Monday, January 28, 2013
(Published in print: Tuesday, January 29, 2013)
PETERBOROUGH — About four years ago, Ken MacDonald was cold. The Peterborough man wasn’t satisfied with his oil heating system and was looking for an alternative source of heat. And he’d become intrigued by pellet stoves.
“I’d been interested in them for a couple of decades,” said MacDonald, who works as a software developer at Appropriate Solutions in Peterborough, in a recent phone interview. “I was looking at purchasing my own stove. I thought, ‘Let’s go to Amazon and get a book on the subject.’ And there wasn’t one.”
MacDonald bought the stove anyway. And then, as he learned from experience, he decided to write his own book. And now he’s self-published “The Pellet Stove Almanack,” an account of his experiences using the stoves, along with tips for purchasing, installation and maintenance.
“A lot of it is from personal observation,” MacDonald said about the book. “I went to stove stores, researched from manufacturer’s sites. I read a lot of people’s blogs. There’s a fair amount of information out there, but a lot of it is kind of contradictory. I set about sorting it out.”
In the book, MacDonald presents four major reasons for getting a pellet stove. He says they save money, with complete payback in two to three years in many cases. It’s an environmentally responsible way of heating, reducing fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions. It helps the local economy. And his favorite reason: “It makes your house more comfortable to live in than just about any other type of heating system that has ever been developed.”
MacDonald presents evidence to support those claims at some length, then goes on to describe in detail the process for using pellet stoves.
One of the drawbacks of oil heat systems and other types of furnaces is that much of the heat goes into the basement, MacDonald said. Because pellet stoves are typically upstairs in a living area, they don’t waste heat on unused space.
MacDonald said oil heat systems are based on technology perfected shortly after the Civil War.
“I find it remarkable that people go nuts about the latest iPhone 4 or iPhone 5, but their home is heated using a system that’s 130 years old.”
So he subtitled his book “Home Heating Joins the 21st Century.”
MacDonald admits that pellet stoves won’t work for everyone.
“One of the major differences people experience is related to their home construction,” he said. “For some people, the home layout doesn’t allow the heat to circulate. If you have an open layout with good air circulation, you can heat an awful lot more of your house.”
He also notes some of the drawbacks of the stoves. You need a good space to store pellets, which can be challenging, especially for city or apartment dwellers. And unlike wood stoves, they require electricity, so a generator or backup battery system is a good idea in case of a power outage.
But overall, he’s been very happy with his experiences with pellet stoves.
“They are very cost-effective and offer a level of comfort that’s unmatched by most other types of heating systems,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald is selling “The Pellet Stove Almanack” on Amazon.com. He will be doing a reading and talking about the book at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2.