Wood pellet myths

We know there’s a lot of “fake news” out there, and you may have heard a slew of reasons why wood pellets are a bad choice for home heating, but we’re here to set the record straight.

Here’s our list of common myths we hear about wood pellets, and the facts that you should know.

 

Wood pellet heating is inefficient

Not true.

Modern wood pellet stoves and furnaces are carefully designed to efficiently heat a room or building.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), wood pellet stoves certified by the DOE have efficiency rates of between 70 and 83 per cent. Gas furnaces installed before 1990 are likely in that same range, while new, energy efficient gas furnaces are up in the 90 per cent efficiency mark. However, gas furnace efficiency rates do not factor in heat loss from air ducting, which can be as much as 35 per cent of the energy output.

Key to a pellet stove’s efficiency is its location in the home, which should be in an area that allows it to effectively space heat the room or rooms that need warmth.

Unlike most wood stoves or fireplaces, pellet stoves use a small amount of electricity to run an infeed auger, which feeds pellets into the combustion chamber as required, and two blowers. One blower supplies the combustion air that ensures pellets burn clean and hot, and the other delivers heated air into the home. These additions may add about $10 to your electricity bill, but the payoff is an automated, hassle-free heating system that effectively circulates heat in a room for maximum efficiency.

Wood pellets are bad for the environment

Not the case.

Canada’s forest sector is world leader in sustainability. In addition to rigorous forest management laws and regulations enforced by provinces and territories, Canada has the largest area of third-party-certified forests in any country.

The vast majority of wood pellets produced in Canada are made from sawmill residuals – leftover sawdust and chips from lumber production. Some pellets are produced from harvesting residuals – tree tops, branches and other low-grade timber from logging sites. This waste wood, which would otherwise be burned or left to decompose, finds a new home in wood pellets as an economical, sustainable heat source.

Many of Canada’s pellet producers have gone a step further and achieved internationally recognized wood pellet sustainability certifications, such as CANplus, ENplus and SBP.

But, like any fuel, we must account for the carbon emitted during processing and transportation. Factoring this in, wood pellets are considered a low-carbon fuel. Compared to fossil fuels like oil, propane and natural gas, wood pellets have a significantly smaller carbon footprint.

Learn more about wood pellets’ carbon footprint and sustainability here.

 

Pellet stoves are unsafe

False, as long as they are installed and used properly.

While chimney fires are a legitimate safety concern for any wood stove owner, pellet stoves have no chimney. Instead, combustion gases are safety vented through a side wall.

Combustion gases from wood pellets contain virtually no creosote due to the high quality of wood material contained in the pellets. The small amount of ash produced is collected in an ash pan, which is typically emptied once a week once the ash is cool.

As with any stove or heating system, the installation must meet local building and fire safety codes, as well as CSA safety standards. It’s recommended you have a professional install your pellet stove. A certified professional can evaluate the location of your stove and flag any possible safety concerns.

It is also recommended your installer be certified by the WETT (Wood Energy Technical Training) program, which is the only training and competency system in Canada in the field of residential wood burning.

 

Wood pellets are expensive

Depends on location, but not normally the case.

Canadians have unequal access to alternative fuels. Natural gas is almost always the cheapest option to heat a home, but some communities or even entire provinces do not have gas pipelines. Natural Resources Canada estimates close to 50 per cent of space heating and 65 per cent of water heating in Canadian homes is fuelled by natural gas. Alberta and Ontario have the lion’s share of that usage.

For that other 50 per cent of the population, the fuel options are less black and white. Electricity costs vary depending on how cheaply electricity is produced in each province or territory. Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. are Canada’s largest producers of hydro-electricity and so offer it at a cheaper rate.

Where electricity is expensive, some homeowners resort to oil or propane to heat their homes, both of which are expensive and carbon intensive. Wood pellets will almost certainly be a cheaper option than oil and propane.

The Nova Scotia government, for example, estimates the annual cost of a pellet stove or fireplace is $1,928. This is much lower than its estimates for oil or propane heating, which is up to $3,955 for a low-efficiency appliance. Both electricity and natural gas options vary depending on heating type and efficiency, but can be up to $2,164 for natural gas and $3,951 for electricity. Wood stoves, unsurprisingly, are even cheaper than wood pellets at just $1,387.

Learn more about pellet affordability here.

 

Pellet stoves and boilers are a lot of work

Wrong.

Unlike a wood stove, pellet stoves are auto-fuelling, meaning you don’t have to add logs or stoke the fire. Most pellet stoves can be controlled with a thermostat, and are lit with the push of a button.

There is never any need to open the fire box, so no messy clean up of flyaway embers. And the significantly lower ash content of wood pellets compared to logs means less regular maintenance of the ash pan.

Depending on heating needs, the only work involved in owning a pellet stove is filling the pellet hopper. A small pellet stove may need filling once a day during the coldest time of the year. While most pellets are purchased in 40-pound bags from your local hardware store, bulk is an option in some communities.

Automated wood pellet furnaces are even less maintenance. Depending on models, they could include automatic vacuum fuel feed, ash removal and tube cleaning, with various pellet storage options.

Learn more about heating system options here.

 

Sources: Arctic Energy Alliance, Alliance for Green Heat, Efficiency Nova Scotia, FortisBC, U.S. Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada.