To better get an answer to this question let's first take a look at what wood pellets are and where did they start. Back in the late 1970’s, a man by the name of Ken Tucker was working on a way to pelletize wood waste from his lumber milling operation. Lumber mills produce a lot of wood waste and Ken’s thought was if it could be compressed into a pellet-like animal feed, it would be easier to move, store and would burn well in large commercial applications.
Around the same time, Dr. Jerry Whitfield, a fuel flow efficiency engineer from Boeing Airlines was doing research in alternative fuels when a colleague mentioned to him about a man in Idaho who was doing the same thing. Jerry and Ken met and between the two of them, they created an entire industry around the wood pellet; Ken is responsible for creating the first wood pellet and Jerry created the first pellet stove. Now over 1 million homes in North America use pellet heat and in Europe, it has really taken off where over 80% of the wood pellets produced in the world are used.
Since the very beginning, wood pellets and the appliances that burn them have been evolving together and while all stoves should be able to burn all types of pellets in the market, there are some stoves that burn some pellets better than others. Truth be told, there are some pellets out there that just don’t provide a very good heating experience.
There are also stoves that burn other fuels such as corn. These may be a great alternative in a few select states where corn is plentiful and cheap, but in most states, it is not readily available, therefore the price does not warrant it. Not to mention corn has a lot of natural sugar, which burns really dirty and will turn the inside of your stove and glass black. In this article, we’re hoping to clarify this so you can make the best possible wood pellet purchases for your pellet heating needs.
The Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI) created a standard for residential wood pellets so that makers of heating equipment and the regulators that control their emissions could have a roadmap going forward. The objective here is to allow consumers to purchase any stove on the market and be assured that any PFI rated fuel will burn in the stove efficiently and as designed. The PFI standard is not mandatory and as such you will find three types of fuel on the market with regards to PFI; PFI: Certified fuel to which there are only 22 registered companies, fuels that advertise that they meet or exceed the PFI standard and disclose their data on the bag and of course, there are still a handful of pellet producers that make no mention whatsoever of PFI on their bags.
To find out more about what the standards are, check out this link: http://www.pelletheat.org/about-the-standards-program
You don’t have to be a scientist to buy decent wood pellets and have a great heating experience. Follow these general guidelines to have the best possible heating experience. But, if you are technically inclined read the PFI standards then apply the following guidelines.
- Always buy 1 or 2 bags of a pellet you’ve never used before you commit to buying 1-2 tons. Try them out. If after 2 bags you discover there’s a lot of ash inside your stove, maybe try something else.
- As a general rule, softwood pellets made from single source wood fiber, such as douglas fir, spruce, and white pine tend to have the lowest ash content and more heat value or BTU’s per pound.
- Don’t buy blended hardwood and softwood pellets
- Don’t buy pellets that may have reclaimed wood in their feedstock. This can be difficult to know for sure but doing research on the mills that make the pellet can shed some light on this. Reclaimed wood comes from grinding up old wooden pallets, furniture, and scrap construction lumber. This type of wood will have glues, paints and other chemicals in the wood that will pollute the pellets and introduce chlorine, potassium, and sodium which will make the ash fuse together in the burn pot. If you have ever seen a clog in your burn pot that looks like a lava rock, that’s what causes this. Generally, any pellet made from single source woods will not have any reclaimed feedstock.
- Buy your fuel in bulk in unopened skids. If you have to buy your pellets bags at a time, never buy bags that are taped or ripped.
- Store your pellets inside undercover and do not let them get wet.
- Try to buy pellets that do not have excessive fines (dust) in the bag. A good indicator of this is a company willing to sell their pellets in a clear plastic bag, if your pellets do not come in a clear bag they probably are filled with lots of sawdust. If you find lots of dust, don’t put it inside the stove. It also doesn’t hurt to use an ash vacuum and clean out your hopper once a month to remove any fines that are in there. If you do have wear and tear on your stove Pellet Stove Parts For Less is a great source to easily find all of the parts you are looking for at a great price.
In our opinion, the very best pellets are a single source douglas fir wood pellet from western Canada or the western United States. Not only do they burn the hottest with a BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating of close to 9400 versus a lot of substandard pellets that burn at 7400, they also have virtually no ash. The cost of these pellets while relatively inexpensive on the west coast is quite a bit more on the east coast, as the price to send them by rail across the country is not cheap.
Even with the increased cost, these pellets are still a good value when you think about not having to clean your stove nearly as often, not to mention the wear and tear a poor pellet puts on your stove and motors etc. These pellets are sold under numerous names throughout the country. Below we will link to a few based on location. You can also visit Woodpelletreview.com to find a quality pellet in your area. In our retail store we only sell Northern Warmth Supreme Douglas Fir and as you can see from the reviews it is the very best pellet on the market. We are proud to say we were their very first dealer many years ago.
Do you have a favorite brand of wood pellets, or would like to share a comment? Please let us know and post it in the form below.
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