important question: Should we get a pellet stove or a wood stove?  Maybe the following scenario will help you decide...

Thursday, December 6, 2:46 pm: Check for pellet stove clears.

Saturday, December 8, 7:12 am: Wake up to cold house. Pellet stove has stopped working.  

    7:18 am: turn on gas heat

    7:23 am: make coffee to better cope with what is in store and how the morning will most likely unfold...

    8:03 am:                                      
In-house technician manually empties 40 lbs of pellets from stove with used yogurt container. Pellets litter the floor.

8:36 am:
Tech with pre-existing sore back single-handedly attempts to move 300 lb insert to diagnose the problem

9:02 am:
Cheerful assistant "helps" by holding flashlight. Hope the support will prevent the tech from blowing his stack

9:27 am:
A new problem arises and a tech apprentice moves in to make assessment

9:31 am
Manual is consulted. Technician borrows 10-year old daughter's hip, leopard print reading glasses to read unhelpful, poorly written text.

10:01 am

Tech is back at it while children decide pellets will be fun to play with.

10:26 am
"Special" forces in red fleece jammies are called in for a consult. Children continue to fling pellets around room

10:46 am
Tech thinks he has solved the problem. Moves 300 lb stove back into place and turns stove on.
Tech has failed to solve the problem. Tech demonstrates gallant self control and mutters expletives only to self.
Our hero leaves for well-timed acupuncture appointment for sore back.

11:01 am
With in-house tech safely out of earshot, Wife calls real technician

1:35 pm

Our in-house tech returns. Cannot stand the fact that he has not solved the mystery. Dismantles stove yet again to reevaluate problem.
To be continued, unfortunately.

As I sit here now, on Monday morning, the house is still blissfully quiet. Liquid gold is flowing through our baseboard heaters. Our excellent real technician will arrive at some point and get that damn pellet stove working again and Jeb and I will start saving our pennies for the wood stove that we really wanted in the first place.


  1. I love that I can almost experience this with you through the narrative and photos. (Sorry I laughed!)

  2. Mair,
    I'm glad you laughed! No point in taking life too seriously...

  3. Sorry to hear you have had problems. We got a pellet stove after much contemplation as well between a pellet stove or wood stove. We would have had to make many accommodations for a wood stove so went for the pellet. We love ours! What kind did you get? We have a Harman and we did have problems when we got "bad" pellets one year but since then we stick with top grade pellets and have not had any problems. We got ours 5-6 years ago and have only used our oil a handful of times since. I hope you can get it working so that you enjoy the benefits. Ours sure keeps us warm!

  4. Hi Jenny,
    Simple fact is, I wanted a wood stove and I didn't get one. The pellet stove is working fine now and we are warmer than we have ever been. It's that constant fan that really does it to me. There is too much noise in my life as it is. I need silence!