Pellet stoves are ‘hot’ alternative to heating oil

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    Pellet stoves have been around in one form or another since the Arab oil embargo of 1973 when fossil fuel prices went sky-high. But the modern versions are nothing like the predecessors of 40 years ago. Like other alternative heating systems, sales of pellet stoves have varied in recent years, depending on both fuel prices and the general economy. “When we first started stocking them, sales were really strong,” said Andy Lovell, owner of Lovell’s Hardware in Guilford. “They’ve slowed down a bit, but I expect them to pick up this fall. I don’t see oil prices going down very much.”

BU-Pellets-DC-PO-37Observer photo/Mike Lange

    READY FOR WINTER — Moosehead Trail Home and Hearth office manager Angela Labbe is shown with a Breckwell Big E pellet stove.

    Pellet stoves have many advantages over a traditional wood-burning unit, Lovell said. “They’re cleaner to run and you only have to fill them every 12 to 24 hours. You’re also using bagged fuel instead of lugging wood in the house,” he explained. “Plus, you get a better distribution of heat in your home.”
    Lovell estimates that the average-size home can be heated with three or four tons of pellets, currently priced at $225 per ton. “We have Vistaflame and Englander in stock in various sizes. They’re rated by BTUs, so you can determine the best fit for your needs,” Lovell said.
    Angela Labbe, the office manager at Moosehead Trail Home and Hearth in Guilford, said sales have been steady for both stoves and pellets. “Our best seller is Breckwell. They have the best variety of sizes and give the best value for the price,” Labbe said. They also carry Blackwell, Hudson River, Napoleon, Enviro, Pacific Energy and Lennox stoves and have a good stock of replacement parts. One model, the Breckwell Big E, holds three bags of pellets which can last “anywhere from 24 hours to a few days,” Labbe said.
    Labbe said that the concept of pellet stoves is fairly simple but routine maintenance is important. “They have two blowers: one blows the heat out and the other blows out the smoke,” she said. “They should be cleaned once a week. Once a year, the whole stove and pipe system should be thoroughly cleaned in areas where ash can build up.”
    At Dover True Value, pellet stoves are also selling very well, according to store owner Tim Robinson. “It’s less expensive than heating oil and a lot less work than firewood,” Robinson said. Dover True Value carries Heatilator, England Stove Works and U.S. Stove pellet furnaces which range from $900 to $1,700.
“We have stoves from 40,000 to 200,000 BTUs,” Robinson said.
    Robinson also said that routine maintenance is also the key to getting the most heat for your buck. “Use good quality pellets, and clean out the ash build-up at least once a week,” Robinson said. Dover True Value carries wood pellets from Athens and Corinth starting at $210 per ton and New England pellets at $275 per ton.
    Finally, the Maine Fire Marshall’s office has some safety tips for anyone considering a switch to wood heat from regular fuel oil.
    First, do some thorough research on the appliance. “You want to be sure it will save you money and that you have the appropriate space in which to install it.”
    Also, install the unit as directed by the manufacturer. “If you don’t feel confident about this, seek advice from a professional.”
    Finally, visit the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service website for tips on energy conservation and the use of alternative fuel sources.

Who can help with home improvements? Jack Does That!

    If you know you need help around your house, you might want to look into the newest program of the Charlotte White Center: Jack Does That!
    Jack Does That (JDT) is an hour exchange based in Dover-Foxcroft with members scattered around Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. Members of the exchange use their time and talents to earn hours that they can use to get help from other members in the exchange. “We try to make it very easy to connect with other people in the exchange,” says Patrick Myers, coordinator of Jack Does That. “Members of the exchange post things they can offer and requests for things they need. If I go to a member’s house and help stack wood for an hour, I get an hour in my ‘bank.’ I can then use that hour for a visit to the dental hygienist,  for someone to come help in my garden, a trip to the movies, or anything else that our members offer.”
    Jack Does That started in July and already has 50 members with over 120 hours exchanged. To become a member, interested individuals need to attend an hour-long orientation. At the orientation, they will learn a bit about the background of the exchange and how to use the online software. Though the tracking software is web-based, Myers says that using a computer is not a prerequisite for joining the program, “We have several members who either don’t have or don’t use computers. It is very easy for them to use the program with a paper directory and their telephone,” Myers said. “We have tried to eliminate all barriers to membership so that anyone who is interested can join the exchange.”
    To learn more about Jack Does That, go to the program’s website www.jackdoesthat.org or call 230-3016. New member orientations occur every few weeks along with pot luck meals and other events.
    Jack Does That is a program of the Charlotte White Center.

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