How Does a Pellet Stove Work?

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Pellet stoves work very differently to other heaters that are commonly used to warm up our homes.

Below is a summary of how pellet stoves work.

How a Pellet Stove Works

how a pellet stove works
  1. Pellets of compressed biomass material (usually made of wood or corn) are loaded into the hopper. The amount of pellets that a hopper can hold varies, but it is generally from 40 lbs (18 kg’s) up to over 100 lbs (45 kg’s).
  2. An auger, which is driven by an electric motor, turns and carries pellets from the hopper to the burn pot. Sensors within the stove tell the system when to turn the augur to add more fuel depending on the heat setting.
  3. The pellets are added to the burn pot. The fire is kept very small, but very hot. This way the pellet stove burns at maximum efficiency with very little waste.
  4. An electric blower adds air to the fire to help the pellets burn as efficiently and as hot as possible. Used air is then vented, the type of venting depends on the model of pellet stove.
  5. Above the heating compartment is a heat exchanger, this is usually a series of pipes that catch almost all the heat from within the stove. Depending on the model, a fan may be used to disperse the heat.

Wood Pellet Fuel Guide

man holding pellet fuel

When it comes to choosing a pellet brand and type to choose, it is certainly not a case of apples for apples. It is important that you weigh up each brand of pellet fuel and carefully consider your options.

Wood Pellet Fuel Grades

Pellet fuel generally comes in two grades:

  • Premium grade pellets
  • Standard grade pellets

Premium pellets contain a lower percentage of inorganic ash content (<1%), which results in less soot being produced by the burning of fuel, which in turn leads to less maintenance.

Standard-grade fuel pellets burn slightly less efficiently due to the higher ash content (generally between 1-5%).

Premium Pellets Are Best! We highly recommend spending a bit extra and getting premium-grade wood pellets. They will burn more efficiently and result in less soot buildup in your stove.

What Are Fuel Pellets Made From?

Beyond the grades of fuel pellets, the next consideration should be what the pellets are made from. The main materials that pellets are made from are:

  • Hardwood
  • Softwood
  • Corn (yes, not technically wood but worth mentioning)

Most modern pellet stoves will burn both hardwood and softwood pellets with very similar efficiency. It should be noted though that while softwood pellets are usually more expensive, you do get a higher heat from them.

More heat = less pellets required to heat your home and less ash and soot build up in your pellet stove.

Pellet fuels made from corn are far less common, can can be a viable alternative to pellets made from wood and have the added benefit of being a renewable resource. Corn pellets produce about the same amount of heat as wood pellets, but they have a higher ash content which means more maintenance.

Corn pellets are generally cheaper than wood pellets, but it does depends on where you live.

Burning corn pellets is usually best done in a pellet stove designed for that purpose, however you can usually use corn pellets mixed in with standard wood pellets without any problem in a standard pellet stove.

Storing Wood Pellets

wood pellet storage

It is also worth mentioning that you may need considerable storage space to keep your fuel pellets.

Pellet fuel generally comes in 40-50lb bags, so keep in mind that you will need somewhere dry to store pellet bags, especially if you live in a remote area.

On a cold winter, you may go through as many as two pellet bags per day!

Making Your Own Fuel Pellets

Making your own is possible but can lead to problems if the pellets are not made correctly.

The homemade pellets may crumble and get stuck in the chute, causing efficiency problems or possibly causing the heater to stop working altogether.

In our opinion, making your own fuel pellets is generally not worth it and going for the store-bought option is a much better choice.

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Aaron Green
Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. He likes to spend his spare time with his family, and doing DIY projects in the home and garden.

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