Pellet stove insert a good idea?
September 10, 2019 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm contemplating getting a pellet stove insert put into my 40's house with chimney. What should I be considering?

1947 house has a heat pump which is noisy and expensive to run during the winter. I don't like to use it as the compressor is outside our bedroom and the furnace heater ends up running half the time anyway, which drives up the cost. During the winter, I'm spending maybe $200/mo in electrical costs versus $75 during the rest of the year.
So, I've gotten one bid, $1840 to install a used Lopi Pioneer Bay insert. Warranty for 1 year, seems like a qualified guy doing this with the proper certification. Our chimney has no clay lining, and has some water damage. The insert is pretty old, but parts are still sold new and support is available.
My installer says my insurer would be pleased that some of the potential problems with having an open chimney would be resolved by installing an insert with a single wall liner.
It all sounds pretty good and I like the idea of having wood heat, though it's essentially blown around by a fan on the insert. It seems like I'd need to run our air handler unit to circulate the heat throughout the house. It's not a big place, 2 bedrooms, 1500 sq. ft.
Is there anything I need to do, research or check out beforehand? I'm inclined to do this but that isn't essentially a logical decision, just my gut instinct saying it seems like a good idea to get this done. I plan to check with my insurer on this before going any further. Thanks for any tips.
posted by diode to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Our pellet stove, which came with the house, is so, so noisy that we rarely run it. I thought I'd like it, but I hate it.
posted by Dashy at 10:17 AM on September 10, 2019

I'm spending maybe $200/mo in electrical costs versus $75 during the rest of the year

Is that without air conditioning? Heat is more expensive than air conditioning, and certainly more so than basic power needs. There are calculations to be done between pellets, a gas furnace and a heat pump, but a $125 delta between no AC and heating costs during the winter is not in any way uncommon.
posted by eschatfische at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pellet stoves are utilitarian and I would not put one in living space. Alternatively, a wood stove insert can burn bio-bricks and be efficient and pleasant. I'm planning to burn both wood and bricks this winter. I keep the living room toasty with the wood stove, and the rest of the house stays cool because the thermostat is in the living room. Down comforters warm the bed quickly, and I like a cool room for sleeping. Electric blanket to pre-heat the bed is also efficient.

If you have a wood stove of any sort, make sure it's EPA-certified so you're not polluting too much.
posted by theora55 at 10:44 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

We use a small wood stove in the living room that heats the entire house, just under 1000 sq. ft., in all but the coldest weather. We had to crack open a nearby window to get it to burn well until we hooked up the outside air intake. This works very well so if you decide to do this instead look for an adjustable intake in the rear of the stove.
posted by Botanizer at 10:55 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Aesthetically, we loved our pellet stove insert. We had a Harman, which had a pretty sophisticated computer that was safe to leave running all the time. My husband found it a bit of a pain to have to load the hopper everyday and to scrape the burner every few weeks, but besides that it was low maintenance - we could leave it running while we were at work for the day, etc. It became our primary source of heat in most of the house, since the other option was electric (and expensive). We also had a plain woodstove in the same house and did not feel comfortable leaving that burning unattended (and even without the safety issue, it will go out if left unattended). The insert allowed us to have an always-on fireplace that was pretty efficient and cozy.

Now that we're in a house with a more efficient furnace and only one fireplace, we did decide to go with a plain woodstove. Having lost the need for a continuously running supplement to the furnace, we do feel the woodstove is just a little bit nicer aesthetically and allows us to get the room very toasty, as opposed to the even heat of the pellet stove.

You also asked what to research and check - you could look into your state's/locality tax breaks. There might be incentives that make a brand new insert cheaper than the used one you're looking. A stove retailer can often help with that.

Last, be sure to check whether you need to pull a permit for installation and secondary to that, what the permit might require for installation. Our town for instance requires a full insert in the chimney, and for it to be a certain diameter, etc. and the install had to be inspected by our town before we could safely use it. ymmv
posted by Tandem Affinity at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

We were just looking into these. For me the big deal was that I live somewhere where the power goes out occasionally and a pellet stove insert wasn't going to work for us because of the blower. The price you were quoted sounds in line with what we were quoted, maybe a little lower (I live in MA, i know this may vary by state as well) That said, otherwise I LOVE them. They are a little noisy with the blower, but they do pump out the heat though, as people have noted, not in the way a woodstove does, it's more like a radiator. You have to be able to store pellets somewhere and figure out if you're going to buy them bag by bag or get a whole ton delivered.
posted by jessamyn at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I opted for a regular woodstove instead of a pellet stove for emergency preparedness reasons; it works regardless of whether its fan is plugged in, and fuel is available without relying on a complicated manufacturing and supply chain.
posted by metasarah at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I looked into getting a pellet stove last year and eventually decided against it because I'm in an area prone to power outages, but one surprising down side I heard is that it makes your house smell like crayons (from the wax in the pellets). Maybe the people who have one can confirm or deny? Anyway, I thought that would bother me.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 12:50 PM on September 10, 2019

We like our pellet stove but it is pretty noisy. I don't know about the brand you're looking at, but there are definitely relatively quiet ones out there (not surprisingly, these seemed to be on the higher end when we were shopping around.) We had hoped to cut way back on our oil heating costs, but what's worked best for us has been a combination of oil + pellet heat.

