by Gina Hamilton
Coastal Journal staff
BATH - Many midcoast households have woodstoves or fireplaces, but many don’t want to use them as wood-burning appliances for a number of reasons. Wood is heavy and cords must be stored somewhere, usually outdoors, which means that almost every time the woodstove or fireplace is lit, wood must be carted indoors. Wood, even seasoned wood, contains water. When improperly seasoned or wet firewood is burned, the extra water content turns to steam and mixes with the wood gases and unburned particles, preventing them from igniting and releasing their heat value. The resulting wet, heavy, slow-moving and particle-laden exhaust multiplies creosote formation in the flue.
For that reason, many are turning to pellet stoves for heat, but pellet stoves are expensive to install. Unless the pellet stove is to be the primary heating source for the house, it is often not cost-effective to install one.
There are other options, however.
Pellet baskets, which can cost between $100-$200, can be used in either woodstoves or fireplaces. Wood pellets are extremely dry, and burn cleaner than wood. There is less risk of creosote buildup using pellets than there is using seasoned wood. Pellets can be stacked in a garage, shed, or dry basement in bags, which also serves to protect them from moisture. And pellets are made of waste wood material. Not only are they renewable, they are using up a material that would otherwise go to the landfill.
Pellet baskets are made by several manufacturers. The website www.burnwoodpellets.com offers pellet baskets for sale, but also gives the user a good deal of information about how to use a pellet basket in a conventional woodstove or fireplace.
Once you have a pellet basket, using it is very straightforward. First, place the basket in your woodstove or fireplace and make sure the damper is open to maximum airflow. Next, fill the basket with pellets, and use a gel firestarter to start the fire.
A basket of pellets will burn for a few hours. Once a day, rake out the ash, which is much less than you would have if you were using logs in the stove.
Keep the pellets in a ten-gallon metal container, such as a trash can, indoors, and keep any additional pellets in a dry location or even under a waterproof tarp outside. Use a metal scoop to fill the basket.
To regulate the temperature, you can use the damper on your stove to choke your airflow down to your desired heat setting.
No fan is needed to circulate air within the stove because there is enough air flow through the basket itself to allow the pellets to burn with a flame.
You can always add more pellets, when needed, on top of the hot pellets with the metal scoop. When you do this, they may smolder for a few minutes until they ignite. Readjust your air settings for a safe working temperature.
If, after a year of using a pellet basket, you like the kind of heat generated, you can always go on and have the pellet stove installed.