Pellet Stoves Look Old School, But Are Exactly What You Need

A quiet revolution is taking place across the Acela corridor: heating with wood finds broad new acceptance. Applications range from residential wood pellet stoves and boilers, to institutional and industrial pellet and chip heating of schools and factories, to district heating of downtown centers and college campuses.

Fully automated pellet systems of all sizes, bulk wood pellet delivery, refined and semi-dried wood chip fuels, advanced technology boilers with engineered emissions controls that bring down harmful pollutants, and combined heat and electric power (CHP) systems are steadily making inroads and on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.

Flashback.

It was the winter of 2005, average oil prices were $2.44 per gallon, and about 30 inches of snow dropped overnight on Rhode Island. The answer to the cold: turn up the heat. Problem was, that, like the seasons, my fathers employment was cyclical. At the time, he was a hard-working Carpenter working for the Rhode Island Carpenter's Union. But, like most other Carpenters in the Northeast, finding an indoor job in the winter time was, and still is, extremely difficult. One must budget money accordingly. I'm not crying poverty —my father has put in well over 20 years with the union and has a nice hourly wage — but when it was time to fill up a 275 gallon tank, the $671 bill was hard to swallow during a time of budgeting. Do it 2.5-4 times a winter, and you start talking about paying some bills rather than others.

His answer: buying a pellet stove in the summer of 2006. I was only 15 at the time, had no idea what a pellet stove was, and hated the idea of lugging 40lb bags back and forth from the barn. The one positive of this new purchase was the fact it was going to be in the basement ... a.k.a my new bedroom.

Come to find out, this was one of my fathers smarter purchases. In 2007, average oil prices jumped to $3.44, nearly a dollar more per gallon. In 2012, the average price for oil was $3.88 per gallon.

While my days of lugging 40lb bags of pellets back and forth from the barn to my room are over, my father swears it was his best purchase to this day--and the numbers tell a fairly similar story.

The cost of the pellet stove was $3,500. Figuring that he uses 2 tons of pellets per winter (1 ton is equal to 1.5 cords of firewood) at today's average price of $217 per ton over the last 7 winters, means he has spent roughly $3,100 since purchasing the stove. Let's call it $7,000 when you add the cost of the pellet stove and the addition of the expensive piping that is needed to vent out the byproduct.

Before the pellet stove, my father used to go through 2.5-4 refills of a 275 gallon oil tank per winter season alone. Using the average oil price per season and multiplying that by three refills per winter cycle yields a total of $17,000 spent on oil, not including the yearly upkeep cost. The difference between the projected cost of oil refills vs. the actual cost of pellets ... close to $10,000.

The numbers speak volumes for how cost effective pellets stoves can be, in the right environment. Did my father use oil over the past seven years? Of course he did, just not $10,000 worth.

Wonder why universities, factories, and even government buildings are slowly switching to woodpellets and other woodburing practices as a source of heat and energy? It's not because liberals are pushing the clean energy agenda (which they are), it's because it saves money.

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