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Wood pellet stove buying guide

Wood pellet stove buying guide

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

Guide written by:

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

151 guides

Wood pellet stoves can provide an energy-efficient way to heat all or part of the home. Whether you go for a natural convection or ducted stove, these biomass heating systems are easy to use and boast high efficiency ratings – it's no wonder they're gaining in popularity! Read on to find the best pellet stove for you.
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When you start looking into purchasing a wood pellet stove for your home, the first thing to decide is whether you're after a primary heating system or a room heater.

Pellet stoves as room heaters

Natural convection pellet stoves

Natural convection pellet stoves cannot generally be used as primary heating systems. The same goes for ventilated pellet stoves which are fitted with blowers to help them to heat up more quickly. These stoves are not equipped with any kind of ducting system meaning heat cannot be conveyed through the home evenly. This means that while the room where the pellet stove is installed will reach a pleasant temperature – or potentially even overheat – temperatures will drop the further you are from the stove. You will therefore need to install a secondary heating system.

Pellet stoves as primary heating systems

Ducted pellet stoves

Ducted pellet stoves are designed to be used as the main heating system in the home. These stoves are equipped with a ducting system that distributes heat evenly through to any connecting rooms. There should therefore be little to no difference in temperatures throughout the home and you shouldn't have to install a secondary heating system.

If you have central heating radiators or an underfloor heating system already in place, it's worth thinking about a hydro stove. These stoves can also be used as a primary heating source.

Venting a pellet stove

It goes without saying that a pellet stove will need to be vented. You have a couple of options when it comes to extracting waste air.

Use an existing chimney

Pellet stoves can be used with a traditional chimney stack and this option is ideal if you have a chimney that is in good working condition. The waste air is taken through a masonry fire place via a flue liner before being released outside through the roof. These stoves are less expensive to purchase but installation will be pricier.

Use a balanced flue system

A balanced flue system offers the most practical solution for homes that do not have a chimney stack. In this case, a twin wall pipe is installed to run either through the roof of the home or even through a wall. These stoves tend to cost more to buy but installation will be less expensive.

What is the heat output of a pellet stove?

The type of heat output you need from your pellet stove depends on the quality of your home's insulation and the size of the space you want to heat. As a rough guideline, you'll need:

  • 0.04 kW/m3 or 100 W/m² for a home with standard insulation.
  • 0.032 kW/m3 or 80 W/m² for a well insulated home.
  • 0.024 kW/m3 or 60 W/m² for a very well insulated home.
If your ceilings measure over 2.5 metres in height, use the W/m² ratio. Otherwise, it's best to calculate using room volume (i.e. Length x Width x Height = in metres).

Pellet stove performance and efficiency

The efficiency of a pellet stove is determined by the difference between the energy it consumes and the energy it provides. The higher the efficiency rating, the better the performance and the more efficient the pellet stove. These days, pellet stoves can be expected to have an efficiency range of 85 to 95%.

Additional features for pellet stoves

Heating controls and programming

Pellet stoves can be programmed to match your daily habits. A range of heating controls is available (programmers, remote control, smart control, etc.) with various modes including holiday mode, eco mode, delay relay and time slots.

A separate sensor provides better control over your set temperatures.

Noise level

Ventilated pellet stoves, or forced air stoves, can emit a bit of noise which some may find bothersome. Be sure to check the noise level before purchase.

Hopper capacity

The hopper capacity of a pellet stove generally ranges from 15 to 50 kg and dictates how many hours the stove can run before it needs to be topped up.

Pellet stoves are designed to burn wood pellets. These pellets are held in a hopper and fed into a burn pot (or combustion chamber) by a motorised screw called an auger.

The stove is ignited by a stove igniter or heating element. Air is drawn into the burn pot which keeps combustion going and a blower fan is often used to aid the process. Wood pellets must be fed into the burn pot regularly and the amount added dictates the level of heat output provided.

This mechanism operates via a controller which can be used to set temperatures. A sensor is used to control the speed of the auger feed and level of air supply and once a set temperature is reached, the stove will work to maintain it.

