Rewards, risks of alternative heating fuels

HALIFAX, Pa. (WHTM) — The pellet stove showroom at Hoffman’s Outdoor Power & Repair is hopping because of what’s in the hopper.

“Wood pellets,” says Glen Hoffman, scooping a handful from the hopper of a stove on display at his store near Halifax. “It’s basically waste sawdust that they are taking and compressing into a little pellet, and it’s designed so that the stoves can feed it through, and it does it automatically, and it’s all temperature controlled.”


Wood pellets have long been considered a reliable form of alternative home heat, often used to replace or supplement traditional furnace fuels like gas, oil, and electricity. Not unlike coal or traditional firewood, the use of a pellet stove can add ambiance and cost savings during the fall and winter, according to Hoffman.

“You can heat a home by burning wood pellets for about half the price of electricity,” he adds. “There is slightly less demand the past couple seasons for people who burn oil because oil is so cheap right now.”

The benefits of alternative fuels also come with risks. Although most modern pellet stoves burn very cleanly and come equipped with automatic shutdown safeguards, such as heat and vacuum sensors, they still require maintenance. When an owner allows that maintenance to slip when burning any alternative fuel, safety issues can arise.

“There’s been calls already for chimney fires, CO detectors going off in their home,” said Scott Weaver, a deputy chief with the Marysville Fire Company. “Most of those can be their oil furnace wasn’t cleaned and they’re getting a little smell in the house or they didn’t clean their chimney and they’re getting a little backup into the house.”

Weaver says only a small fraction of calls are for actual house fires, but those rare instances involving a malfunctioning wood, coal stove, or fireplace can be quick acting and devastating.

“It’s all about maintenance,” he said. “A lot of times if someone needs assistance, we can come out and look at the system and make sure it is hooked up properly for the season. If you can’t clean a chimney yourself, get someone to do it every year before lighting it off for the season.”

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