Today you can choose from a new generation of wood- and pellet-burning appliances that are cleaner burning, more efficient, and powerful enough to heat many average-sized, modern homes. Pellet fuel appliances burn small pellets that measure 3/8 to 1 inch in length.
Choosing and Installing Wood- and Pellet-Burning Appliances
When choosing a wood- or pellet-burning appliance, it’s important to select one that’s properly sized for the space to be heated. When an appliance is too big, residents tend to burn fires at a low smolder to avoid overheating, which wastes fuel and is one of the biggest causes of air pollution. An under-sized unit will not provide sufficient heat. You should discuss your heating needs with a reputable dealer. A good rule-of-thumb is that a stove rated at 60,000 British Thermal Units (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.
Wood-burning appliances and fireplaces may emit large quantities of air pollutants. Wood smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, organic gases, and particulate matter, many of which have adverse health effects. In many urban and rural areas, smoke from wood burning is a major contributor to air pollution. Because of this, some municipalities restrict wood heating appliance use when the local air quality reaches unacceptable levels. Others restrict or ban the installation of wood-burning appliances in new construction. Before installing a wood-burning system, you should contact your local building codes department, state energy office, or state environmental agency about wood-burning regulations that may apply in your area.
If you have an older wood-burning appliance, consider upgrading to one of the newer appliances certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some include a catalytic combustor that allows combustion gases to burn at lower temperatures, thereby cleaning the exhaust gas while generating more heat. All woodstoves sold today should bear an EPA certification sticker. Higher-efficiency appliances usually have lower emissions and are also often safer, because complete combustion helps to prevent a buildup of flammable chimney deposits called creosote.
The location of the appliance (and chimney) will influence how well heat is distributed and conserved in your home. Most wood- and pellet-burning appliances are essentially space heaters, and should be put in the room where you spend most of your time. Ideally, there should be a way for heat to circulate to the rest of the house, such as a fan or blower assembly.
For safety and to maximize efficiency, you should consider having a professional install your wood- or pellet-burning appliance. A professional will carefully evaluate everything from your chimney to your floor protection. A certified professional can also help you choose the best appliance to heat your home. The National Fireplace Institute maintains a list of certified industry professionals.
Types of Wood- and Pellet-Burning Appliances
The following is a brief overview of the different types of appliances available.
High-efficiency Fireplaces and Fireplace Inserts
Designed more for show, traditional open masonry fireplaces should not be considered heating devices. Traditional fireplaces draw in as much as 300 cubic feet per minute of heated room air for combustion, then send it straight up the chimney. Fireplaces also produce significant air pollution. Although some fireplace designs seek to address these issues with dedicated air supplies, glass doors, and heat recovery systems, most traditional fireplaces are still energy losers. When burning a fire, you should turn your heat down or off and open a window near the fireplace.