Most modern pellet stoves allow you to set different modes for different operating times and settings. All pellet stoves offer this option but heat output will vary between models.

Pellet stoves consume little electricity – generally only around 80 to 400 W.
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Wood pellet stoves

If there's one thing that worries people looking to invest in a wood pellet stove it is the question of whether or not a pellet stove can function as the main heating system in the home. To put your mind at rest, the answer is yes – pellet stoves can be used as a primary heating system, but only under certain conditions.

1. Natural convection pellet stoves

If you are looking into natural convection pellet stoves, several conditions must be met if you want to use the stove as your main heating source:

  • the stove must be installed in the centre of the home;
  • the space must be as open as possible;
  • your home must be all on one floor and very well insulated;
  • the total surface area mustn't exceed 100 m²;
  • the doors to the rooms you want to heat must be left open at all times;
  • you must be prepared to accept temperature differences between rooms.

2. Ducted pellet stoves

A ducted pellet stove can work well as a primary heating system. You simply need to set up a ducting network to distribute hot air to any room you want to heat.

3. Hydro stoves

Just like ducted pellet stoves, hydro stoves need their own distribution network if they are to be used to heat an entire home. However, instead of carrying hot air, these stoves produce hot water which is fed into central heating radiators or underfloor heating systems.

Pellet stove installation conditions

In all of the above scenarios, you need to make sure your pellet stove is powerful enough to heat the total volume of your home and you will usually still be required to fit your bathroom with an electric towel tail.

Ducted or forced air pellet stoves

Ducted, or forced air, wood pellet stoves blow warm air around the home using one or several fans. The blowers allow the stove to heat up more quickly while a system of ducts and vents distributes heat evenly throughout the home.

While forced air pellet stoves can be used to heat several rooms, they do generate background noise (even though the most modern stoves now feature efficient soundproof casing to reduce the problem).

Hot air is distributed throughout the rooms of the house via a ducting system that runs from the stove up to about 6 metres away on average, or 15 metres for the most efficient stoves. Hot air flow is measured in cubic metres per hour (m3/h).

Natural convection pellet stoves

Natural convection pellet stoves rely on the passive movement of heat. These stoves are usually fitted with fire bricks where heat is accumulated then conveyed to the room. They can be slow to heat up and it is not possible to duct these systems. However, the stove operates more or less silently.

Natural convection stoves can be used as primary heating systems in one-storey houses. But as detailed above, this simply means leaving the doors open to any room you want to heat.

More or less ineffective in two-storey homes, natural convection stoves are generally only used as additional heating systems in the main living area of one-storey homes.

Ventilated pellet stoves

Ventilated pellet stoves feature a built-in blower system fitted either above or on the front of the stove. This convection fan is used to move the warm air produced for better and quicker heat distribution. In this case, the heat is released through natural convection and forced ventilation.

These stoves offer similar performance to natural convection pellet stoves.

The sound of the fan can be bothersome to anyone sensitive to background noise.

Hydro stoves

Hydro stoves work a little differently in that the heat generated by the stove is used to heat up water rather than air.

These stoves are connected to central heating radiators or underfloor heating systems and can even be used to supply domestic hot water.

However, if you have a large heating system, these stoves may struggle to cope without an additional hot water storage tank. In this case, performance will be reduced and may wind up being inferior to a conventional boiler.

Residential space heating appliances fired by wood pellets must conform to the standard BS EN 14785 and must have a CE marking. Look for a DEFRA-approved stove to improve combustion performance and limit emissions.
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Pellet stoves for quiet operation

If your wood pellet stove is going to be installed in a living room or if you don't want to deal with the background hum of a fan, your best option will be a natural convection pellet stove.

Pellet stoves for faster heat-up

If you're looking for a stove that heats up quickly, choose a ventilated pellet stove.

Pellet stoves for central heating

If you want to make your wood pellet stove the primary heating system in the home able to heat up a number of rooms, you'll need a ducted pellet stove.

