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There are many different ways to heat your home, whether it’s a gas furnace, wood fireplaces or pellet stoves. Wood pellet stoves like ours are a popular choice among homeowners because they put out a lot of heat and have relatively low operating costs. However, there are some disadvantages of using pellet stoves as well. We find that pellet stoves are particularly popular with our customers in Columbia, MD. Read on to learn more about pellet stoves, including how they work and the advantages and disadvantages of using them.
How Do They Work?
Every heat source uses some form of fuel to create heat. Pellet stoves use pellets made from compressed wood as their fuel source. These pellets are eco-friendly because they are made from compressed wood, plus they produce significantly less smoke and fumes than traditional firewood. Many people prefer pellet stoves over other heating options such as wood stoves, gas fireplaces or electric space heaters.
Pellet stoves work by using electricity to ignite the pellets. Fresh air is pulled into the unit from your home, stoking the fire and allowing the pellets to burn effectively and evenly. The resulting gases are vented outside through a small pipe in the back of the stove. This pipe can be vented through a hole in the wall or an existing chimney.
Types of Pellet Stoves
While all pellet stoves use the same wood pellets as fuel, there are two different types of pellet stoves: freestanding and inserts.
Freestanding Pellet Stove
Freestanding pellet stoves are stoves that are not reliant on an existing chimney or fireplace. They stand on their own. They can be placed anywhere you have room to fit them. Free-standing fireplaces are a great option for adding the beauty of a fireplace to a room that currently does not have one.
Pellet Stove Inserts
Pellet stove inserts are designed to fit inside of existing masonry opening of wood fireplaces. Inserts are flush with the wall for a sleek, space-saving look, but they have to be mounted in a spot where there is an existing fireplace.
Should you choose a freestanding fireplace or fireplace insert?
It depends on your priorities and where you want to install it. While pellet stove inserts may fit with the existing configuration of your room, they have smaller hoppers and can be more difficult to clean. A freestanding pellet stove, on the other hand, takes up a decent chunk of space which could otherwise be used for furniture. The type of pellet stove you choose ultimately depends on that benefits that you are seeking.
Advantages of Pellet Stoves
The most significant benefits of pellet stoves lie in the fuel source:
- Wood pellets are a byproduct of sawmills which makes them eco-friendly
- Wood pellets produce less smoke and ash than firewood, resulting in less pollution, less creosote, and less of odors in your home
- Pellet stoves often generate more heat than gas stoves of a similar size
- Pellet stoves cost less to operate than gas because pellets are relatively inexpensive.
- The automatic ignition makes pellet stoves easy to start and use, even for novice users
- A 20-lb bag of pellets can provide constant heat for as long as 12 hours. Most people only need to fill the hopper once every couple days.
- Pellet stoves have a simple look with neutral colors. They fit with just about any decor
- Refilling a pellet stove is easy since all you need to do is pull the hopper out and fill it with pellets.
Disadvantages of Pellet Stoves
While the benefits of using a wood pellet stove may seem enormous, there are some drawbacks as well. Here are some of the issues you may face if you use a wood pellet stove:
- Pellet stoves require a lot more maintenance than gas or electric furnaces, including weekly vacuuming of the burn pot and other cleaning requirements.
- Since pellet stoves have so many moving autonomous parts, they can be a bit noisy—especially when you’re just turning one on.
- While a fireplace can be used when the power is out, a pellet stove cannot since it uses electricity to ignite the pellets and vent the smoke.
- Pellet stoves produce a small flame when compared to wood stoves. Some homeowners feel that they don’t provide the same cozy fire feeling produced by woodburning fireplaces.
- Paying to have a pellet stove shipped to you can be expensive.
- Wood pellets stored and kept on hand for future use. You will need ample storage room to maintain a reasonable supply of pellets on hand.
- In some areas, local stores may not carry wood pellets. As a result, homeowners may have to pay the shipping cost to order them online.
Want to learn more about pellet stoves? You may find our previous article to be helpful.
Springtime is often not the time that homeowners are thinking about chimneys but this is a good time of year for doing many maintenance tasks. Fireplace and chimney maintenance is essential regardless of whether you have a wood burning fireplace, pellet stove or gas fireplace. In fact, a spring chimney cleaning and inspection should be scheduled early to catch problems while they are small.
Eliminate fireplace odors
The smell of a wood fire is lovely while it is burning, but the scent of an uncleaned chimney and fireplace in the humidity of summer is not wonderful at all. A foul-smell can be a sign that you need chimney repairs.
- Professional chimney sweeps have the equipment and experience to remove ash and creosote without leaving a mess.
- A clean fireplace is an excellent location for your favorite scented candles to burn safely.
