Now We're Hopp(er)ing!
Here is a pellet stove update for all of those folks out there who are thinking about getting one. Ours is working just fine. Our situation is a little different from the norm though. The primary purpose of our stove this year is to stop our pipes from freezing once again. So far, so good. We lowered our maintenance temperature from 55 degrees to 45 degrees way-back-when to reduce our pellet consumption in November when outside temperatures were well above freezing and we have been holding there since. We have noticed that, just like any appliance, there is a large amount of fuel consumption if we try to raise the temperature to a comfortable level. If we were to set the thermostat at 65 the thing would run on high for most of the day and night to achieve that internal temperature and switch to low when it was within 2 degrees. After reaching the desired temperature the thing turns off until the temperature drops 2 degrees and then it runs on low to maintain. To maintain a temperature the stove consumes maybe a bag of pellets a day. With super low temperatures outside it is sucking up more but hasn't exceeded two bags. We love it when it is above 40 degrees outside because it doesn't use up any fuel! Of course all of this would be different if we were maintaining a higher temperature.
There are some inherent problems related to pellet stove ownership though. The main one being that you have to keep the hopper full. If it empties the stove shuts down and posts an error message which is easily fixed after filling the hopper and pressing the "Retry" button. UNLESS ....... the temperature in the room where the thermostat is falls below 40 degrees. Then you have a problem. This has happened a couple of times to us but I have figured out a solution. Firstly you have to be sure the hopper is really full. This means you have to push the pellets down and back with your hand. Pouring them in and walking away does not the hopper fill! Next, you have to figure out what the room temperature really is because the thermostat reads 99.9 degrees and you have to get it to read at least 38.4 in order to get the stove to start up. I do this by placing an electric heater within 3 feet of the thermostat. Eventually the 99.9 drops to 38.4 and the start up message appears. A full hopper will keep the thing running for at least 12 hours at a medium/low setting trying to raise the temperature by 5 degrees. Sometimes longer. The space we are trying to keep warm is the first floor and comprises almost 2100 sq. ft of area. The second floor is maintaining at a lower temperature which varies with the outside temperature. The difference is usually between 6 and 10 degrees lower but this last weekend it dropped as low as 24 degrees after the hopper ran out of fuel and the house had almost 12 hours to chill because I couldn't get over to check on it. With outside temperatures at 9 degrees I have to be certain to check the thing twice a day sometimes. Don't worry though. The water is shut off to those upper floors after last winter's plumbing fiasco!
So, back in November we bought a ton (50 40# bags) of pellets for a little over $200 and are now half way through them. The next three weeks are going to be the crucial ones for consecutive days of below freezing temperatures. After that I can probably drop the maintenance temperature if I have to and cruise into March. We are hoping to only need the one ton of pellets this year. Next year, if we are in the place we will probably need closer to 4 tons with the second floor stove running too.
A few other things to note. Although the ash does not create a dust problem, the pellets themselves do when you pour them into the hopper. The ash pan takes about a week to fill up and the ash that builds up in the burning chamber needs to be vacuumed once a week. Each 40 # bag produces maybe a cup of ash so there isn't much residue at all. I guess we should start pricing wood pellets to see if the price drops near the end of the season so we can start planning for next year. Now if we could just pellet-ize kitty poop .........