There is nothing quite like the radiant heat of a wood or pellet stove, the immediate feeling of warmth you get when sitting close to the heater is one of the most comforting things I have experienced. But when it comes to making the choice between a pellet stove or a wood stove – which one is better?
Both types of heaters can look very similar, and both provide that lovely radiant heat – but that is really where the similarities end. When it comes to pellet stoves vs wood stoves – each are very different in how they operate.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these heater types.
Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. This does not impact our reviews and comparisons. All opinions are our own. We pride ourselves on keeping our articles fair and balanced. For more info see our disclosure statement.
Pellet Stove Vs Wood Stoves
Stove Style And Application
Both wood heaters and pellet heaters look very similar and they can perform a similar role.
Pellet stoves come in both an insert and freestanding style and are suitable for heating a home, shed or other similar areas. Gone are the days when pellet stoves looked like ugly, industrial heaters. Most newer pellet stoves now look very modern and can fit in with any decor.
Wood stoves also come in both the insert and freestanding style and will also suitable for heating homes, sheds etc. Wood heaters are designed in many different styles and there is always something that will suit the look of your home.
Note: It is worth keeping in mind that both wood and pellet stoves are space heaters (they are designed to heat the space they are located in). So while the heat will radiate out into other areas of your home, they will not perform as well as a ducted system or similar when it comes to sharing the heat around.
Providing a definitive answer on which type of heater has better heating performance is hard because of course, it depends on the size and quality of the wood/pellet stove being installed. However, I will do my best to use some averages to provide some useful information.
The first thing to note is that when choosing a wood stove, it is very important you choose the right size. I know it’s tempting to go out and get the biggest wood heater available but this is actually a very bad move to make.
Choosing a wood stove that is too big will result in the heater being turned down very low most of the time, which in turn leads to the wood fuel being burned inefficiently and costing more in the long run.
So which is more efficient?
The variables involved in a wood stove mean that giving an exact efficiency number is guesswork at best. The actual heat output is unpredictable and depends on the type of wood fuel used, the amount of air allowed into the fireplace itself as well as numerous other factors.
Pellet stoves, on the other hand, have a very controlled burn environment in their burn pot and this allows the efficiency to be measured quite accurately.
As a general statement, it can be fairly confidently said that pellet stoves have a higher efficiency and as such, their heating performance is superior to wood stoves.
Related article: Can you put a pellet stove in your basement?
When it comes to actually buying the pellet stove or wood heater, the costs are very similar when you compare the advertised heat outputs and efficiency of each model.
Please note that all prices given are based on averages and prices in your area may vary significantly. Always do your own research with local suppliers before committing to installing a stove.
Free Standing Pellet Stove
|Professional Installation (Labor)||$500|
|Venting Costs (parts)||$700 (depends on type and length of vent)|
Free Standing Wood Stove
|Stove Cost||$1,000 (price can vary anywhere from $300 – $3,000)|
|Professional Installation (Labor)||$1,000|
|Chimney Costs (parts)||$1,000 (depends on type and length of vent)|
Pellet Stove Insert
|Electrical Contractor Costs||$200|
*Additional costs may be required to make chimney safe and fit stove correctly
Wood Stove Insert
|Stove Cost||$1,000 (once again, prices vary a lot $800 – $2,500)|
*Additional costs may be required to make chimney safe and fit stove correctly
So what’s the TLDR (too long didn’t read) of all that? Basically, you can sum up the installation costs like this:
- Pellet stoves cost a bit more to buy, but are generally cheaper and easier to install. Overall, the installation costs are very similar.
- Inserts are the cheapest type to buy and the cheapest type to install – as long as your existing chimney is suitable for the heater.
So which is the winner?
I would say the winner is the pellet stove by a small margin.
Why? Because the installation is generally much simpler – which means there is less to go wrong (with the installation) and less major works to do in your home.
Heating Fuel Costs
So when it comes to wood stoves vs pellet stoves – which one is cheaper to run? Well if you are just judging purely by the direct cost of the fuel then there is a clear winner as per the graphic below:
Now keep in mind that this graphic uses average efficiency values and assumes that the cost of a cord of wood is $220 and the cost per tonne of fuel pellets is $245.
But what is BTU? Well, it is a measurement of heat and you can learn more about it by visiting this page.
So as you can see there is a fairly clear winner here, even if it is only by a small margin.
Whichever type of heating appliance you choose, maintaining it is vital. Not only for to keep it running at its peak efficiency, but to ensure it heats your home safely.
