Pellet heaters in Australia are slowly becoming a popular but what are the disadvantages of a pellet heater? They are a great alternative to a wood heater and heat pump, but like anything, they have their disadvantages. Below I talk about some of the downsides of using a pellet heater and I also provide ways to minimize or counteract these disadvantages. So, whether you’re thinking about buying a pellet heater or already own one, keep reading to learn more about the potential downsides of using a pellet heater and how to deal with them. I’ll go over topics like the need for electricity, regular servicing, convection heating, wood pellet availability and cost, noise level, and the plastic pellet bags.
The main concerns people new to pellet heaters have are below but read on to take a look at these in detail and why they aren’t something to worry about:
- Need electricity
- Require servicing
- Buying wood pellets
- Noise level
- Convection heating
- Plastic bag waste
Powering Up: Electricity Requirements of Pellet Heaters
I think the biggest drawback to a pellet heater is they needs electricity to run. This is often a surprise to most people, especially those looking for a wood heater alternative. However, the good news is that pellet heaters don’t need a lot of power to work. In fact, they draw an average of 60 to 70 watts per hour, which is relatively low compared to other household appliances and is equal to a few LED light bulbs.
Most of the electricity used by pellet heaters is used by two fans. One that keeps the fire burning efficiently and the other that blows hot air out into the room. However, without these fans the pellet heater will not run and the fire in the burn pot will die out very quickly. Obviously this could be a problem if you live in a place where the power goes out often, especially if it’s days at a time because without power you won’t be able to run your pellet heater and heat your house.
While pellet heaters do need power, because the amount of power they draw is so low there are a few options to run your heater during a blackout. The obvious solution is to have a backup power system on hand, such as a generator or a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). A generator is best for times when the power goes out for days, which can be the case for people living in very rural or remote areas. A UPS is good for when there’s a brown out or the power goes out for a short period of time. If you live off-grid and have solar with batteries, then you’ll have no problem running a pellet heater.
Pellet heaters do need power to run, but it’s very little. I think most people used to a wood heater are surprised the most by this. However, it’s about the equivalent to a few light bulbs or around 60 to 70 watts an hour.
Regular Maintenance: Servicing Your Pellet Heater
Servicing a pellet heater is essential to keep it burning efficiently and avoid any breakdowns. The main purpose of servicing a pellet heater is to clean ash and any other build up inside the heater. Over time, ash and soot can build up in a pellet heater, which can cause it to run less efficiently or not at all. Fortunately, cleaning a pellet heater isn’t hard and most of it can be done by the home owner. Some pellet heater brands, like Piazzetta, design their heaters to be easy for owners to clean.
The burn pot, for example, is a part of the pellet heater that needs to be cleaned regularly. Over time ash and other residue can buildup in the burn pot blocking the holes, which will prevent the fire from burning efficiently. Cleaning the burn pot is super easy and can be done in less than a minute. Once a week you should also empty out the ash pan, again very easy to do and takes no more than a minute or so. The majority of servicing home owners do is quick and easy.
However, at least once a year a pellet heater should be professionally cleaned, depending on how often the pellet heater is used. This typically involves opening up the pellet heater to clean out ash that builds up deep within the heater but also cleaning out the flue. If you are good at DIY stuff then you can definitely deep clean a pellet heater yourself. However, I’d recommend most people pay to get this professionally done.
Servicing a pellet heater may seem like a hassle, but it keeps the heater burning efficiently and running well. I think of it like anything with moving parts. Every 6 months I get my car serviced and it’s at least 10 years old. Many people can and do service their car themselves, change oil and break pads, but others just take it to a mechanic. Pellet heaters are similar. Look after it and keep it in good running condition and you’ll have years of hassle free heating.
Burning Through Costs: Availability and Cost of Wood Pellets
Wood pellets and the availability and cost of them does seem to be a concern for some people new to pellet heaters, especially those living in areas with rural or remote areas that don’t have any pellet retailers nearby. In Tasmania most areas have at least one retailer nearby that sells pellets but compared to larger cities you may find you have a limited choice in brands. However, unlike firewood, which can be an absolute pain to transport, because wood pellets come in 15kg bags they are super easy to move and can be transported in just about any vehicle.
