Which pellet to burn is one of the most complicated decisions a homeowner can make. Should you simply buy the cheapest wood pellets you can find or try to find the best wood pellets? Well home heating oil is pretty much the same everywhere you buy it so the choice is down to which price and retailer. You can always find your oil cheaper, but the service may suffer. With wood pellets, you add other items to consider as different brands of pellets are somewhat different and there are a lot of other factors. So now, when evaluating your years’ worth of pellets, it is more complicated with wood pellets.
Different pellets produce differing amounts of ash. Some pellets simply produce more ash. Ash is not inherently bad, but it may be an indicator of less than complete combustion or other issues with the fuel. If a manufacturer is using whole trees, bark and all, or allowing dirt and sand into the manufacturing process, it may contain more ash. If you don’t mind emptying your hopper and giving your stove a thorough cleaning on a weekly basis, this aspect of pellets may not matter much to you.
Different wood pellets contain different amounts of heat (BTUs). This is dependent on the species of tree and the source of the wood, the quality of the fuel, the moisture content, and the manufacturing process. Softwood pellets tend to contain more BTUs, but may not burn equally well in all stoves.
Fines are bits of sawdust that makes it through the manufacturing process or is created through the distribution and delivery process, or even stove owner handling (stacking and restacking). Fines do not burn as well and can cause maintenance-related issues with your stove. Some stoves handle fines better than others pushing them into the burnpot or letting them fall into a small compartment. If they make it into the burnpot, they will burn, but not with the same consistency and efficiency of compressed wood pellet.
Clinkers are unburned carbon. These clinkers sometimes need to be scraped out of the burnpot and can even create uneven burning and reduced efficiency. Like ash, clinkers could be the result of tree bark, dirt and sand, etc., that may make their way into the production process. Some pellets, in combination with different stoves, will allow clinkers to be created more easily in standard operation. Again, this may simply require a bit more maintenance throughout your heating season.
Different models of pellet stoves also provide more flexibility with your wood pellet fuels. There are a lot of cheap (and inexpensive) pellet stoves on the market that will burn high quality wood pellets just fine. More expensive (and high quality) stove brands generally offer more flexibility and efficiency with the fuel they burn. Some stoves do not burn lower grades of pellets, softwood pellets, or even specific brands. The best pellet stove will allow fine adjustment of the auger speed and blower speed to maximize the heat output of every fuel. Some of the best pellet stoves will easily allow burning of other biofuels such as corn, cherry pits, etc., in blends.
Bags? Why do the bags matter, since they’re not burned? Well some bags are terrible.
- Some bags are cheap and thin and easily punctured. No one wants to leave a small trail of pellets across the floor on their way to the pellet stove.
- Some bags are very thick and require heavy-duty scissors, a razor knife, etc., to open.
- Some bags have handle holes at the top. A handle can definitely help when moving bags of pellets around. Sometimes it is very easy to carry a bag or 2 by the handle, but not everyone can easily carry 80 pounds into the house to the stove.
- The tops of some bags are slightly perforated so that they can simply be pulled apart like a giant potato chip bag. This may be convenient, as long as you are strong enough. If it’s too easy, they may break open at the wrong time.
So knowing the options for bags, what do the type of bags matter? It’s just important to know how you need to handle the bags. You may like a certain style of bags that a manufacturer uses and that may factor into your decision making process.
Bottom line.. which pellets do I want to burn?
All of these factors from ash content to bag type to whether you have a cheap pellet stove or the best pellet stove on the market will factor into your wood pellet decision. Early on in burning pellets, you would do well to not buy 5 tons of the same type, but instead buy 2 or 3 different brands, woods, etc. to see how your stove does with these varied pellets. The least expensive (cheapest) pellets may not burn well and end up costing more per BTU, while the best pellets available may burn incredibly well, but are so expensive that they end up costing more per BTU. Don’t forget to ask your stove retailer if you have any problems burning pellets. They may be able to recommend slight adjustments to your stove and tips on its’ use. It’s important to be an informed consumer. Sites like WoodPelletPrice.com can help assess availability and pricing in your area.