The image below gives a brief overview of the maintenance tasks required to keep each type of heating stove running efficiently and safely.
As shown, the number of maintenance tasks is slightly higher for the pellet stove. However, these tasks are all fairly minor.
The wood stove has fewer maintenance tasks, but I would argue that its yearly chimney inspection and 2-3 times yearly chimney clean means that a wood stove actually requires slightly more maintenance than a pellet stove.
A couple of final points that need addressing when it comes comparing pellet stoves and wood stoves:
Pellet Stoves Require Electricity
Pellet stoves actually do require a constant electrical power source to run. So if you are in an area where power frequently goes out, or you don’t have access to the power grid, then a pellet stove may not be suitable for you.
In saying that though, if short power dropouts are your only problem then you can use an uninterruptable power supply as a backup power source. It depends on the size of the UPS you choose, but a good one will keep your pellet heater going for about an hour without the main electricity. Our recommended UPS is the CyberPower PR1500LCDRTXL2U.
There are other options for battery backup for pellet stoves – see our guide here.
Wood Stoves Are Worse For The Environment
Because pellet stoves use a controlled fuel source, it is possible for manufacturers to design pellet stoves that are ultra efficient and produce almost zero emissions.
This is not the case with wood stoves. While they are designed to be as efficient as possible, there are so many variables in the fuel used (type of wood, moisture content etc.) it is impossible for them to be as environmentally friendly as a pellet stove.
Although, it should be mentioned that ash from a wood stove does have multiple uses around the home.
Pellet Stoves are Safer
Because of the advanced safety features that a pellet stove offers, it is superior as far as safety is concerned :
- Automatic shutdown – monitors burn rate and temperature for unusual conditions and shuts the stove down if necessary.
- Pressure switch – automatically shuts the feed motor off if the front door or the ash door is open. Also detects when the venting system is not working correctly.
- Exhaust sensing probe – shuts down when abnormally high temperatures are detected.
Bags of Pellets Can Be Difficult To Store and Move
One thing to consider is that wood pellets can take up quite a bit of space in storage.
They come in large, heavy bags, and need to be stored somewhere dry and out of the weather.
The weight of a bag of pellets might make it difficult for some people to deal with – and this should be taken into consideration.
Pellet Stove Vs Wood Stove – The Verdict
So here comes the point where I need to make a recommendation and no doubt, my recommendation will effect what some of you decide.
Personally, I prefer pellet stoves. I feel that you get all the benefits of a wood stove, and at the same time you can feel like you are doing something to reduce emissions that harm our environment.
But, it really depends on your unique situation. If you live in an area where firewood is readily available and you can get it cheaply or even gather it yourself – then you may prefer a wood stove. Maybe fuel pellets are not available in your area?
So I highly recommend weighing up the pros and cons of each type of stove for where you live and make a decision based on that. If you need further advice, feel free to leave a comment on this page or contact me and I will help if I can.
13 thoughts on “Pellet Stove Vs Wood Stove – Which Should You Choose?”
One thing no one ever mentions is the bags of pellets. I buy from a big box store and the bags of pellets run from $5-$9. The more expensive ones burn hotter and leave less ash. The bags weigh 40 pounds each and must be kept in a dry location, any moisture can ruin a whole bag of pellets and if you don’t notice till your pouring the bag into the hopper you need to stop and clean out the hopper. In my case I buy a pallet or 50 bags at a time so once it’s delivered, I have to move them by hand into the garage and then move 10 bags at a time into the house. Thats moving 400 pounds of pellets at a time. This can be a problem if you have any physical issues.
Good discussion from all writers. Tasmania is not Canada in winter but it is cold. Our laws are slack and wood smoke pollution is a big problem. People are irresponsible burning bad fuel and choking the flame. We have gas ducted heating which great but very expensive. On balance we will update our wood combustion heater rather than a pellet heater and use wood in the evenings to keep emissions down. Thank you all.
