Pellet Stove Surprises: Options for Alternative Heating

I’ve had my pellet stove for about two years now and have noticed a few side effects and extra expenditures that every potential owner should be aware of.

1. Clinkers. Many owners’ guides warn about “clinkers” but I was still surprised when I first heard the gentle clink every couple of minutes coming from inside my stove that has given this phenomenon its name. According to the Hearth Education Foundation, because pellets are often created from wood byproducts like sawdust and wood chips, the mineral content within the pellets varies slightly.

Some minerals cause the pellet’s ashes to fuse together in clumps that temporarily block the stove’s air holes. If there is a bright orange flame, the stove needs to be cleaned, but for the most part, these granules are harmless wood chimes. Although the tapping is frustrating to some owners, the jovial sound is an added bonus for me.

We joke that we save the bags of pellets with typically more clinkers for when we’re going to have friends over because the popping, like that of popcorn, always brings life to the party. Clinkers also answer the question, “If no one is in the forest to hear a tree fall, does it still make a noise?” The answer is, “Yes, it clinks.”

2. Dust. Like with any wood burning device, once the wood pellets are burned, the stove must be cleaned of ash. Tiny ash particles exit and float throughout the room, landing on every available surface. When vacuuming out the stove, this can sometimes result in puffs of dust clouds, but more often you can expect a gradual buildup of dust appearing on your furniture. If you plan on owning a pellet stove, plan on dusting more.

3. Bags of Pellets are Heavy. The typical bag of pellets weighs 40 lbs and lasts for a day or so depending on usage. Lifting one is not too strenuous for most of us, but hauling a month’s supply is another story. A ton of pellets is usually more affordable than buying the bags individually, but hauling a ton of weight puts a lot of wear and tear on our small pick-up truck.

To ease the burden, we often swallow the extra cost by buying fewer bags and making more trips to the store. If you don’t have a truck at all, it would be wise to find a pellet supplier that delivers in your area. There is often an extra fee for delivery, so be aware of that.

4. When the Power Goes Out, So Does the Heat. I had read the recommendations about not having a pellet stove as my primary heating source, but quickly pushed the thought out of my head. Pellet stoves burn wood but also have many automated functions that require a small amount of electricity. I reasoned the power usually only went out where I live in upstate New York for several hours at a time and that we could stay warm by layering on extra clothes and blankets. My first year as a pellet stove owner challenged this misconception.

The power went out for three long days in the middle of winter and my family was left huddling around a portable gas heater. Since then, I’ve invested in a gas generator that will keep the stove and a few appliances running should we fall victim to a similar power outage in the future.

5. Fans Please. I live in a mobile home, so was thrilled to find out that, when installed correctly, pellet stoves are approved for mobile home use. The importance of the room layout for any home shouldn’t be underestimated, however, when considering the installation of a pellet stove. The ideal placement would be in the middle of the house, to allow for the heat to radiate in all directions. Like in many single-wide trailers, that was not possible in my home.

We had to install the stove in our living room at the northernmost end of our rectangular structure. The stove on its lowest setting easily turned the room into an inferno reaching temperatures near the 80 degree mark. It was much to hot to be comfortable.

We have a hallway that extends down the length of the trailer, and by installing three small fans in intervals by the ceiling; we have successfully managed to transfer most of the heat. The room farthest from the stove, however, is still noticeably colder than the rest of the house. The fans are an extra cost to purchase and use extra energy to operate month to month, so that is a consideration, as well, when figuring out the total cost of running a pellet stove in your own home.

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