Pellet stoves and other alternative fuel stoves are becoming more and more popular today as people seek to save money on heating their homes while maintaining the ease and convenience of oil or gas.
Pellet stoves are not only cleaner than fireplaces and considered carbon neutral by many environmentalists, but they’re easy to operate; depending on the size of your stove, the hopper may only need to be loaded one time in a few days.
But one disadvantage that pellet stoves have compared to fireplaces is that they require electricity to operate. That means if the power goes out, so does your stove. Losing power to your pellet stove is dangerous for several reasons— the least of which is that your home’s temperature will drop. There are a few preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of losing power to your stove, each with its own pros and cons.
This tip sheet will explain how your pellet stove works, what can happen if it loses power, and which measures you can take to protect your home.
1. How Does a Pellet Stove Work?
- Pellets are loaded into the hopper.
- A motorized auger delivers pellets from the hopper to the burn pot. The speed of the auger determines the rate of pellet burn and thus temperature of the stove.
- The burn pot, which is housed in the combustion chamber, is where the pellets are ignited and burned. The burn pot is where air is injected and to enable pellets to undergo complete combustion.
- The convection fan pulls cool air in from the room, passing it over the fire in the burn pot and making the flame hotter. This enables the pellets to burn evenly and efficiently.
- The heat exchanger transfers warm air into your home or ducts through a circulation fan.
- The exhaust blower pushes the gases out of a pipe in the back of the stove.
2. What happens when your pellet stove loses power?
One of the advantages that many people value in a pellet stove is that it is clean-burning. When your stove is functioning properly, there are no fumes or soot being emitted into your home.
But if you have a burn pot full of pellets at the time the power fails, you may find yourself grappling with more problems than just being cold.
As you know, when the power goes out your electric appliances will stop functioning. But that does not mean that the fire in your pellet stove will suddenly stop burning. What will stop are the motors that control the burning and heat distribution processes of your pellet stove.
The result is that there will be no air circulating to the fire box, causing the fire to lack oxygen, which in turn causes the pellets not to burn completely. Additionally, the exhaust fan will be unable to vent the gases, causing the stove to fill with smoke. With nowhere to go, the smoke will be released into the room, leaving a permeating odor along with mild fire damage in the form of black, sticky soot that covers walls, furnishings, and décor.
When it is unclear for how long you will be without power, this is a potentially dangerous situation for any homeowner with a pellet stove. Once smoke starts filling your room, the only solution is to open your windows to create some ventilation (which is not ideal when you’re unsure as to what time your heat can be restored). You will also be stuck with incompletely combusted pellets.
3. What are the solutions?
It’s now clear that losing power to your pellet stove is dangerous, and you’re probably wondering what you can do to prevent it. There are two popular options: battery backups and generators. Let’s begin by focusing on battery backups.
Automatic Pellet Stove Battery Backups
A pellet stove battery backup interfaces between your pellet stove and its AC wall outlet. As you can see in the illustration below, the unit is connected to the pellet stove, a battery, and your AC power outlet. When AC power is present, that power charges the battery and operates your stove as usual. But as soon as the AC power goes out, the battery backup kicks in and your stove continues operating without missing a beat. The battery backup automatically converts the energy stored in the battery to AC power. This assures operation of the pellet stove without interruption, and without any involvement needed from the homeowner.
One major benefit of this system is that it gives you a fair amount of time to react to the situation. You may come home to find that the power has gone out, but if you have an automatic battery backup in place, you will find that your stove is operating as usual. You can then take time to properly shut down the appliance and avoid the dangers that come with sudden power loss. Additionally, in rural areas where power outages can last a long time, the battery backup can provide substantial additional heating time, if needed, to keep you warm.
Benefits of Battery Backups for Pellet Stoves
- Up to 8 hrs. of operation with a 90 amp hr. battery
- Up to 24 hrs. or more of backup with an expanded battery bank
- Silent Operation
- Automatic Power Transfer: you do not have to be present to turn on your backup system
- Automatic Recharge: no additional battery charger needed
- Easy Hook-up: no special wiring or tools are needed, and it plugs into standard wall outlets
- Maintenance-free Operation: needs no fuel, has no moving parts, and requires no tune-up
4. Generators vs. battery backups
The second popular solution for reducing the risk of pellet stove power loss is a generator. The main difference between the two solutions is that while a battery backup is focused on one specific application, generators are normally intended to power multiple systems at once.
If your main concern is powering your pellet stove, a generator may not be the solution you need.
Consider these points:
- The price range of a generator can vary greatly. Even the least expensive costs upwards of $1,000, not including the cost of installation.
- If you would like a generator that can operate more of your household systems—lights, stove, etc.—the cost is in the range of $7,000 to $8,000.
- A generator needs to be housed outside or in a shed because of the motor, so you will need to obtain permits for the electrical work.
- Many generators, which are claimed to “self-start” fail to do so (reasons may be stagnant or polluted fuel or moisture in the fuel system). Also, most small generators do not incorporate self-start mechanisms, requiring the homeowner to be present to turn on the generator.
- In order for the generator to be fully dependable, it must be cycled throughout the year and requires maintenance and TLC.