- Uncapped chimneys are holes in your roof for the rain to come in and mix with an uncleaned stack to harden residue and create odors.
Repair cracks that can lead to chimney leaks
The Mid-Atlantic spring is a series of freeze/thaw cycles. Water seeps into hairline cracks in your chimney, freezes, and widens those cracks so that more water can get in and freeze again. The recurring freeze/thaw cycle can split boulders. Imagine how much damage water can do to your chimney. Repairs should be an be scheduled before the summer rains start. Failure to do so can result in costly repairs.
- The cement crown is designed to shed water away from the chimney. If it is cracked, it will start to crack and cause leaks.
- Crowns can also be rebuilt or replaced.
- Mortar between bricks can be re-pointed, and a few cracked blocks can be replaced without rebuilding.
- Further damage to masonry usually requires that the chimney must be rebuilt.
- Waterproofing your chimney keeps the freeze/thaw cycle from occurring.
- Common causes of chimney leaks can be addressed, like inadequate flashing.
Keep critters away from your chimney
Did you know that chimney swifts are a federally protected species? They start coming into the area in late March and begin nesting in May. Early spring is the best time to take steps to prevent them from moving in. If there is a chimney swift nesting in your chimney, you cannot get rid of them. You must wait until they are done raising their young before removing the highly-flammable nest. Other unwanted visitors can include:
- Rats & Mice
How do these unwelcome visitors get in? If damage has occurred in your chimney cap or screen, they consider any opening an invitation. Birds and animals in chimneys and flues cause fires and keep carbon monoxide from leaving your home so it’s not something you can ignore even if you don’t mind sharing your space with wildlife. In most cases, animal problems can be prevented by installing a chimney cap.
- Check for signs of uninvited wildlife.
- Remove the wildlife following safety precautions (most people call an animal control service) and remember that chimney swifts are a protected species.
- Keep them out by installing screens and caps to your chimneys and vents.
Close The Damper
Many times the damper is inadvertently left open after the last fire of the winter is enjoyed. This can be a problem in the spring and summer:
- Open dampers can draw your expensively cooled air out of the room and up the chimney.
- Even with a screen, some unwelcome wildlife can make an appearance. Mice can fit in a hole the diameter of a pencil.
- A violent summer storm can rain sideways resulting in leakage that bypasses your chimney cap and flows past your open damper.
Make Renovations & Remodels Easier
Springtime is a good time to renovate or remodel your fireplace and chimney. As next winter approaches, everybody else will be suddenly scheduling chimney cleanings and fireplace installations. Chimney companies will take longer to schedule service, and in many cases, the prices are higher. Now is a good time:
- Think about the past winter. What did you wish you had in the way of fireplaces? Gas instead of wood? Insert or stove? A nicer view of the flames? An easier form of indoor heating? Now is a great time to see what would be involved in making that wish come true.
- Were you happy with your previous chimney cleaning experience? Check out testimonials of potential chimney services that can offer more than a quick swipe at soot.
- Ask for a professional estimate of the options that would work in your home and get a reliable estimate of the cost.
- Schedule your upgrades soon so they can be done in good weather and when it is most convenient for your summer plans.
If your home has an open masonry fireplace, you may want to consider having a fireplace insert installed. A fireplace insert is a fireplace contained in a metal box that converts your home’s inefficient, masonry fireplace into a gas, wood-burning, or pellet stove. Many homeowners in the Washington DC Metro Area find installing a fireplace insert to be a great option to increase energy efficiency while maintaining the natural beauty of a fireplace. For this reason, many chimney and fireplace companies like ours find fireplace inserts to be in high demand.
How does a fireplace insert work? In simplest terms, a fireplace insert consists of two parts: a steel shell and a firebox. The firebox is designed to contain a fire (and its heat) so that rest of the room is heated with minimal waste. The steel shell surrounding the box helps to improve efficiency. Together, these two components work to make your home’s fireplace safer and more energy efficient.
Types of Fireplace Inserts
There are many different types of fireplace inserts, though a few of the most common types include
Not sure which is right for your needs? Explore some details about each fireplace insert below.
Gas Fireplace Inserts
When you’re looking to convert your fireplace into an efficient and low-maintenance option, gas fireplace inserts are an excellent choice. Some of the key benefits of installing a gas fireplace insert in your home include:
- Unrivaled ease of use! Just flip a switch to get your fire started; no need to buy firewood or pellets.
- Low maintenance! No ashes to clean out after each use and no dangerous creosote deposits to worry about building up.
- More precise temperature control than a wood-burning or pellet fireplace.
- Environmental friendliness! Fewer pollutants released into the atmosphere.
If you’re considering a gas fireplace insert, it is worth noting that the cost of fuel to run your gas fireplace will likely remain higher than the cost of firewood or wood pellets, so this should also be taken into consideration as you make your choice.
Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts
If you prefer the look of real wood burning and the classic “crackle” of a traditional fireplace, then simply installing a wood-burning fireplace insert could be a wise choice. Some of the top benefits of wood-burning fireplace insert installation include:
- Being able to retain the look and feel of a “real” fire.
- Achieving the smell of wood burning, which many people enjoy.
- Improved energy efficiency when compared to an open wood-burning fireplace.
- Added safety when compared to an open fireplace.
Furthermore, the cost of purchasing firewood tends to be much less expensive than paying for gas or even pellets for a pellet stove. Keep in mind, however, that you will need a place to store firewood inside or outside of your home, and you will need to clean out your fireplace after you use it.
Pellet Stove Fireplace Inserts
For a compromise in benefits between a gas fireplace insert and a wood-burning fireplace insert, a pellet stove insert can be a smart decision. Pellet stove fireplaces operate by burning small pellets of compressed wood for safe and energy-efficient home heating. Some of the critical benefits of a pellet stove fireplace insert are:
- A lack of creosote or other potentially dangerous build-ups.
- Environmental friendliness! Pellet stoves produce very little smoke.
- The energy efficiency of a gas fireplace with a more realistic look and feel.
- Easy maintenance.
Other Important Considerations for Fireplace Inserts
While there are indeed many benefits of having a fireplace insert installed in your home, there are also some important considerations worth keeping in mind before you schedule an installation. For starters, with most types of fireplace inserts, your home will need to have an existing and functioning chimney for safe ventilation of pollutants and gases created as a fire burns. If your home’s chimney is in disrepair, this is something you’ll need to address before an insert can be installed and operated.
Overall, installation of a fireplace insert in your home can be a great way to improve energy efficiency and make your home’s fireplace safer. Now all that’s left to do is decide on the type of insert that best suits your needs and find a reputable company to handle the installation!
The difference between a chimney sweep and chimney inspection is slight but crucial. Cleaning removes the deposits that have built up over time. Inspections are professional examinations of the installation, condition, and structure of your chimney. A professional chimney sweep in Washington DC always includes a basic inspection as part of the chimney cleaning. Chimney sweeps and inspections are both essential to maintaining the safety of your home.
How Often Should A Chimney Be Inspected?
According to the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 (NFPA211), all fireplaces, chimneys, and vents should be inspected annually to make sure they are safe to use. That means they have no cracks or leaks, no deposits, and are clear of hazards. If the fireplace, chimney, or vent heavily used, it should be monitored more closely because heavy use is naturally going to create more potential for buildup of soot and creosote. All fireplaces must be cleaned every year including gas fireplaces. A cleaning will reveal whether or not a more enhanced inspection is required.
What Happens During Inspections?
Inspections should be done by a chimney sweep professional who is qualified, certified, and familiar with your local codes. They should protect your home with drop cloths in their work area and document what they are doing. Afterwards, you should have a detailed report and an estimate of any needed repairs.
There are three different levels of chimney inspection
- A Level One Inspection is verification of structural soundness and readiness for the use of the chimney. Cleaning should always include a level one inspection. The chimney tech should look for warning signs.
- A Level Two Inspection is commonly part of a real estate transaction. Most home inspectors do not have the skills or tools to inspect a chimney and fireplace properly. As a result, the buyer will hire a licensed chimney company to check the chimney. Level 2 inspections are also done when the homeowner is installing a new home heating appliance or changing the type of fuel. A level 2 inspection should include everything in Level One plus inspection of accessible areas. There should be a video scan of the flue system.
- A Level Three Inspection are required when something has been observed to indicate a need to go into concealed areas. The inspector has to go behind the walls surrounding the chimney and flue to check for damage and hazardous conditions. If this level of inspection is recommended, it is dangerous to ignore the advice.
What Happens During Chimney Cleaning?
- A professional chimney sweep will leave your home cleaner and safer than it was before.
- Since cleaning out soot and creosote is a messy job, they will use drop cloths in the work area to protect your home.
- All deposits and debris are removed from the flue system with tools designed for the task. The whole mess is removed from your home.
- A level one inspection is completed. If minor repairs can be done during the visit and you give permission, there is usually a discount for work done during the visit. Otherwise, an estimate of the repairs that will be needed will be given to you.
- The crew cleans up after themselves, and all that remains is a fireplace or stove in good working order.
Do I Need Both Inspections and Cleanings?
All chimneys should have a chimney sweep including a level one inspection every year. The sweep will determine if a higher level of inspection is needed. Following the advice of your chimney repair technician is essential. Complete any suggested repairs so that you and your family can be safe and warm. Annual chimney sweeps help prevent costly repairs.