With the cost of fossil fuels beginning to catch up to the price of ice wines, it’s time for those of us in the Great White North to look for more efficient home-heating systems.
In the last few years the cost of heating our homes has soared (since 2001, oil prices have jumped almost 300 percent). What’s worse, every time the furnace comes on, we’re adding carbon dioxide (CO2)–greenhouse gases–to the environment. The average Canadian produces five tons of greenhouse gases each year. Can we reduce our heating costs and help meet Canada’s One-Tonne Challenge? Our friends Joe and Ninel found out they could do just that.
Joe and Ninel installed a high-efficiency wood-pellet stove in their home two years ago. Joe estimates they’ve cut their annual heating bill by about a third (in general, savings range between 25 and 50 percent when compared with oil, natural gas, or electric heat). The stove itself cost about $3,000; pellets run about $400 to $600 per year.
The stove burns small pellets made from dried, ground wood and other biomass waste. The stove’s “hopper” holds about 50 kg of pellets. Pellet stoves can be installed as freestanding stoves, fireplace inserts, or furnaces. Joe and Ninel’s is an attractive free-standing model, with a porcelain finish and a glass bay window. It easily heats the 1,000 sq ft (93 sq m) main floor of their home.
Pellet stoves need less installation space than other types of wood-burning stoves, and because they’re power vented, they can be installed anywhere in a home, as long as they’re placed on a noncombustible surface (such as a stone or tile hearth pad) and given at least three feet (1 m) of vertical chimney.
All pellet stoves require electricity to operate–you’re not going off the grid with this technology. Some stoves feature a fully automatic ignition controlled by a thermostat. “What if the power goes off?” I asked Ninel. She explained that their stove comes with a battery pack in case of a power outage. Ninel suggests buying an energy-efficient model that meets CSA and EPA standards.
The stoves do require more regular maintenance than a conventional heating system. Joe told me that they have to fill the hopper with pellets (every day in the winter); empty the ash pan once a week; regularly clean the hopper, trap, and glass; and get the stove and chimney professionally serviced annually.
Saving the Environment
Pellet fuel gives the cleanest burn (the lowest CO2 emissions) of any solid-fuel burning system. Wood pellets emit about 5.3 kg of CO2 per gigajoule (GJ) of energy. In comparison, natural gas emissions are about 50 kg of CO2 per GJ. The pellets are made from a renewable, recycled resource. The almost complete combustion of the fuel in the stove ensures that, with proper maintenance, there’s almost no wood smoke emitted into the room, either.
“The stove is quiet, clean, and efficient,” says Ninel, “and maintenance isn’t an issue. It gives off an even, radiant heat and looks great in our home.” Joe agrees and adds, “Our utility bills are way down, too, and we’re happy about significantly reducing our CO2 emissions.”