I live in Manitoba, Canada and it gets mighty cold here. Last winter saw one day with a temp of -53 with the wind chill. I’m also also starting an emergency preparedness consulting business. Great article on the comparison of wood and pellet stoves, so I’d like to throw some additional thoughts. At home in rural Manitoba we have a wood stove and it works phenomenal in our situation. Local laws and fire codes are much tougher here for wood stoves as apposed to pellet stoves, especially city by-laws. If someone lives in the city I would probably suggest or recommend a pellet stove (with a backup power source) but if one lives outside the city I would lean toward a wood stove. Many newer wood stoves are now equipped with catalytic converters which is supposed to increase their efficiency but from what I understand the catalytic converter would need replacing about every 5 years or more depending on usage. As for pellet stoves I have heard first hand of the control board malfunctioning and costly to replace and not all pellets are created equal, I’ve heard firsthand of some people complaining of poor quality pellets and these were bought at major big box stores, with that said if you don’t know wood well or buy wood you can easily get poor quality wood. So with both establish a good reliable source for either. I’ve also heard of shortages of wood pellets. rendering people’s pellet stoves useless. Another point I would like to make is pellets are less prone to bringing in bugs and other vermin. All in all thank you for a wonderful article, it was a great read!
Wood burning stove for the win. When you live in an area where power can go out from ice storms and blizzards, a pellet stove is obsolete.
lets hope the control board in the pellet stove dont crash. It will cost you a small fortune to replace it.
Been there done that, and know people who had the same problem. Had to get rid of it. Maybe they are more reliable these days.With a wood stove, there is no electronics to worry about. By the way, who cleans their chimney 2 to 3 times over the winter ? If you burn just wood and not garbage, you only need to clean the chimney once a year. Been doing it for years with no problems.
Hi Brian, Yes, parts are certainly more expensive for pellet stoves. With regards to the chimney cleaning, it is ideal to do it 2 x a year but might not be practical. I will add a line to the article to let people know that it should be ok to do it less.
Thanks for the input.
With pellet stoves you need electric all the time is the reason I stopped thinking about it…. Found out that some oil stoves that look like wood stoves need electric to pump the oil to the stove but some have manual pumps if electric goes out… Been burning wood since 81… only had to buy it for three years till I had another source for wood… I have a 14 X 70 trailer on a cement foundation garage underneath… when first moved in it took 2 tanks of oil to heat the house and cellar would freeze. I installed a wood stove and it went to 3/4 of a tank of oil and 6 cords of wood. I installed the stove in the cellar put pipe out the wall and up past the roof… All worked well but outside pipes rusted fast … 1990 installed stainless steel pipes outside so no more changing pipes in the middle of winter plus elemiated all elbows and put Ts in instead easier to clean out. 2003 put a addition to the side of the house so now can go into garage without having to go outside.. french doors into garage and 4 foot wide steps going down stairs.. New windows all around plus 1 inch thick foam installation all around and new siding…….. Burn around 4 cords of wood but only burn maybe an 1/8 of a tank of oil. floors always warm dirt remains in the cellar. Gas fireplace in the living room to take the chill off in the morning till the wood stove get stroked up again. We live out in the country and always losing power during thunder storms or snow storms.. So for me a wood stove is best… Not worth getting a propane generator.
Would prefer pellet to wood burner for safety reasons, however real concerns about noise from pellet burner, have had reports pellet burner can be heard and noise and irritating?
Hi Miriam, Pellet stoves are no doubt safer than a wood burner. The burning is very controlled and it is very rare for something to go so wrong that it causes a major fire. The main concern with a pellet stove is that if it loses power then some smoke will filter into the room.
Not a dangerous level, but enough to be annoying and possibly cause some irritation to some people.
With regards to the fan, it no doubt depends on the model you choose. If you are concerned about the noise then do some further research into how loud each of the pellet stove models you are considering is.
Very good points. Still not sure. Had to buy a single wide in a rural area with acreage. Wood stove can burn anything but a pellet you can not. But for a single wide a pellet would be safer. Was not told that the pellet uses electricity continuosle only to start the burn. I need cost effective. Which would you recommend. I also will have four dogs and one cat in the trailer and a dog doir that will always be accessible even in the winter.
Thank you. Nina
Hi Nina, It is certainly true that a pellet stove needs electricity 100% of the time. However there are some simple ways to provide backup power in the case of a power outage. We have a good article on that and you can read it by clicking here.
With regards to what is best for you – it depends on what your situation is. Do you have somewhere suitable to store pellets? Is there firewood readily available for a good price in your area? If the pellet stove breaks down, is there someone nearby who can service it? There are many variables that need to be considered here. Feel free to send me an email on aaron (at) essentialhomeandgarden.com if you want to chat in more detail.
thanks for your article we will be buying a pallet stove from Albany stove Daniel
You are welcome Daniel. Let us know what you end up getting and what you think of it!