Most North American homeowners would enjoy the opportunity to ask themselves the question, “Should I buy a wood stove or a pellet stove to heat my home?”
If you are one of the lucky ones who needs to know the Wood vs. Pellet distinction, here’s the buying guide you’re looking for. It contains pros and cons for each as we compare pellet stoves vs wood stoves.
Stoves – Providing Reliable Heat for Millennia
Stove technology has been around for thousands of years
The technology is also more modern than ever.
Not necessarily new, but better than ever. That’s what you find in today’s wood and pellet stoves. Used, even antique, wood stoves can sport an attractive vintage look desired by many homeowners. Efficiencies of those stoves will, of course, vary. For the sake of this guide, only new wood and pellet stove purchase decisions are discussed.
Wood and pellet stoves both feature advantages and disadvantages. The “right” decision for any individual consumer depends on the situation.
Modern wood and pellet stoves have evolved from the simple, boxy versions of the past. Durable steel and/or cast iron construction, combined with modern design, make both wood and pellet stoves equally attractive. The style you prefer as a homeowning consumer depends mainly on other factors.
Pro Tip: Freestanding v. Fireplace Insert – Wood and pellet stove manufacturers frequently offer both freestanding stoves and fireplace inserts. If your home does not have an existing fireplace, the modifications required make a wood or pellet insert impractical. A free-standing pellet stove or wood stove is the obvious choice.
Sizing every type of heating equipment is essential to its performance.
If your stove is too big, you will have to burn fuel at a low smolder, which decreases efficiency.
A stove too small means your space will be inadequately heated. Wood and pellet stoves come in all sizes. Check BTU production before making a purchase.
Pro Tip: In a decently insulated home in a moderate climate:
- 42,000 BTUs heat a 1,300 sq. ft. space
- 60,000 BTUs are needed for a 2,000 sq. ft. home
Wood and pellet stove BTU production ranges from about 8,000 to 90,000 per hour. Your stove retailer should be able to help you size the stove for your purposes. It will be useful if you know a few things about the structure’s construction before discussing the right size with a salesperson.
- Very importantly – is the structure wrapped in a quality vapor barrier (house wrap) like Tyvek, Barricade, HomeGuard or CertainTeed house wraps.
- Are the walls 2×4 or 2×6? This will indicate how much insulation they might contain.
- What type of insulation is used? Fiberglass batt insulation has a lower R-value per inch than spray foam or rigid foam boards.
- Are the windows in good condition? Single/double/triple pane?
Our Choice – Pellet stoves deliver more consistent burning and efficiency. If you want reliable heat time after time, choose a wood pellet stove and a pellet brand from our list of the Best Pellet Stove Pellet Brands.
Check our smallest pellet stove post for more info if you are looking for a mini pellet stove.
Wood stove variables make exact efficiency measurements difficult at best. Generally, pellet stoves will wring more BTU’s out of your fuel than wood stoves. Consistency of fuel and automatic programmable feeding are advantages of modern technology that result in better efficiency among pellet stoves.
There’s one way wood produces more heat than wood pellets: As the old saying goes, wood heats twice. It first heats you when you are cutting/hauling/stacking it, and it heats you again when you burn it.
Our Choice – Again, pellet stove efficiency is more reliable than wood.
Wood stoves have fewer moving parts, no electronics, and no automatic feeding system. That’s the huge advantage they offer.
They are less convenient than pellet stoves, but require less repair and replacement of various parts; and wood stoves operate perfectly during power outages, which may be a major consideration for some homeowners. Actually this is true of pellet stoves too, as long as you are OK with just the radiant heat rather than having heat dispersed by a blower.
Our Choice – Wood stoves can’t be beat when it comes to fire you can depend on.
Pellet stoves burn more efficiently (see above, “Efficiency”) and are made from wood scraps that might otherwise be landfilled. If you don’t have access to your own free firewood, pellet stoves are significantly more efficient than wood stoves. However, more energy probably goes into producing pellets than cutting firewood. This is a tough variable to quantify.
