Frequently Asked Questions
Wood pellet fuel is an economical, environmentally sound heating source. Here are some commonly asked questions – and informed answers – about heating with wood pellets.
What are wood pellets?
Wood pellets are a common type of biomass. Biomass is any biological material that can be used as fuel—including grass, corn, wood, and biogas as well as other forestry and agricultural residues. Wood pellets are compressed byproducts from the forest products industry, often woodchips and sawdust.
How are wood pellets created?
Wood pellets are made from densified wood material, such as sawdust and fine wood chips, typically from logging operations and sawmills. Wet sawdust is pressed into pellets under high heat and pressure. There are no additives in wood pellets. Natural plant lignin holds the pellets together without glues or additives – so they burn very efficiently.
Wood pellets are of uniform size and shape, between 1 to 1-1/2 inches by approximately 1/4-5/16 inches in diameter. Wood pellets also have a higher energy content by weight (roughly 7,750 BTU per pound at six percent moisture content) due to their densified nature and low-moisture content (typically between 4-6 percent moisture by weight).
Why heat with wood pellets?
Perhaps the greatest advantage of wood pellet fuel is that they cost, on average, 25-50 percent less than fossil heating fuels and provide more stable pricing. Switching to pellet heating saves, on average, $500 annually vs. heating with oil. Here are some of the relative cost comparisons of common heating fuels:
|Relative Costs Of Fuel*|
* (Fuel needed to create 1,000,000 BTUs. Data from Penn
State College of Agricultural Sciences)
Are there differences in wood pellets?
Yes. The difference begins with the quality of the hardwoods used to make the pellets. PA Pellets uses select hardwood materials to ensure the highest BTU output and least amount of ash. The Pellet Fuel Institute sets standards for the grades of wood pellet fuel. PA Pellets meet or exceed the standard for the highest grades of wood pellet.
PA Pellets sources its hardwood from select forests in New York and Pennsylvania. The climate and soil in these regions produce very dense hardwoods, an excellent source for wood pellets.
Lower-quality pellets are made with a blend of lesser quality hardwood material and have a higher percentage of fines. They can create jamming issues in the stove hopper and burn inefficiently, producing less heat and leaving more ash.
What do I need to know about remaining ash from pellets after combustion?
One byproduct of burning wood pellets is ash, a non-combustible residue. The container in the stove in which the ash is collected must periodically be emptied and disposed of manually.
This ash makes an excellent fertilizer for lawns, for composting or amending soil. Check with your local municipality for regulations concerning the disposal of ash.
How does wood pellet heating compare with traditional wood stove heating?
If you are starting out with an alternative heat source, it can be quite expensive to install a chimney to vent emissions from a wood stove. With most pellet stoves, you can vent through a simple, short stainless steel chimney. Wood stoves must be kept at least a foot from any wall; most pellet stoves can be set up three to six inches from a wall, saving space. From an environmental perspective, wood pellets use wood waste and wood byproducts, so trees are not being cut down expressly to provide the heat source.