How to Choose the Perfect Wood Pellets

Are you asking yourself: What are the best wood pellets to use in my pellet stove? Then, chances are you own a pellet stove or are considering the switch over, weighing the pros and cons and doing your homework to make an environmentally sound decision. A cost-efficient and ever-growing heating option, over one million homes in the United States use pellet stoves as either their primary heat source or as an add-on to warm up those especially chilly spaces within the home.

Once you’ve converted to a wood pellet heating stove, the next question becomes: How do I choose the perfect wood pellets for my stove? And there’s no one answer to address all owners. The solution varies from person to person, depending first and foremost on the fuel requirements of the brand of pellet stove you own. Some pellet stove technologies can only burn premium or super premium (more expensive) pellets. This is where Harman's Pellet Pro feed system is beneficial. It feeds pellets from the bottom, up to a burn pot, allowing for lower-quality pellets to also burn efficiently. However, the majority of pellet stoves have systems that drop the pellets onto the burn pot. In this case, if the pellets have a high ash content, such as less expensive pellets, they may not burn properly. The ash/dust that falls off of the pellet and onto the burn pot is not ideal. Stove manufacturers are required to state, in their manuals, the type of pellets they used for EPA testing. Pellets aren’t just a personal choice. Some stoves can't handle anything other than premium or super-premium quality. Other than fuel requirements, you’ll also want to consider the cost. Different types of pellets vary when it comes to price points. For instance, softwood and premium pellets are more expensive than lower grades such as standard, utility and equine as well as hardwood pellets.   

Let’s jump right in and learn the importance of choosing the perfect wood pellets, how to decide which options are for you, and a handful of questions you should start considering.

What is a Pellet?

Wood pellets used for pellet stove heating are an efficient and cost-saving alternative fuel to oil or electric heat. Considered to be biomass fuel, fuel that is created by converting plants into usable energy, pellets produce thermal biomass heat. They remove all the moisture from the wood fiber to make them. Then, they grind it into dust and compress it into small cylinders called wood pellets. Heat is also applied, which results in the presence of lignin, a polymer found in wood, used as glue to hold the pellet together. The result is an easy-to-handle fuel source with a high energy value that is convenient to transport.

What are Pellets Made of?

Wood stove pellets are created from sawdust, waste materials derived from logging and manufacturing facilities and forest debris and crop waste. As a result, the process reduces the number of materials sent to landfills. The organic elements used to create a pellet are dried and pressed into tiny wood cylinders, producing long-lasting, clean burning heat. Sold in 40-pound bags, you can buy them in bulk at the onset of the cold weather season. As stated in the Harman blog post entitled Stabilize Your Energy Bill with a Pellet Stove for Better Heating, “Heating your home with oil usually costs $5 per gallon, while pellets come in at around $300 per ton. Pellets would have to be over $500 per ton to equal the current cost of oil!” Year after year pellet stove consumers save thousands of dollars when compared to oil, gas and electric.

However, savings do depend on many factors such as the month, season, year, worldwide issues and more. Compute your savings with these user-friendly calculators featured on Harman Stoves’ website. There’s a Pellet Fuel Savings Calculator and Gas Appliance Cost Calculator. Additionally, Penn State’s Online Energy Selector Tool allows you to calculate equivalent energy costs for various heating fuels.

Are Wood Pellets Sustainable?

They sure are. Turning your house into a sustainable haven that runs on biomass fuel is an educated and mindful endeavor that improves the air in your home, and keeps loved ones and our planet healthier. It’s a leap into environmentally correct design to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Why is Picking the Right Pellet Important?

Burning the right pellets for a pellet stove is critical. Your choice affects your wood pellet heating experience. You’ll want to make sure that your pellets are the right ones for your specific stove model, that your home or space receives the right amount of heat, your choice matches your budget, you’re purchasing pellets in the most efficient way and that your pellet choice provides the type of maintenance you’re prepared to handle. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What stove do I have? Remember, each stove technology has pellet fuel requirements. You can’t burn just any utility or non-super premium pellet. You need to find the pellets that your stove demands.
  • What is the best and most money-saving wood pellet for my pellet stove?
  • Are hard or softwood pellets better?
  • What’s the difference between regular and premium grades?
  • How many BTUs are needed to heat my home?
  • What is a BTU?
  • Where is the best place to purchase pellets?
  • Why does ash content matter?

What are the Main Types of Wood Pellets Used for Heating?

Two types of wood make up all heating pellets—softwood and hardwood.

  1. Softwood generates less toxic airborne particulate emissions and carbon dioxide, which makes it better for the environment. It contains resins and sap, which possess a higher heat value resulting in ignition. A lower percentage of ash than hardwood pellets means less cleanup. The best softwood pellets burn cleaner and hotter while producing a more consistent heat. No bark is in the creation of softwood. It’s 100% white wood, boasts higher BTUs by 10%-15%, and is the least expensive option. If your budget is on the lower side, softwood is your answer.
  2. Hardwood burns slower due to the timber's higher density and weight. It provides around 5-10 hours longer burn time. The best hardwood pellets naturally have a lower ash and moisture content. The use of hardwood results in a significant level of performance from your wood pellet stove. Guaranteed to keep your home extra warm and cozy through the cold months. However, it costs more than its softwood counterpart.

