Burning wood to heat a home does not make you an eco-terrorist, let's get that one point out of the way first. Trees are a renewable resource and they are, in effect, solar energy batteries whose energy is accessed when we burn them.
After the 1998 Eastern Canada ice storm, wood stove sales went through the roof with people wanting heat security at home, particularly the people who may have lived in a school gymnasium or with their in-laws for those two gruelling weeks.
Wood stoves create an air quality issue when there is a high concentration of them, it does not pose the same health risk when they aren't packed in tight concentrations like in an urban neighbourhood.
How 'green' they are has more to do with what you burn, how you burn and the stove you choose to burn in. As for emissions - high-temperature fires produce less airborne particulates than low-temperature fires; EPA-certified wood stoves produce less than un-certified stoves and pellet stoves produce less than EPA-certified wood stoves, they are closer to gas stoves in the emissions they produce.
The downsides of standard wood burning stoves:
- It can be hard to regulate temperatures;
- you can't go too far away because they constantly need to be fed;
- they mostly rely on split wood which requires cutting trees, splitting, stacking, and tend to bring dirt and bugs into your home. There are pressed logs available but they don't seem to make up a huge part of the fuel market.
A few reasons why we would choose a pellet stove over a wood stove -
- The fuel pellets are made from sawdust, so no new trees need to be cut down;
- they burn much cleaner than a wood stove and release less emissions;
- it's easier to regulate heat; this can reduce fuel use as well by avoiding overheating;
- your home stays cleaner by not bringing in dirt and hibernating bugs.
Pellet stoves have always been a great alternative to wood stoves as they have a hopper that feeds fuel as needed, so it's a bit more like having a gas stove in your house. They are cleaner, they balance temperatures better, they are a more hassle-free option in many ways. What we don't like, is that almost every model requires power to operate. Enter the Wiseway and Edison ECO-45, and we'll take a look at each of those:
What we really like about the funky looking Wiseway is that this is the cheapest gravity-fed, EPA-certified pellet stove we have found that can run without power. You'd be lucky to have embers after 8 hours with a wood stove, whereas the Wiseway pellet stove runs up to 28 hours on low heat.
According to the manufacturer, the Wiseway stove "has a BTU rating of 40,000. It heats between 800 and 2000 square feet, has a hopper capacity of 60 lbs that will burn for 28 hours on low heat and 16 hours on high heat. The Wiseway pellet stove is the only EPA and UL approved non-electric pellet stove."
They sell for around $2,600 plus shipping and taxes. If there is a downside, it's that they are a little unusual looking, and starting them requires using a propane torch. That wouldn't be a deal breaker for us and it's not terribly complicated - you just open the top drawer, hold a propane torch in it for about 2 minutes to warm the baffle and create a draft, when it hits a certain temperature you let the pellets drop in and keep the torch on them until they ignite. That's still much easier and quicker than getting a wood stove started.
Most importantly, it gets you into the pellet scene at a price that is not far off the mark for a super-efficient normal wood stove and it's not dependent on the grid.
Edison ECO-45 pellet stove
The other one we like is the Edison ECO-45 from Drolet, which is perhaps a little easier to imagine in your living room than the Wiseway when you envision yourself sitting by a crackling fire.
The base model is about $2,000, but it will likely cost you somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 to get one that will operate off-grid with PV solar panels. Manufacturers say it is compatible with a PV solar panel set up, and they should have the full kit on the market before the end of 2016 they say.
The really cool part about this one is that it ignites with solar power. So it's a nice mix of the easy 'flick of the switch' heat we are used to, and you can also stay warm if zombies eat the power line to your house. We will update this page as soon as we hear from Drolet that they have solar panel models ready to ship.