Green Heating with a Pellet Stove

Getting a pellet stove has been a dream of mine for a while now, and this winter, I finally made it happen. We wanted a heating solution that would heat the basement more than the rest of the house, since it is just always extra chilly down there. Last fall, during the rainiest October ever recorded in Seattle, we had a routine chimney sweep and inspection that revealed a chimney being brought to its knees by the ravages of time and lichens. To prevent water from getting into our roof, it was necessary to have it rebuilt from the roofline up. And heck, why not have a pellet stove installed while I have the chimney experts here?

pellet stove in basement

pellet stove makes for a cozy study space

Sounds expensive — is it green?

Yes, sadly, the cost of the new chimney was like a punch in the gut, and at $3,000, the stove was far from cheap, too. Everything I earn as a language teacher and trainer pretty much gets poured straight down the money pit of a house we have here, but that’s ok. (At least I get all of my home decor free from my Buy Nothing Group!)

Pellets are a sustainable heating solution because they are made of an industrial byproduct: sawdust.  Some say that burning pellets is carbon neutral for the following reason. Consider what would happen to the sawdust if it weren’t made into pellets. If it were to be left to decompose, it would emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as if you burned it. So it makes no difference whether you burn it or not. Might as well build a roaring fire and enjoy a warm basement apartment!

Also, the fact that pellets contain much less water than regular wood means that they burn with much less smoke and burn almost completely, emitting fewer particulates and sulphur. We used to smell our neighbor’s wood-burning fires quite strongly at our old house. But we have found the pellet stove to be quite low on smoke, having little to no noticeable effect on our indoor or outdoor air quality.

Any downsides to the pellet stove?

Here’s the one catch about pellet stoves. Ok, two catches. First, you need pellets, which are harder to come by than cord wood. When I bought some at Lowe’s last fall, they were right by the front door and easy to find. This month, I walked all over that huge store multiple times looking for them. I thought the foreign cashier told me in they were in the “number” section. Turned out to be “lumber section.” (Is my hearing that bad?). When I went back again last week, they were all out. I’m starting to see the appeal of buying a whole one-ton pallet of these things each fall.

The second problem is that the stove mechanism needs a bit of electricity to run itself, so it’s not a great back-up heat source for power outages right out of the box. I’m planning to get around this problem by getting a bike-powered generator like the Pedal-a-Watt or a Green Microcycle. Stay tuned to hear more about that dream and how I’ll make it come true!

Overall, I’m glad I went ahead with this thing. All the guests we had in February and March this year certainly enjoyed it and commented on how cozy it was. They found it easy to focus on work at the desk pictured above. And putting extra housing space to use in Seattle seems like a very important thing to do these days, so I’m happy to make all of my house livable in the greenest way that I can.

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