Below is a quick pellet heater FAQ for the most frequently asked questions about pellet heaters. It is by no means complete with every imaginable question about pellet heaters you can think of, but I am constantly updating it. Where possible, I’ve also included links in each answer to posts that provide much more detailed information. I am always updating this, so please let me know if you have any other questions about pellet heaters that aren’t answered in the pellet heater FAQ below or elsewhere on this site.
Q: So what is a pellet heater?
So what’s a pellet heater or pellet fire as some people call them? Pellet heaters burn wood pellets to produce heat and heat your house. While being relatively new in Tasmania and Australia, they have actually been around since the 1980s. Pellet heaters are very efficient, modern heaters with efficiency ratings of about 90%, which is far superior than wood heaters. Pellet heaters do need a source of power to start a fire and run fans that keep it burning so efficiently, but they don’t use much power once the fire is going, about the same as an old 70 watt light bulb.
Q: How does a pellet heater work?
Pellet heaters have a hopper (container) which holds wood pellets that are automatically fed into a burn pot. An auger slowly takes pellets from the hopper and feeds them into a burn pot as the pellet heater runs. This auger can be adjusted to change how slow or fast it feeds pellets into the fire, thus allowing you to control how much heat is produced. An exhaust fan blows air over the pellets as they burn which enables pellet heaters to be much more efficient than wood heaters. Another fan blows hot air out of the pellet heater into the space around it, thus warming the room it sits in. Read the how do pellet heaters work post to learn more.
Q: What and how are wood pellets made?
Wood pellets are densely compressed pellets made from wood waste material such as sawdust and wood shavings. They are made in a wood pellet mill where waste wood material is crushed down to size, sifted to remove unwanted material, dried to remove excess moisture and then finally compressed into pellets, which typically range anywhere from 1cm to 4cm in length. Wood pellets can be made from soft wood waste, hardwood waste or a combination of the two. Unlike firewood, wood pellets are ready to burn straight out of the bag, pellets are easy to handle and store and do not need to be dried or seasoned.
Q: Where can I buy wood pellets?
You can buy wood pellets from many retailers around Australia. Prices will vary greatly and Tasmania is lucky as we have some of the lowest priced pellets in Australia. In Tasmania wood pellets as of July 2023 are $9.50 a bag and other states around Australia start at $14.00 a bag and go up to $35.00 a bag. Access to a reliable supply of and reasonable priced pellets is important if you want to use a pellet heater for heating. If you don’t own a pellet heater yet make sure you find out what pellets are going to cost you because the more pellets cost you the bigger your heating bill will be.
Q: Does a pellet heater need a hearth?
Yes, pellet heaters need to sit on a non-combustible surface, typically a hearth. While the outside of a pellet heater is mostly safe to touch and doesn’t get as hot as a wood heater, they still need safety clearances and must be placed on a non-combustible surface, much like a wood heater. How far a pellet heater must be placed from combustible materials and the best hearth for a pellet heater depends on the model of the heater. It’s best to check the manual as it will specify these requirements or the person installing your pellet heater should know.
Q: What’s the best spot for a pellet heater in my house?
Pellet heaters are best thought of as space heaters. This means you need to place them in a spot in a room that will provide best coverage. This will make it easier for the hot air the pellet heaters blows out to warm the room quickly and evenly. Some people use pellet heaters to heat multiple rooms or their entire house. To achieve this place it in a spot that has the best airflow to allow hot air from the heater to circulate around into other rooms and heat up your house. This usually would be the centre or near the centre of your house. A pellet heater will heat a house but location and house size and insulation are also important factors.
Q: Is a pellet heater noisy?
Pellet heaters are not noisy and make about as much noise as a heat pump. Pellet heaters have two fans, a combustion that keeps the fire burning efficiently and convection fan which blows warm air out into the room it is in, and a motor that runs an auger which feeds wood pellets into the fire. Many wood heaters have a convection fan which helps disperse heat out into the room and obviously heat pumps have a fan which blows hot air. While pellet heaters aren’t noisy, they do obviously make some noise. This can be a shock to people who have only ever used wood heaters and are looking for a wood heater alternative. You can still watch TV and have a conversation in the same room as a pellet heater.
