|Pellet burners will likely gain popularity in colder climates.|
While gas-burning products continue to represent the largest number of fireplace products shipped to retailers in the U.S. (1,017,000), pellet stoves and inserts and other biomass-burning fireplaces saw a 161 percent spike in shipments (141,000) in 2008.
The figures, posted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), also show that fireplaces are a $5 billion—a-year industry.
Leslie Wheeler, director of communications for the Pellet Fuels Institute, a trade organization that represents the wood pellet fuel manufacturers, attributes the spike to last year's fossil fuel prices. "When oil prices were predicted to be off the charts, people just scrambled for secondary sources of heat," she says, adding, "Inserts turn a very inefficient traditional fireplace to an efficient system so the homeowner can turn their thermostats down."
Contractors and homeowners alike have a reason to warm up to pellet and other biomass-burning fireplaces and stoves. Homeowners may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $1,500 if they purchase and install a 75-percent efficient wood- or pellet-burning (biomass) stove in 2009 or 2010. Thirty percent of the total cost, including the appliance, installation and piping, can be claimed.
According to the HPBA, pellets burn cleaner than virtually any other biomass fuel and produce low particulate matter. They are made from compacted sawdust, wood chips, bark, agricultural crop waste and other organic materials. Combustion is achieved through an electrically controlled, high-temperature burner with ample oxygen and sufficient burning of gases before they are exhausted.
The Wall Street Journal reports American-made pellet shipments to Europe, where the fireplaces are more prevalent, were up 62 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from the same period a year ago. In the U.S., wood pellets are typically purchased in 40-pound bags for between $5 and $7, though prices vary by region and availability.
According to the Encyclopedia of Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living, pellet stoves typically are $1,700 to $3,300, depending on the quality and features of the appliance. Installation costs are fairly low, usually from $350 to $550, because a pellet stove does not require a chimney but only a straightforward 3- to 4-inch venting system.
Most current pellet stoves on the market are not whole-house furnaces but rather room heaters that can offset heating needs in occupied rooms, allowing homeowners to lower the thermostat in other rooms. Thus, it should be noted that these stoves do not offset the need or capital cost expenditures for a whole-house furnace when used in a typical residential setting.