The power-outage situation is probably the biggest negative for me; if you go poking around pellet stove forums for information about powering a pellet stove with a generator you will find a split between people who say "yeah, it's not ideal but you'll be fine for a few hours" and people who say "OMG no you can't ever do that you'll fry the control board unless you have an expensive pure sine wave generator." You can find lots of discussions about battery backup options, inverters, etc; it's a research rabbit hole you can go down but either way (generator / battery / some combination of the two) you'll be spending another few hundred bucks at least.

The other negative in our house that none of the heat from the stove ever reaches our bedroom (which is on the same floor as the stove) and the oil thermostat is in the same room as the pellet stove, which meant it got really cold in the bedroom whenever the stove was running. We eventually resorted to a smart thermostat with a remote wireless sensor in the bedroom. That evened things out really well.

(We've never noticed any waxy odor from any of the various brands of pellets we've used. My vague understanding was that heating pellets are formed with just heat and pressure. When stray pellets drop outside and get soggy, they just turn to sawdust; there doesn't seem to be any kind of binder.)
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 1:04 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I heat more space than that with a Harman pellet stove, and it's been great. Never had a wax smell, never had much of a noise issue, but also - it's a relatively expensive high end model, came almost new with the house. (The smell might be down to the brand of pellet you get.)

You will probably have to have it professionally serviced occasionally (I've never heard of one not needing care at some point) and get the chimney swept according to usage. You will have to scrape the inside, load the hopper, and do a bit of regular maintenance. It's not a huge deal, more on the order of taking some parts out, shop-vaccing, putting it back together.

You have to store the pellets somewhere, and it has to be dry, they won't light damp. Also, they come in 1-ton pallets of 40-pound bags, so get prepared to move some weight when they drop it in your driveway. (Unless someone has other options where you are.) You will almost certainly not be buying bag by bag, they go too fast if it's your main heat. I'll be doing three tons this year, and moving them all into storage isn't going to be the most fun chore.
posted by mrgoat at 5:42 PM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the information and tips. My contractor is telling me that my insurance company would be thrilled to have the chimney covered and protected against water damage. Anyone have any input from their insurance regarding a stove installation?
posted by diode at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2019

You don't say how old your heat pump is, but the newer ones are much more efficient and quieter. You might be better off putting your money into a replacement heat pump and reduce your heating costs. It is more reliable, less hassle and cleaner than a pellet stove, even an EPA approved one.
posted by JackFlash at 7:04 PM on September 10, 2019

Seconding Funeral march and metasarah about the uselessness of pellet stove in power becomes a very expensive candle, if that. Our decision to go with wood stove alone, now that we have only one fireplace, was influenced by the electrical outage consideration in addition to aesthetics.

And seconding mrgoat abt pellet storage - the first year, we just had our several ton delivery left on driveway....quite a project to restock the 40 lb bags in their final resting place for the winter. Later years we got smarter and had someone with small forklift put the stacks in convenient spot.... it was always a bit fraught though to figure where to get the delivery from - you’ve got to learn when your local suppliers will have them available and everybody’s trying to order at the same time - it’s not like the oil truck that can stop by year round. and we’d typically be a few bags short in the late spring and be scouting whether Walmart or tractor supply had anything left. we calculated that our impreza could handle ten bags a trip but we went over the bumps gently!

Also regarding smell of pellets, we never noticed any smell but did you know that some pellet stoves can handle dried cherry pits and corn and other stuff as fuel? Cherry pits bounce a lot and make great cat toys (;

Last, our insurance never cared either way about the stove. I think, as far as risk, the existence of fireplace was equivalent to the stove. Maybe if our chimney had been in bad shape prior to the installation of the chimney insert? (We’re in MA if that matters)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a pellet stove for years, in my case with considerable frustration because the auger would often get clogged (with certain brands of pellets). Finally I replaced it with a propane insert. I found at the time (around 2000) that the cost of propane fuel versus pellets was not significantly different. The propane unit had a fan but would work fine during power outages.
posted by beagle at 5:22 AM on September 11, 2019

Response by poster: Okay, some interesting points there. I have a 1 /2 ton heat pump. It has to be at least 20 years old with minimal maintenance. It would be interesting to go check out mini-split heat pumps. Some you can self-install and probably a lot less noisy and bothersome than my current one.
posted by diode at 9:56 AM on September 11, 2019

If you have a 20 year old heat pump, it probably has a SEER (efficiency) rating of no better than 10. Today you can get a reasonably priced heat pump with a SEER of 15 to 18. In addition, the newer heat pumps work better at lower temperatures, so that the auxiliary electric heater portion, the most expensive heat, is used less. You might be able to cut your heating bill by a third or more just by replacing the heat pump. And the new pumps are much quieter. You can shop by their sound ratings.

Rather than dump a bunch of money into a pellet stove, you might be better off replacing an aging heat pump. Unless you are planning 100% of your heat from the pellet stove, you are going to have to replace the old heat pump some time soon anyway.

The other place to put your money, instead of generating more heat, is to reduce your heat loss with better insulation.
posted by JackFlash at 10:21 AM on September 11, 2019

Just a clarification: SEER rating applies to the cooling phase and HSPF rating refers to the heating phase. They tend to go hand in hand for combination air conditioner/heat pump. So a 20 year old heat pump might be HSPF 6 and today would be better than 8.
posted by JackFlash at 2:49 PM on September 11, 2019

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