The cleaner, more convenient alternative to a woodburner.
If you like the look and feel of a woodburner but don’t want the hassle of firewood, a pellet burner may be a suitable alternative.
Most pellet burners look like a conventional woodburner and are available either as a free-standing model or an insert into a fireplace.
You can even get a basement-furnace model for central heating.
Pellet burners burn only compressed wood pellets, which you buy in 15kg or 20kg plastic bags or in bulk. The pellets are loaded into a hopper at the back of the unit and are fed into the fire through an automatic feed system.
Adjusting the rate the pellets are consumed gives you control over the amount of heat produced.
In some models, a thermostat can be used to keep an even room temperature – and a timer can provide automatic switching on and off.
In freestanding and fireplace-insert models, a hopper load of pellets lasts for around 24 hours of continuous burning – and these models produce a similar amount of heat to a conventional woodburner. Basement furnace models produce much more.
Running a pellet burner costs around 8¢ to 15¢ per kWh. The top of this range is about double the cost of running a woodburner (using bought firewood) or a heat pump, but less than half the cost of running a conventional electric heater. Depending on fuel prices in your region, a pellet burner may also be competitive with a reticulated (flued) gas heater or central heating.
Shop around for the cheapest source of pellets – there are big variations in price. If there's a pellet mill close to you, try there first.
To get a good price, consider buying a year’s worth of pellets.
The dollar cost of a 20kg bag of pellets roughly equals the running cost in cents per kWh. So – for example – a 20kg bag of pellets at $12 a bag will give you heating at 12¢ per kWh; a $15 bag would work out at 15¢ per kWh.
If you can source pellets from the mill at $450 per tonne (the equivalent of $9 per bag), running costs are 9¢ per kWh.
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.
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.