Q: Is a pellet heater cheap to run?
How much you spend on heating with a pellet heater depends. Depending on where you live, the cost of pellets will vary and plays a big role in determining how much you spend on heating. The key to saving money with a pellet heater is to not use it like a wood heater because of how they heat. Use the timer to switch the pellet heater on in the morning before you get up, switch the heater off when you go out and switch it back on before you come home using Wifi, all which saves you pellets and money. There’s no need to run a pellet heater all night or when you aren’t home. Adjusting your heating habits by using a pellet heater is how you can reduce your winter heating bill.
Q: Does a pellet heater need a flue or chimney?
Yes. Pellet heaters need a flue or chimney so they can vent outside of your house. A flue must be installed through the wall or ceiling and roof, like a wood heater. While pellet heaters for the most part do not produce smoke while running, they still need a flue or chimney.The benefit is that by venting through the wall behind a pellet heater, it’s usually cheaper and easier to do. The flue doesn’t need to be as long and installation is simpler and quicker. It also means you can place a pellet heater in corners of a room much easier than you can a wood heater.
Q: How long does a bag of pellets last?
Wood pellets are sold in 15kg bags. A bag of pellets may last anywhere from 23 hours on low to 8 hours on high. Obviously how long a bag of pellets lasts depends on what heat setting you run your heater on. Because pellet heaters can switch on and off at the push of a button, it is recommended to NOT use them like a wood heater, meaning don’t let them run at night while you sleep and don’t let them burn while you aren’t at home. Using the timer or WiFi features of a pellet heater you’ll be able to drastically reduce how many pellets you burn and make a bag last longer.
Q: Are wood pellets and pellet heaters eco friendly?
Yes. By buying wood pellets from a pellet mill that uses plantation timber, trees that were specifically grown to be used for timber etc. and not native trees, wood pellets and pellet heaters are very eco friendly. You’ll also find that some mills make pellets from waste material that would have normally been thrown away, such as sawdust from processing timber. Also, pellet heaters burn much cleaner than wood heaters and are basically smoke free, helping improve the quality of air. Compare this with wood heaters where firewood can be native growth which once cut down is gone forever.
Q: Are pellet heaters high maintenance?
No, pellet heaters are not high maintenance and this is such a common and important question it had to be included in the pellet heater FAQ. While pellet heaters do have moving parts, pellet heaters are very reliable. It is recommend you have your pellet heater professionally serviced once a year, which would probably around $200 depending on where you live. Other than that you only need to empty out ash from the heater once a week, which takes about ten to 15 minutes. It’s best to think of a pellet heater as a car. Once a year you have it serviced to make sure everything is running smoothly and it will be problem free.
Q: Are pellet heaters safe?
YES! While pellet heaters do have moving parts they also come with safety features such as temperature sensors and switches that ensure they are operating properly and do not exceed unsafe temperatures or the fire get out of control. Pellet heaters will automatically shut down (pellets stop feeding into the burn pot so the fire goes out quickly) in the event that something goes wrong. However, it is highly unlikely this will ever happen and pellet heaters are completely safe to use around children and pets, much like a wood heater. If you feel safe around a wood heater than you should feel safe around a pellet heater.
Q: Is there much dust from wood pellets?
No, there’s very little dust from wood pellets. There is naturally some dust in every bag of pellets, as pellets are made from wood after all, but it is minimal. You can easily empty a bag of pellets straight into the hopper of the pellet heater and there will be no mess anywhere. However, some people prefer to empty bags outside to ensure there is absolutely no dust at all and then bring pellets into the house in a bucket to refill the heater. Having said that, dust is not a problem with wood pellets and pellet heaters. There’s also no need to worry about bugs, splinters and insects like you can get with firewood.
Q: Does a pellet heater need power?
