We live in the small town of Falcon located on the eastern plains of Colorado. During the cold winter months, our gas furnace struggled to keep our 2,300 sqft house warm. If a winter storm rolled through, the furnace ran almost continuously. As a result, our gas bill to heat the house from December through April would average about $250 a month.
This seemed a bit high and we wanted to cut our heating expense. We looked at purchasing a new higher efficiency furnace, but it was going to cost us about $1300 (not counting installation) and would only be about 15% more efficient than what we have now. We looked at wood stoves, but you can’t leave them unattended, aren’t nearly as efficient, and they need constant attention. After researching and reading reviews, we decided upon the Harman XXV wood burning pellet stove.
The stove cost about $3,200 installed, but it qualified for a Federal Tax Credit for efficiency. So even though it cost about about 2.5x as new furnace, the payoff would happen much faster. This is due to the wood pellets being far cheaper than natural gas (as of this writing). Purchasing 1.5 tons of premium pellets costs $375, which will last us the entire year. This is less than half the cost of our natural gas for the winter months. So we are saving about $1,000-$375= $625 a year, or about $125 a month (5 months of heating). Therefore, the stove should pay itself off in about 5 years.
We usually run the stove with a feed rate at 3 (on a scale to 6) and turn it up to 4.5 when a blizzard rolls through. This keeps the house around 72F, which is a lot warmer than when the furnace runs. If I really crank it up, I can heat the house to about 82F, but this is much too warm and we burn through our pellets twice as fast. But it’s nice to know when can make it really warm if we need too. The internal distribution fan helps move the warm air around the house.
The stove uses about 400 watts of electricity while it’s running. This is due to the combustion and distribution fans. Once the temperature is reached, the fans shut off and the power level drops to under 100 watts.
The only room that remains somewhat cold is our garden level downstairs room (half underground), but this isn’t a big deal. If it gets too uncomfortable, we can look at purchasing a small electric wallboard heater for just that room.
- Very efficient. I think they rate our Harman XXV stove around 85%, which is about the same as a middle-of-the-road gas furnace. The one thing people overlook is a pellet stove heats the air and circulates it within the house. A furnace heats the air and distributes it through ducts. Sometimes these ducts run through exterior walls, crawlspaces and attics where a lot of heat is lost to conduction heating nonliving spaces. So the pellet stove really is more efficient than a furnace once you take this into consideration.
- Pellets are a lot cheaper than natural gas. Pellets are usually made from wood byproducts, like sawdust that is usually thrown away. Some pellets also contain corn husks which are also normally just thrown away. Point being, pellets are made from “trash” products which means they are cheap. A 40 lbs bag costs about $5.00 (as of 2020). You can get them cheaper if you buy them by the pallet.
- Self-starting, self-igniting, auto feeding, and completely safe to leave unattended. This is different than a wood burning stove.
- Very cheap to install. Ours only cost $150 to install and we had to vent it horizontally out a wall.
- You don’t need a chimney. You can vent it vertically or horizontally. This is not true of wood stoves which require vertical venting.
- Built-in thermostat automatically turns on and shuts off the pellet stove once the desired temperature is reached.
- Initial cost. We paid $3,200 to buy and have the Harman XXV installed.
- Somewhat noisy combustion and blower fans. Not a big deal if the pellet stove is not in a room you sleep in. It’s not so noisy that you cannot have a conversation.
- Needs an electric plug. A pellet stove uses electricity for the mechanical hopper, auger and the combustion fans. However, these three things are what make the pellet stove burn it’s fuel with high efficiency. If you lose power, the stove will not work. However, there are battery backup options you can purchase. We picked up a small computer UPS battery backup and tuck it behind the stove.
- Need a dry place to store the pellets (garage, basement). A couple tons of pellets can take up a lot of space.
- You need to be able to lift a 40 lbs bag about once every 2 or 3 days.
- Like a wood fireplace, you will need to occasionally clean the pellet stove to remove ash. This only takes about 5 minutes once a month because there is very little ash produced.
So far we love the stove. Our furnace hasn’t kicked on once and our gas bill was only $29.92 last month (water heater plus normal service fees). If the pellets last us the entire winter (which they should) and we save $125 a month on our gas bill, the stove will pay itself off in 5 years. It will pay itself off sooner if we turn the stove down at night or when we leave the house. Right now, we just leave it at 72F all day and night.
2009: It looks like we are going to end up a bit short on pellets this year. It doesn’t look like 1.5 tons is going to be enough, so we’ll end up buying 2 tons next year. I think I’m also going to get the hardwood pellets to see if there’s a difference. Still no problems with the stove. The glass seems to get this yellow soot on it that’s kind of difficult to clean off, but I found using a razor blade works well. I’m not using the best pellets so maybe that’s what’s causing it. It’s not that big a deal, though.
2011: We ran into our first problem with the pellet stove. The igniter started failing and the pellets wouldn’t catch on fire. Since the stove was under warranty, they replaced the igniter free of charge with no hassles.
2013 : We’re now 5 years into owning our pellet stove and have had no other issues. We’ve been burning 2 tons of pellets a year.
2017: After 7 years, it wouldn’t power on. Called a technician to take a look. Turns out it was a fuse that needed to be replaced (one of those tiny glass tube fuses). Cost $6.00 from Radio Shack. It’s running again.
2019: Igniter went out again. Cost $100 to have someone replace it. I watched the technician and I believe I could do it myself next time. Part costs about $20 on Amazon.