If you only have one or no pellet retailer nearby, then even a trip once a year to a nearby city is enough for some people to get their next year’s pellets for heating. It’s true most places in Tasmania have easier access to firewood but firewood requires a lot of time to split, stack and dry. With wood pellets you may have to drive 2 hours to get some wood pellets but that is pretty much all you’d need to do to stay warm in winter. There’s no need to split, stack and dry pellets. So getting wood pellets may take more time but you save time later one by not having to baby sit it like firewood.
Also, if you don’t like the idea of driving to buy pellets some pellet retailers will offer freight. What most people do is buy a pallet at a time. This can be a good alternative for anyone who doesn’t have access to a local supplier, or who wants to avoid the hassle of transporting pellets themselves. You’ll also find that some retailers will offer a discount if buying pellets by the pallet, which will help offset the cost of freight.
When it comes to buying wood pellets, prices will vary greatly. A good example of this is Tasmania wood pellets cost about $8.50 a bag as of February 2023 and some places on mainland Australia which pay $25.00 a bag. I’ve written about this elsewhere but you definitely do need access to affordable pellets. I wouldn’t be paying $25.00 a bag for pellets to heat my house. Check my other post on the running costs of a pellet heater to work out what they cost to run and how much you should be paying per bag.
Noise Factor: Concerns About Sound
Pellet heaters use fans to circulate warm air throughout the room and keep the fire burning, which can create some noise, but the amount of noise they make is minimal. If you’ve ever used a heat pump or split system aircon, then that’s about how much noise they make. You’ll have no problem watching TV or having a conversation in the same room the pellet heater is in.
If the amount of sound made by your heater is a concern, then I’d recommend checking out brands, like Piazzetta pellet heaters, that focus on minimizing how much noise the moving parts in a pellet heater make. They do this by adding noise-dampening features to make them even quieter. Also, some pellet heaters have the option to switch off the fans completely, which means the only thing you’ll hear is the auger, which is very quiet and doesn’t run all the time.
Heat Distribution: Convection vs Radiant Heating
When it comes to heating, there are two main methods of heat distribution: convection and radiant heating. Pellet heaters use convection heating, which circulates warm air throughout the room using a fan. This is different to a wood heater which uses radiant heat. If you stand in front of a wood heater you can feel the heat, much like when you stand out in the sun on a cold day. Radiant heating creates a cozy and comfortable environment, particularly on cold winter nights.
Convection heating, on the other hand, is much better at quickly heating an area because the hot air is blown around, like a heat pump. However, the heat from a pellet heater is nothing like the heat from a heat pump. The reason people let a wood heater burn all night is so the don’t wake up to a cold house, this is because of the way wood heaters heat an area. Pellet heaters can be switched off at night because they will very quickly heat an area thanks to convection heating.
If you can’t live without radiant heat but still want to move away from a wood heater due to the hassle involved with firewood, then the good news is some pellet heater brands do make radiant models. They can heat via convection or radiant heating, so you get the best of both types of heating. When running in radiant mode the room fan switches off, so any heat created by the heater is radiated out like it does in a wood heater. They do obviously cost more though.
Plastic Predicament: Pellet Bags and Environmental Impact
The fact that wood pellets come in plastic bags is also a concern for some people, especially those with a focus on being as environmentally friendly as possible. While it’s true that wood pellets come in plastic bags, some pellet mills use bags made of recycled materials, which reduces the amount of new plastic being used. Additionally, some also offer the option to purchase wood pellets in bulk, which can eliminate the use of plastic bags altogether but you do need a way to transport them home.
If you can’t buy in bulk and have to buy by the bag, then there are a few ways ways to reuse these bags. For example, many people use the plastic bags as rubbish bags or for other things, like garden or green waste, which means you are at least using them for something else and not buying plastic garbage bags. I’ve also seen some people sell these plastic bags to others who use them to store firewood kindling in. However, plastic bags are definitely one disadvantage to pellet heaters but unfortunately plastic being so durable and cheap makes it the best option to ensure pellets are bagged and shipped hassle free.
Summary of pellet heater disadvantages
If you are looking to buy a pellet heater – like anything, they’ve got a few downsides. For example, they need electricity to run them and you do have to service them. However, you can easily use a UPS during a blackout and most servicing is quick and easy. And yeah, they may make some noise – but so do some wood heaters and even heat pumps. Some people might not like that the wood pellets come in plastic bags. But, you can always reuse the bags or look for pellet suppliers that use different types of packaging. Bottom line: the pros of a pellet heater – like efficiency and convenience – make it worth considering as an alternative heating source.