If you’re wondering whether hard or soft pellets are better, the answer is that it all depends on the features you’re looking for and the stove you own. The best pellets are dry with a lower moisture quality as they produce more heat. You’ll want them to contain less than 5% moisture and never more than 8%. Additionally, they must have low organic ash content. As long as you have a high-grade pellet stove with high-quality airflow, the type of wood won’t make much difference. The important things to know and remember are the caliber of the wood used to make the pellets, whether or not the pellets contain synthetics, bark or cardboard, and to make sure the settings on your stove align with the type of pellet you’re using.

Buying Wood Pellets: What You Need to know About the Wood

Once you figure out the pellet you’re seeking, you’ll want to take the wood itself into consideration. Higher-quality wood allows your stove to work better. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your pellet is free of any synthetics that can potentially add pollution to your air quality. When figuring out the type of pellets you want to burn, use the list below.

  • Are they made from authentic, pure wood or mixed with cardboard, bark and synthetics (cheaper material for manufacturing a pellet product)?
  • Are they made from a single species of wood?
  • Are they made from a mix of wood species?
  • Are they pure hardwood or mixed with some softwood?
  • Are they made from lumber scraps?
  • Do they come from sustainably harvested forests? 
  • Do the pellets come from local loggers and millworkers that you want to support or from a source far from your home that requires extensive shipping that creates a greater footprint?
  • What's the difference between regular and premium grades?

Wood Pellet Grades: What’s the difference in quality between regular and premium grades?  

There are two grades of pellets to use in your pellet stove. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Pellet Stove Fact Sheet:

  • Premium wood pellets: Less than 1% organic ash content. Does not contain bark, glue or additives. Comes in at 8,000 to 8,500 BTUs. Usually made from oak or maple wood. Costs more than the lower grades. Burns hotter and more efficiently with less waste.
  • Standard wood pellets: Usually manufactured from forestry industry waste left over after making the premium pellets. Contains organic ash content at rates between 1% and 3%, which means there will be more cleanup. Burns faster. More cost-efficient.

Heat Output (BTUs)

Close-up of a flame inside a wood pellet stove

BTU, the British Thermal Unit, is an energy measurement. Pellet stove heating capabilities range anywhere from 8,000 to 90,000 BTUs per hour. The measurement of your heat output depends on the BTUs in your pellet. Higher BTUs mean hotter temperatures. Pellets can range anywhere from 8,000 to 8,900 BTUs per pound. But how do you know the ideal BTUs for your home? When deciding on your desired BTUs, take the following into consideration:

  • Your home’s insulation. You won’t need much heat if your home is a tight, well-insulated, open compact space. Most likely 10,000 and 15,000 BTUs to achieve your desired temperature. On the other hand, if you live in an older home with less efficient insulation, you’ll more likely experience decreased energy efficiency resulting in a need for more BTUs and a higher cost to heat your space.
  • What space do you want to make warm and toasty using your pellet stove? Are you using the pellet stove as your primary heat source, an add-on for a part of your existing home or zone heating? Are you using the stove to heat a traditional home, or are you interested in using it for a mobile home? Perhaps you have a sunroom you’d like to enjoy all year, even in the cold months, and a pellet stove is a perfect solution. In the above cases, you’ll need fewer BTUs.
  • How many square feet is your home? A stove with a 60,000 BTU rating can heat a 2,000-square-foot home. A stove with a 42,000 BTU rating is ideal for a 1300-square-foot home. In general, it is best to account for 20 BTUs for every square foot of heating space. However, this number can fluctuate depending on factors such as the floor plan and home insulation. If neither of these examples fits your situation, you can use Harman’s BTU Pellet Savings Calculator for a more accurate estimate.
  • What type of climate do you live in? Are you a polar bear at heart, residing in a location where temperatures drop to sub-zero levels, or is your definition of winter 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a chunky sweater, a sensible jacket, and possibly a hat? Of course, the colder the air outside, the more BTUs you need to achieve the desired indoor temperature. 

Ash Content

The ash content is the debris left over after you’ve burned wood pellets in your pellet stove. It’s composed of calcium oxide known as quicklime. When wood combusts in a pellet stove, oxygen causes the wood to burn into ash. The ash leftover from your pellets measures the output during the burning process based on the weight percentage. A measurement of less than 1% of the pellet’s total weight is ideal.

Ash content also determines how often you’ll clean your pellet stove. A low ash content means you’ll be cleaning less, which many pellet stove owners highly consider.

After the pellets become ash, they collect at the bottom of the firebox in the ash pan. The ash pan is simply withdrawn and dumped into a non-combustible container such as a metal trash can or used as fertilizer in your garden.

Facts About Wood Pellets

How to Use Wood Pellets

Once you find the wood pellets that are right for your stove and specific needs, the question becomes, how do I use them? Before doing anything with your wood pellets, always check the owner’s manual. Brands and models can vary from one to the other.

