Pellet burners have some real advantages – if you can source pellets at a reasonable price.

Compared to sources such as firewood, there are a limited number of wood pellet suppliers in New Zealand. Check there is a manufacturer near you before investing in a wood pellet burner. If you have access to cheap firewood it’s probably best to go with a log burner.

Advantages

  • They're easier to use than a conventional woodburner.
  • No need to chop or store firewood.
  • Most models light electrically – no need for matches or firelighters.
  • Some models can be thermostatically controlled or switched on or off using a timer.
  • They usually have a smaller diameter flue than woodburners, which may make installation easier. The flue can also be taken out horizontally through an external wall.
  • They burn very cleanly, so are less of a community health hazard.
  • The pellets are made from sawmill waste – an abundant renewable resource. So burning them is carbon-neutral.
  • Pellets can be ordered by phone or online.

Not so good

  • They're expensive. The price of buying and installing is similar to that for a heat pump or a gas fireplace (but more expensive than for a conventional woodburner). Prices start at around $3000 (plus about $450-$600 for a single-story flue). Then there are installation costs (allow another $600-$900).
  • Only pellets can be burned – so you can't take advantage of any free firewood.
  • Electricity is required for them to work, so they're no use during a power cut. A 12-volt battery and inverter or a small generator could be used as a back-up, but that adds to the cost.
  • They're more complex than a woodburner, with electrical and electronic components that can fail.
  • They can be noisy because they have fans and a hopper-feed motor. Some models can have the flue fan mounted outside the house to reduce noise.
  • Some energy is lost in manufacturing and transporting the pellets.
  • Pellet costs are high in some areas. There are a limited number of suppliers so check there is one near you before investing in a pellet burner.

The future of pellets

In the past few years pellet burners have enjoyed a reasonable uptake, but the market remains small compared to other heating options. The limited number of wood pellet suppliers (often only one per town or city) means that if a pellet manufacturer in your area goes bust, pellets could become prohibitively expensive. We recommend you ensure there is a well-established pellet supplier near you before investing in a pellet burner.