— Steve Schutz of New Berlin knows how frustrated
people can get when their heating bills soar and they
have only one choice of heating fuel, such as propane,
which has tripled in price in recent weeks.
owner of Sunnyslope Gardens Inc., lowered his heating
bill between $2,000 and $3,000 a year by installing wood
pellet stoves in his greenhouses and home nine years
the stoves are his primary heating source, supplemented
by natural gas.
morning, Schutz checks his stoves and empties the ash
pots. It takes him about an hour to make the rounds for
six stoves before he leaves them unattended.
is a learning curve. You’re dealing with fire, so you
have check things," he said.
lot of people appear to be lining up for that learning
curve, especially in rural areas, where they’ve faced
propane shortages as well as rising prices.
trade groups say sales of pellets and pellet stoves are
climbing this year, the result of a winter people are
likely to remember for decades.
Inc., a pellet manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., has seen
its business heat up as more people turn to pellet
stoves and dial back their propane use.
Kenosha mill takes sawdust and shavings from companies
in the home construction industry and presses those
waste materials into pellets.
keeps the waste out of landfills and is a renewable
source of homegrown energy, said Larry Dejno, company
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has a keen interest in wood pellets and pellet stoves,
as about five mills in the state produce the fuel. The
U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison conducts
research on pellet fuels, and pellet stove manufacturers
have used Wisconsin labs to test their products.
Sense Energy Systems, in the Outagamie County town of
Dale Wis., claims to be the nation’s largest pellet
are much stronger than average now, driven by high
propane costs more so than the cold," said Chad
Curtis, operations manager for the company, which has
been in the pellet stove business for 22 years.
stoves burn compacted pellets, usually made of wood, but
some models can burn nutshells, corn kernels and small
wood chips. They’re more convenient to operate than
ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces, and some have much
higher heating efficiencies, according to the U.S.
Department of Energy.
stove rated at 60,000 Btu can heat a 2,000-square-foot
home, while a stove rated at 42,000 Btu can heat a
1,300-square-foot space, the agency says.
most homeowners want to know is how much money they
could save from heating with a pellet stove compared
with using propane, fuel oil or natural gas.
propane priced at more than $4 a gallon, an equivalent
amount of heat from wood pellets would be about five
times cheaper, according to Mark Knaebe, forest products
technologist with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory.
a no-brainer for propane and fuel oil users. You would
want to switch over to a good wood system," Knaebe
someone heating with natural gas, the savings wouldn’t
amount to much, Knaebe said. That could change, though,
if natural gas prices were to increase considerably, as
they have in the past.
propane and fuel oil prices rise, so do pellet stove
best time to buy a stove and pellets is in the summer,
when people have forgotten about heating costs and stove
dealerships want to clear out inventory from the
prices vary widely, from about $1,200 to $4,000, plus
installation and other costs that could include a higher
home insurance premium for having a wood burner. The
cost of pellets is about $4 per 40-pound bag, with many
homeowners using a bag a day to heat their homes or
supplement another source of heat.
of the stoves don’t need an expensive chimney.
Free-standing units resemble a conventional wood stove
and generally heat a single room well. But they won’t
heat adjacent areas unless there’s a fan to move the
warm air between rooms.
stoves have a fuel hopper to store the pellets until
they’re needed for burning. Most hoppers hold 35 to
130 pounds of fuel.
feeder device, like a large screw, drops a few pellets
at a time into a combustion chamber for burning. How
quickly the pellets are fed into the burner determines
the heat output.
stoves have to be cleaned by the homeowner, including
emptying a pot that holds the ashes. They also require
electricity to run fans, controls and pellet feeders.
Under normal usage, a stove would use about $9 worth of
electricity a month, according to the Department of
the stove has a backup power supply, the loss of
electric power results in no heat and possibly some
smoke in the house," the agency says.
people use a pellet stove to supplement or replace their
main heating source until propane, natural gas or fuel
oil prices go down. For comparison purposes, the Forest
Products Laboratory has a fuel-cost calculator on its
current propane crisis is a reminder that it’s smart
to have two ways to heat your home, said John Crouch,
spokesman for the Pellet Fuels Institute in Sacramento,
gives you some independence. When you have only one way
to heat your home, you’re stuck with whatever that
fuel price is," he said.
stoves and wood burning stoves can vary widely in
efficiency and operating costs. Outdoor wood
"boilers" are inefficient and produce a lot of
air pollution, Knaebe said.
almost worse than a campfire," he said.
in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to
reduce pollution from new wood stoves, wood boilers,
fireplaces and pellet stoves used for heating.
proposed rules would not affect units already in place
but would restrict sales of new products to those that
emit about 80 percent less pollution than older models.
changes shouldn’t affect pellet stoves because they
emit less particulate matter, carbon monoxide and
organic compounds than wood burners.
stoves produce very little air pollution, according to
the Department of Energy.