Pellet stoves for domestic hot water

If you want to manage your domestic hot water system with a pellet stove – or if your home already has a hydronic heating system already in place – you'll need a hydro stove.

Temperature settings

When it comes heating controls, the vast majority of pellet stoves are equipped with a PID controller (which stands for proportional–integral–derivative). This allows the stove to maintain temperatures provided by a sensor. This way, the stove can be calibrated to a set temperature of your choice. It's important to note that the sensor is fitted inside the casing on some pellet stoves while other stoves feature an external sensor.

The option to move the sensor to the centre of the room will provide you with more accurate temperature readings.

Programming and heating controls

Be sure to check that the pellet stove you're looking to purchase is equipped with a programming system that suits your lifestyle. It is usually possible to set several programmes on a daily basis or over the course of several days. Some offer even more advanced settings such as:

  • eco mode which puts the pellet stove on stand-by once a set temperature has been reached in order to save wood pellets;
  • holiday mode which keeps your home at a minimum temperature while you're away (this is usually factory-set to about 15°C but can be re-set);
  • low pellet alarm: an alarm is set off when the hopper is almost empty, or if the door or hopper is left open.
Read up on the programming options of any stove to make sure that you will be able to use the appliance as you want to.
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Wood pellet stoves

Wi-Fi technology offers the option to control a pellet stove remotely to:

  1. Turn the stove on/off.
  2. Increase or decrease heat output.
  3. Control temperatures and automatic feed.
  4. Set daily and weekly programmes.
Smart control means you can programme your stove from your smartphone 24 hours a day no matter where you are. As long as you have internet access, you can control your stove!

The hopper capacity of a pellet stove is often overlooked. However, this factor is important as it will dictate how often the hopper needs to be topped up. Most pellet stoves are fitted with a hopper designed to hold a whole bag of wood pellets (approx. 15 kg).

However, some stoves have even larger hoppers able to hold around 25 kg of pellets. The advantage of a larger hopper is that you won't have to top it up every day which prevents you from having to turn the stove off.

Topping up the stove

When it comes to topping up a pellet stove, you need to be able to lift heavy bags of up to 15kg over the stove to tip the pellets into the hopper. If you aren't able to do this, you can use another filling device that will prevent you from having to lift the bags too high. Alternatively, you can simply scoop the pellets out using a smaller container.

The majority of wood pellet stoves operate using a feed auger but a very small number of pellet stoves are fitted with a rotating feed system instead.

These days, more and more manufacturers are producing stylish or even designer pellet stoves. However, looks should not be your first consideration when it comes to choosing a pellet stove.

Remember that you will have to leave a safety gap behind the stove or install a heat shield on the wall against which the stove sits. The stove will also need a clearance of about 60 to 90 cm in front for the door.

Once all these conditions have been met, it's up to you to pick your favourite shape and colour!
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Wood pellet stoves

The heat output of a pellet stove is measured in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW) (1000 W = 1 kW).

Standards EN 13229 and EN 13240 specify the requirements related to the heat output of pellet stoves. The heating capacity of a pellet stove is usually provided per volume in cubic metres (m3) or square metres (m²). The heat output of a stove determines its pellet consumption and the bigger the room, the more pellets you need.

Insulation and heating requirements

As outlined above, the heat output of a pellet stove needs to be chosen to match the volume of the space you want to heat. But you also have to think about the quality of your home's insulation. Generally speaking, you need about 0.1 kW of power for every 1 m².

For example, if you want to heat a surface area of 80 m², you'll need a 8 kW pellet stove. This value is calculated for a room temperature of 21°C and an outdoor temperature of 7°C. However, you must also factor in insulation quality when choosing a pellet stove. Let's look at three home insulation scenarios:

  1. Poorly insulated homes
  2. Homes with adequate insulation
  3. Homes with high-quality insulation

Poorly insulated homes

To calculate the heat output required for a poorly insulated home, start by calculating the volume of the room you want to heat (Length x Width x Height = in metres). Once you've done that, divide the calculated figure by 10. This should give you the required heat output in kilowatts for a poorly insulated home with single glazing. For example, 5 m x 6 m and 2.5 m  = 75. Divide this figure by 10 = 75 / 10 = 7.5 KW pellet stove.