Wood stoves are worse for the environment in this regard: High moisture content in the fuel produces more smoke and other emissions. Inconsistent fuel quality and unsustainable sources create environmental problems.
Our Choice – If you have access to quality, well-seasoned firewood, it is hard to pass up. But from a purely environmental standpoint, pellets have slightly less environmental impact.
Most regulations for wood stoves are more stringent than regulations for pellet stoves. For instance, wood stoves generally require a fully insulated chimney, extending beyond the roof peak.
Pellet stoves are (almost always) cheaper and easier to install. One exception might be if you have to run a dedicated circuit and electrical line for the stove. See average wood pellet stove cost and wood stove cost below for the price of the stove plus installation.
Firewood can often be scavenged, salvaged, or harvested from your own property. These activities require considerable effort, but greatly reduce fuel costs. Wood pellets cost a bit more than firewood (roughly $240 vs. $220 per ton), but uniform production and lower moisture content result in greater BTU production.
Our Choice – If you have access to cheap, quality firewood, a wood stove is the more affordable option by far.
Maintenance and Repair
Wood stoves need fewer repairs and part replacements, but require more maintenance (regular chimney cleaning and inspections, for instance). Pellet stoves produce less emissions and ash.
Pro Tip: Most pellet Stoves require electricity to operate. Homeowners who suffer frequent power outages should consider this factor.
Wood stoves often have cooking surfaces, which is very convenient during power outages.
Our Choice – Wood stoves offer greater dependability in a range of potential circumstances.
Pellet Stoves are safer. Less emissions and ash, combined with consistent fuel temperatures and a reliable and modern automated feed system, mean pellet stoves have fewer safety-related problems than wood stoves. Automatic shutdown (monitors burn rate and temperature for unusual conditions); pressure switch (venting system and front/ash door monitor); and exhaust sensing probe (shutdown for abnormally high temperatures) are other safety features available with pellet stoves.
Wood stoves are expected to last up to 25 years; pellet stoves, up to 20 years. Sturdy materials, modern design, and proven internal control systems are features of both wood and pellet stoves.
Our Choice – Fewer moving parts gives wood stoves the longevity edge.
Rules and Regulations, O My
Local laws for wood burning stoves tend to be more stringent than laws for pellet stoves. Unless a home has a pre-existing chimney suitable for a wood stove, extensive modifications could be required.
Wood stove burns require maintenance. The consumer must “tend the fire” to make sure heating is adequate. Pellet stoves are automatic; “set it and forget it.”
Fuel Costs, Storage, and Weight
- Fuel Cost: At $20 more per ton (avg. $220 wood vs. $240 pellets), and the availability of “free” firewood to burn, wood offsets pellets in Cost Factor. Note: Higher average moisture content of wood as compared to pellets may nullify the advantage held by wood. Make sure your wood is seasoned well and that it is stored in a covered area. Bringing wood or pellets into heated space a day or two before burning them will improve the burn.
- Storage: Wood is irregularly shaped and is generally stored, less conveniently, outside. Splitting, stacking, and waste material disposal are required. Pellets can be stored inside, close to the stove.
- Weight: Wood bundles can be almost any size, which makes it easier for women and children to carry. Pellets are most commonly sold in 40lb. bags.
Wood Stove vs Pellet Stove Cost
Here are estimated average costs: Stove + Installation + Installation Supplies
- Freestanding Pellet Stove: $3,200.00
- Freestanding Wood Stove: $3,500.00
- Pellet Stove Insert: $2,200.00
- Wood Stove Insert: $1,400.00
Wood Pellet Stove vs Wood Stove
Perhaps reading this guide with the pros and cons of wood stoves and wood pellet stoves provided insight into which fits your situation best.
If you have plenty of cheap, quality hardwood near you, then a wood stove is a more affordable option.