What Stoves Can I Use Wood Pellets In?

Only use wood pellets with a pellet stove or pellet insert. Store them in the hopper, and they will automatically release into the fire when needed. Using them in just any wood-burning stove increases the risk of stove damage as the pellets are compact and dense.

What Stoves Can’t I Use Wood Pellets In?

Please don’t use your heating wood pellets in a pellet grill. According to an Energex article, “Heating pellets are made specifically to use as a heating source, not to cook with. You cannot use heating pellets for cooking. Heating pellets are made from a combination of softwoods, charcoal and other fillers that can give your food a chemical taste. Even high-quality heating pellets can include leaves and bark, which taste bad and can lead to health risks if ingested. Many shoppers are tempted to purchase heating pellets for cooking because they are often cheaper than food-grade pellets. Resist that urge and buy cooking pellets so you have a safer product and better-tasting food.”

Wood Pellet Storage

Pellets are sold in 40-pound bags, which consumers buy by the ton. It’s vital that they are kept in a dry place, away from moisture. Once the pellets get wet, they expand and are no longer usable. If storing them indoors, use a dry area with enough space to access them easily such as a garage or basement. You can stack them on top of the pellet with which they were delivered. So, even if the floor gets wet, your pellets stay dry. If storing them outdoors, try and find the driest area on your property usually at the highest elevation. You can also use the pallet as a base on which to stack the bags. However, since there is a chance the ground can get wet, line the bottom of the pallet with cardboard and make sure to cover the stacked pellets with a tarp. 

Some people like to store their pellets in a five-gallon bucket with an airtight lid. This type of situation works well if they’ve opened a bag, but have leftover pellets. You can buy one at your local home improvement store.

Buying Wood Pellets

The best way to find pellets, especially if you need to buy them in large quantities, is to consult the list of PFI Member Pellet Manufacturers.

The Best Stoves for Wood Pellets

Straight on view of Absolute pellet stove 
Harman Stoves offers several different models, each specific to your heating needs, the stove material you prefer and the price point at which you’d like to start. Let’s look at a few Harman Stoves for wood pellet heating.

  • The Harman P-Series: Highly acclaimed in online reviews and among pellet stove enthusiasts, the Harman P-Series includes the P43, P61 and P68. Many feel these are the best on the market. The P-Series is known for its design, technology, manufacturing, affordability, durability and reliability. They are easy to clean with above hopper capacity and provide generous amounts of radiant heat.
  • The Harman Absolute 43 Pellet Stove: The Harman Absolute43 is a smart stove. Compact and powerful, with the quietest operation in its class and a groundbreaking EASY Touch Control system, this cast iron pellet stove takes home heating to the next level. Their dedication to performance and engineering shows in the design and detail. It boasts elegant flame-reactive mirrored glass, an illuminated glass hopper lid, smart operation with EASY Touch Controls and more.
  • The Harman XXV-TC Pellet Stove: Well known for workmanship and intricate oak leaf styling, the XXV-TC is famous for its unmatched temperature accuracy and controls. Harman’s signature EASY Touch Control system makes this model user-friendly and intuitive.

Why Choose Harman Pellet Stoves?

Now that you’re educated on wood pellets for heating stoves, you can truly appreciate the technology behind Harman Stove’s Pellet Pro feeding system, which is a key feature of all Harman wood-burning heating stoves. The Pellet Pro “burns any grade of pellet fuel with maximum heat and efficiency.” It’s a “bottom-up feeding system,” which means that Harman stoves “burn each pellet completely, allowing for 24-hour heating.” The fire is continuously maintained within one degree of your set temperature.  Leaders in the industry, Harman stands out among the competition for high-quality stoves that demonstrate the best in performance, efficiency and style.

In 1979, Harman started out as a small family-owned company building wood stoves to avoid high electric heating costs. Today, the original philosophy still holds true, quality and innovation come first. Forty years later, and the only difference is Harman Stoves is no longer a small, family-owned business, but a multi-award-winning organization, trailblazers in pellet technology, true to the original goals.

You can’t express it better than the tagline: Built to a standard, not a price. With that said, there are four standards that just can’t be ignored.

  • Quality: Harman’s pellet stoves are long-lasting. We use the best materials and the latest manufacturing techniques that ensure reliable and durable stoves.
  • Performance: Designed to be highly efficient and produce minimal emissions, we utilize advanced combustion technology that burns pellets cleanly and smartly. In the end, you save dollars on the cost of fuel while reducing your environmental footprint.
  • Design: Available in different styles and finishes, you can choose a Harman pellet stove that suits your style. Easy to use and maintain, they also feature user-friendly controls and easy-to-clean components.
  • Customer Service: Our team of knowledgeable and friendly technicians helps troubleshoot any issues and provides excellent support. All Harman stoves offer a comprehensive warranty.

An easy choice with too many benefits to ignore, a Harman pellet stove is the next best decision for your home, loved ones and the planet we all share.

Start making your footprint a little smaller and a whole lot smarter. Contact Harman today for a free quote or to find a dealer in your area.

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