Homes with adequate insulation

For a house with adequate insulation, you will once again have to calculate the volume of the room you want to heat (Length x Width x Height = in metres). Once you've done that, divide the calculated figure by 15. This should give you the required heat output in kilowatts for a home with fair insulation and double glazing. For example, 5 m x 6 m and 2.5 m  = 75. Divide this figure by 15 = 75 / 15 = 5 KW pellet stove.

Well insulated homes

Homes insulated to current standards will require less powerful pellet stoves. Calculate the volume of the room you want to heat (Length x Width x Height = in metres). Once you've done that, divide the calculated figure by 20. This should give you the required heat output in kilowatts for a home with high-quality insulation and double glazing. For example, 5 m x 6 m and 2.5 m  = 75. Divide this figure by 20 = 75 / 20 = 3.7 KW (approx.) pellet stove. If the result of your calculations doesn't match the exact heat output of available pellet stoves, just get as close as you can to the required heat output but round up rather than down.

Choosing the right stove size and heat output is absolutely essential if you want your wood pellet stove to run efficiently. It's also important to consider minimum power. This is the level at which your pellet stove maintains temperatures after achieving a set temperature. Even if you purchase the right size of pellet stove, your pellet stove will still use too much energy if the minimum power is too high for your needs.
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Wood pellet stoves

Wood pellet stoves are very efficient and much more so than traditional wood burning stoves. This is primarily thanks to the low moisture content of wood pellets which is usually under 10%.

Efficient heat regulation

Pellet stoves feature an electronic regulation system which ensures the stove consumes the correct quantity of wood pellets for the set temperature. However, if you want your stove to be as efficient as the manufacturer promises – bearing in mind efficiency ranges are usually about 85 to 95% – you will need to control your pellet stove properly. Even if you choose the right size of stove, if you don't adjust the settings correctly, the stove won't meet your needs. It will use more pellets than necessary, clog quickly and end up malfunctioning or breaking down. In short, you won't have an efficient heating system.

The higher the energy efficiency rating, the cheaper the stove is to run.
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Wood pellet stoves

Waste air can be removed from pellet stoves using one of two systems.

  1. Balanced flues: these pellet stoves need to be completely airtight. They are more expensive to purchase but installation is cheaper, easier and more attractive since the pipes are more discreet.
  2. Chimney stacks: these stoves operate in a more traditional way and are less expensive to buy. However, installation is costlier and the results are less discreet.

Traditional chimney stacks

In this case, waste air from the pellet stove is taken outdoors through a chimney like a traditional fire.

A flue liner takes the waste air through the chimney and out through the roof.

If your home already has a chimney, it is possible to use it to install your pellet stove so long as it is inspected by a professional first. If your chimney is not properly sealed, you'll need to use a flue liner. These heat-resistant long tubes are fed through the chimney to create a sealed system.

If you are evacuating waste air through the roof, you will need a fresh air supply.

Use a balanced flue system

Balanced flues mean that the pellet stove is airtight and does not draw any air from inside the home. The air supply required for combustion is taken from outside. The balanced flue system consists of two concentric pipes: one is used to draw in air for combustion while the other is used to extract waste air.

This system offers two advantages:

  • it acts as a heat exchanger: the warm outgoing air heats up the fresh air that is entering the stove;
  • it is easy to install and can be installed through an external wall.

Balanced flues are also often used for condensing boilers. These flues are ideal for well insulated homes as they are completely airtight. Heat loss is limited since little warmth is lost through the chimney and you don't need additional vents.