Yes, pellet heaters need electricity to run. Without electricity pellet heaters will not run but they use very little power. Pellet heaters have two fans, an exhaust fan that keeps the fire going and a room fan that blows hot air out into the room it is in. They also have an igniter, which is used to start the fire. How much electricity do pellet heaters use? During startup a pellet heater will draw about 400 watts for about 10 minutes until the fire is going. However, once going power drops down to about 60 watts an hour, which is the equivalent of a couple of LED lights. If you ran a pellet heater for 8 hours a day that would cost around 50 cents to $1 in power.
Q: Can you run a pellet heater off-grid?
Yes, you can run a pellet heater off-grid. While it’s true they use power, it’s very little (about the same as 3 or 4 LED light bulbs). If you are looking for a way to heat a cabin, tiny house or something else off-grid then you can run your heater using a generator (not ideal for long term setups) or with solar and some 100ah or bigger batteries. How many batteries and solar panels you need will depend on how often you want to run the heater, but it’s not hard to run a pellet heater off-grid because they use very little power.
Q: Are expensive pellet heaters better?
Are expensive pellet heaters better and worth the $5,000 to $10,000 some luxury European pellet heater brands charge? It really depends and the answer is both yes and no. You’ll get more features and a much better design from an expensive pellet heater, but overall pellet heaters, regardless of where they are made, function basically the same and are very similar in performance and heat output. Instead of just brand I personally think warranty and support offered by the retailer should also be something to take into consideration when looking to buy a pellet heater. However, ultimately it depends on what is important to you and your budget.
Q: Where can I buy a pellet heater?
Many people have never heard of pellet heaters and if they have it can be difficult to buy a pellet heater depending on where you live. If you live in Tasmania checkout the Tasmanian pellet retailer list or the Australian pellet heater retailer list if outside of Tassie. Many people in Tasmania call them pellet fires because of the business Pellet Fires Tasmania who markets them as pellet fires not pellet heaters, but it’s the same thing. Outside of Tasmania, most retailers are in Victoria and NSW. There are some retailers in other states but not many, so you may find if you want to buy a pellet heater you’ll have to get it shipped to you as there may not be a retailer locally.
Q: What are some brands of pellet heaters in Australia?
Depending on where you live in Australia, you’ll have a variety of brands to pick from. Outside of Tasmania, the most common pellet heater brands are Piazzetta pellet heaters and Palazzetti pellet heaters or maybe even Haas+Sohn. You might find the odd business selling some Chinese made heaters, but 90% of brands are European. In Tasmania, we’ve got the European brands but also Chinese models, which is good because Chinese heaters are much cheaper and not everyone can afford a European pellet heater, regardless of how well designed they are or look. However, pellet heaters function the same so the main difference between brands is design.
Q: How much do pellet heaters cost?
What size pellet heater is right for you and what it costs will depend on where in Australia you live, the brand you want to buy, the area you are trying to heat and budget. However, generally speaking Chinese pellet heaters cost anywhere from $2500 to $5000. European pellet heaters cost about $5000 to $12000. This is just a ballpark figure but most pellet heaters fall within those price ranges. Generally speaking the more you pay for a pellet heater the bigger the heat output will be. Also, don’t forget you’ll have to buy a hearth ($400 approx) if you don’t have one, you’ll need a flue ($500 approx) and you’ll also have to get it installed ($800 approx).
Q: Can you mix hardwood and softwood pellets?
Yes, you can mix hardwood and softwood pellets without harming your pellet heater. Generally speaking, while softwood pellets burn hotter and produce less ash, mixing them with hardwood pellets is a great way to save money and still have a very clean burn compared to just burning hardwood pellets by themselves. Pellet mills often make pellets that are a 50/50 mix of hardwood and softwood for a cleaner and cheaper burn. In Tasmania you can buy 100% pinewood pellets for $13 a bag or a 50/50 hardwood and softwood mix for $10.50, which is quite a saving. Whether or not to mix pellets depends on personal preference and the quality of the pellets being used.
