Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pallets of Pellets

We can't figure out exactly how to heat our house. Our house can be heated with forced-air gas heat, electric (in one big room), wood (fireplace in living room), or pellets. As I noted on a previous entry, when faced with too many choices, we humans may not make any choices at all, and ultimately we may feel bad about those we do make. For heating our house, it's too early to tell.

Our home came with 2 pellet stoves. There is one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs one is an insert - it lives within the fireplace; the other is free-standing.

Pellet stoves are like wood stoves in appearance and general function - they burn wood to heat homes, but pellet stoves are more modern. They have a button to turn them on, have knobs and switches to adjust their settings, and an electric fan to blow the heat. They run on wood pellets which are fed by a motor into a little firebox to be burned at a regular rate. Because the fuel of the stove is standardized, pellet stoves run automatically and can burn more efficiently than wood stoves or other means of heating. They also have remarkably low amount of emissions.

But pellets don't grown on trees, you know. They have to be manufactured and ordered. Just as wood for heating has to be felled, cut, split, and aged, wood pellets are made from compressed wood waste from sawmills where they are squished into mostly uniform sized pellet resembling rabbit food. The pellets can be poured like grain into sacks which can be easily transported and dumped into the hopper of a pellet stove.

I could give you the hard math here, but I must admit that avoided that myself. I did not want to calculate BTUs and compare fuel prices. I just wanted a rule of thumb to go by. Basically, to heat a generic home you could use a bag of pellets each day. So I figured that I couldn't go wrong if I ordered 150 bags. If I ran out before winter was over, I could just fall back on our gas heat. Late this summer I ordered 3 tons of wood pellets. 3 pallets of pellets. 150 bags of pellets. 6,000 pounds for $750. It took them a month to deliver them.

Once they were left on the driveway, we moved them bag by bag to our secret lair which is an unheated room in our home accessible from only the outside that we simply cannot figure out.

Pellet stoves require some work, although definitely not as much work as wood stoves. We've only been using them a few weeks here, since we only got our first frost a few days ago, so I can't yet rely upon our heating experience.

Some regular tasks for pellet stove owners:
  • turning on and off the stove when needed
  • carrying in pellet bags regularly
  • refilling the stove daily
  • cleaning the stove weekly
If you were wondering why we are going through this. It's because pellet stoves are supposed to be a cheap sustainable way to heat your home. They pollute less, and their fuel is wood waste which is a renewable resource. Also our pellet stoves do deliver that glowy warmth and faint smoky aroma that you come to rely on when you burn something. Quite primeval actually, in a modern sort of way.

On my todo list:
  • figuring out how to best heat the house using the combination of pellets and gas heat
  • adding a thermostat to one of the pellet stoves, so it can go on and off automatically
  • attaching a fresh-air intake, so the stove does not suck any heat out of the room
  • getting a long brush to clean the stove pipe annually
Some links:

Happy Halloween!!

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Halloween Cheney - Impeach the pumpkin

Nods to the recent New Yorker cover drawing.