You do not usually need to apply for planning permission to install a wood pellet stove. However, you do need to get in touch with your local authority to inform them of your plans if you intend to install the appliance yourself. Alternatively, you can have a HETAS-approved installer carry out the work. In this case, the person installing the stove will provide certification that the appliance conforms to all building regulations.

Bear in mind that if you live in a smoke control area and you want to install any kind of wood burning stove, you need to ensure you purchase a DEFRA-approved model.

DEFRA certification ensures that:

  • the stove has been modified to minimise smoky combustion;
  • wood is able to burn as efficiently as possible;
  • the stove can be used legally in a smoke control area in accordance with the Clean Air Act (1993).
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Pellet stove care

Pellet stoves require daily, weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance. While annual maintenance will be carried out by a professional, routine cleaning is your responsibility.

Cleaning task

Daily

Weekly

Monthly

Yearly (professional care)

Burn pot

x

Ash tray

x

Glass and door

x

Stove surround and vents

x

Exhaust blower

x

Heat exchanger

x

Smoke extractor

x

Deep clean

x

Chimney sweep

x

Basic cleaning

Every time you go to top up your pellet stove, you should clean out the burn pot and perform some checks. Regular care involves:

  • Turning off the pellet stove.
  • Emptying the ash tray.
  • Vacuuming the burn pot (to ensure the air inlet is clear).
  • Checking the air inlet and igniter.
  • Cleaning out the combustion chamber and the glass door.

To make cleaning easier, go for a pellet stove with a wide door for easy access, a removable combustion chamber and a removable ash drawer.

If your stove is on the correct settings, you should not experience too much waste build-up.

Yearly pellet stove maintenance

Pellet stove flue liners should be swept at least twice a year. One of these sweeps should be performed during heating season by a professional chimney sweep. Flue care is essential for clean combustion and to prevent soot from building up which will lower performance and increase the risk of accidents.

There are a few different ways to sweep a vent pipe and this depends on the type of flue or chimney liner you have. It is possible to:

  • sweep through a soot door;
  • sweep from above;
  • sweep from below.
The professional in charge of servicing your pellet stove should also clean and vacuum dust from the heat exchanger and burn pot.

After sales support

Read up on the pellet stove brand you have chosen and check any available information concerning their after sales support in terms of quality and efficiency (e.g. speed of repair services, spare part availibility, prices. etc.).

In order to choose the best wood pellets, have a look around a few different suppliers to find high-quality pellets at a good price. To give you an idea of the quantity of wood pellets required, a home measuring 100 m² fitted with a 10 kW pellet stove as a primary heating system will use about 1350 kg (or 1.35 tonnes) of wood pellets a year on average.

ENplus® UK Wood Pellet is a certification scheme run by HETAS. This certification ensures wood pellets:

  • have a low moisture content (less than 10%);
  • have a fine dust content of less than 1%;
  • have a heat output of 4.6 to 5.3 kWh/kg.
Remember – the lower the moisture content, the higher the quality of wood pellet. The quality of the wood pellets has a direct impact on the combustion quality and the amount of waste build-up in the stove and flue.
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Flues and chimney systems

Wood pellet stoves can be use to make your home more energy efficient alongside measures such as improving your hot water system and insulation, and installing whole house ventilation and a high efficiency heating system. All together, these measures aim to lower energy consumption and reduce household greenhouse gas emissions.

Find out more about government grants

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Guide written by:

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff, 151 guides

Jeremy, Construction site supervisor, Cardiff

Electrician by trade, I first worked in industrial estates where I installed, wired and fixed a large number of electrical installations. After this, I managed a team of electricians for this type of work. 10 years or so ago, I turned to building and construction. From the modest family home, to gyms and theatres, I have been able to coordinate, audit and organise all sorts of construction sites. For 4 years now, I am restoring and building an extension to a bungalow in the heart of the Welsh countryside. My experience in manual work and my knowledge means I am proud to be of service. Terraces, interior design, roofing, plumbing, electrics, anything goes! My wife, daughter and I, built almost everything we have from scratch! So to answer all of your questions and advise you on choosing your tools? Easy!

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