Q: Why haven’t I heard of pellet heaters (pellet fires) before?
Pellet heaters aren’t popular in most parts of Australia because many retailers don’t sell or only stock a limited range of pellet heaters. Outside of Tasmania there’s very little marketing to promote them and with limited availability of wood pellets in some areas, it makes using pellet heaters too expensive for many households. It’s a chicken and egg. Without pellets available locally and at a good price, people won’t buy pellet heaters, so retailers won’t sell them. However, without demand for pellets, mills that make and sell wood pellets charge a high price due to lower demand. Regardless, pellet heaters are a great way to heat your house and I genuinely think they will continue to grow in popularity but it will take time.
Q: Will a pellet heater heat my house?
Pellet heaters can heat your house but it depends on the heater’s size, location, how big your house is and insulation. Pellet heaters come in various sizes, from small to large, so choose one that fits your heating needs. Location also matters. Placing a pellet heater near the center of your house improves heat flow to other rooms. If you have an open plan house, that’s ideal. For multi-story houses, ceiling fans and closed doors to unused rooms help distribute heat evenly. Your home’s insulation affects the heater’s efficiency, so it’s best to insulate your house. Personal preference also matters, so determine your preferred room temperature.
Q: What are clinkers?
Clinkers are a normal part of burning pellets in a pellet heater, caused by the impurities in the wood, the type of wood being burnt, and airflow in the heater. While you cannot prevent clinkers, you can reduce them by keeping your heater clean, having it properly serviced and burning good quality pellets. Make sure the heater is tuned correctly and the airflow is not restricted due to ash buildup. Cheaper pellets may cause more clinkers, but it’s not always the case. If you are getting frequent large clinkers in a burn pot even if burning good quality pellets, then it’s most likely a sign of poor airflow in a pellet heater that needs to be serviced and cleaned.
Q: What’s the best way to store wood pellets?
To store wood pellets properly, keep them dry and away from moisture, as it can cause them to swell and break apart. Store pellets inside, in a dry spot and keep them off the ground using pallets or shelves. It’s best not not store pellets on the ground because moisture may slowly be absorbed by pellets and bags of pellets at the bottom, which will affect how well they burn. Provided they are kept in a dry spot and off the ground, pellets can be stored for a long time but many retailers don’t recommend storing pellets for anymore than 2 years. You can keep them longer but they may start to degrade in quality as over time they will slowly absorb moisture from the air.
Q: Do pellet heaters smell?
Pellet heaters don’t produce any smell while running. A newly installed pellet heater may have a slight smell on the first burn as the paint cures, just like a wood heater, but that’s totally normal and after the first burn the smell goes away. If you’ve just had a pellet heater installed and about to do the first burn, I recommend opening all windows and doors and doing it during the day time so you can let the smell of the paint curing out of your house. Otherwise, there no smell of any kind while a pellet heater is running.
Q: Do pellet heaters give off radiant heat?
Most pellet heaters use convection heating, which involves circulating warm air throughout the room, like a heat pump or split system air conditioner. This means any heat they produce is blown out as hot air into the room. While a few European pellet heaters do radiate heat like a wood heater, the majority of pellet heaters do not give off radiant heat. Convection heat, how pellet heaters heat a room, is a faster and more efficient way to heat an area. If you want both radiant and convection heat, then I’d check out some of the European pellet heaters like Piazzetta or Palazzetti. Just be aware these kinds of pellet heaters do cost considerably more.
Q: How long do pellet heaters last?
Generally speaking, pellet heaters last at least 10 years, and I personally think 15-20 years is normal provided you maintain and service your pellet heater. There are moving parts in pellet heaters, that over time will need to be replaced, much like a car. However, the important thing is to keep a pellet heater clean. Once a year a pellet heater should be serviced to remove ash build up and clean out the flue. Doing this reduces improves air flow and how well a pellet heater burns. . Basically, a pellet heater will last a very long time as long as you look after it.