How It Works: Clean-burning pellets made from compressed recycled sawdust and resembling rabbit feed are poured into the stoves' hopper, where they're fed automatically into the burn chamber. One internal fan stokes the flame, another sends out convection heat. Electricity powers the fans, feeder, and temperature controls. The stove can save 50 percent or more on home heating costs.
What These Homeowners Did: Although Brent and Jessica insulated their 900-square foot , two-story house in 2004, they still spent $3000 on home heating oil, thanks to an old, inefficient furnace. So the next year they brought in a backup: a freestanding, glass-front pellet stove made by Breckwell, a company based in Arlington, Texas. The 185-pound stove sits on a tiled platform in a corner of the living room, with the stovepipe discreetly vented outdoors through the back wall.
Brent and Jessica keep their stove fired up from October to May, adjusting the controls to keep the heat output between 60 and 70 degrees F. Its hopper holds 45 pouts of pellets, or enough to keep the stove going for up to two days without replenishing. (Other models have bigger hoppers, so you can leave town without fear of frozen pipes.) As for maintenance, "Once a week during the winter, we vacuum it out with a wet/dry vac and clean off the glass, " says Brent.
The stove did such a good job they disconnected their furnace two years ago.
"The oil company called because they could see that we hadn't bought oil in a while and were worried about us, " Jessica recalls. "I said, 'We don't need any more, thanks. We're just fine!"
What They Learned: A freestanding fan, combined with hot air's natural inclination to rise, easily warms all seven rooms in the house. "If your house doesn't have an open plan, you do have to get used to keeping doors open so that the heat can travel to each room," says Jessica.
Keep in Mind: Storing all those pellets someplace dry can be a challenge.
Brent and Jessica went through three tons (150 bags) last winter, stashing the 40-pound sacks on a back porch and a pallet in the basement. Still, it's a good idea to stock up early - the stuff gets harder to find as winter approaches, and three years ago a shortage caused something of a pellet panic.
PAYBACK PERIOD: Less than 2 years
THEIR COST: $2,600 for the stove installed: $800 a year for premium hardwood pellets YEARLY SAVINGS ON OIL HEAT: $2,200
Breckwell P22 Freestanding - Standard