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By Dave Anderson Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
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 He will be doing a reading and talking about the book at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough at 11 a.m. on Feb. 2.
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Letter to Editor written to a Philadelphia area newspaper:
Your Jan. 3 front-page story on the record high prices for gasoline is to be applauded. This type of news will become more common in the months and years to come as demand for liquid fuel begins to outstrip global supply. We need this news.
The record price of home heating oil also deserves attention. Many of us live in parts of the county that depend on oil heat. A quick check on those prices locally indicates a range from $3.45 to $4.14 a gallon. The Marcellus and Barnett bonanza doesn't help those of us who, like me, don’t have access to gas lines.

As a member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, I’ve been studying this issue for over a decade, and I’ve been preparing. The word on the petroleum street is that these record prices are not going down. Yet, rather than taking the gas pipe over this reality, I have found strategies to keep my costs in balance with my meager budget.
In 2005, I bought my wife a hybrid car for her 55-mile commute. In 2006, I bought a wood pellet stove and heated our house, including hot water, for $450 in my first full winter with it. The following year when our summer-winter oil burner died, we found that the pellet stove heated our 1,200-square-foot house just fine. Putting our new hot-water heater on a timer, our energy costs dropped again, with no loss of comfort or convenience. We planted evergreens to shield the windy side of the house.
I also began to seal air leaks and improve the half-century-old insulation in the house. And last year, I got a better used, hybrid car for my wife. Now, we both have hybrids. I’ve registered with the EnergyWorks program and will soon be able to get some serious work done on the house. We’ll pay off the 0.99 percent loan out of the energy savings.
I mention this in spite of my fixed retirement income and the downturn in my wife’s business. I was taught that being a doer is more productive than being a complainer. I took the Sustainable Building Advisor course at the community college to help me understand energy efficiency and conservation. I volunteer on a number of agencies like my township’s Environmental Advisory Council and the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. I share my experiences there and learn a lot in the process. And the bottom line: It pays off.
I also mention this to highlight the fact that we can choose to not be victims of the new energy reality. There is much we can do if we’re willing to do it.
Larry Menkes
Warminster Township
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Alliance for Green Heat

Biomass Thermal Energy Council


Hearth and Home Technologies

Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association

Pellet Fuels Institute

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Alliance for Green Heat, December 1, 2012 - Wood and pellet stoves are a secondary fuel of choice for many of us who primarily heat with oil, propane or electricity. But when it comes to cost savings, gas furnaces provide the cheapest form of fossil fuel heat. Choosing a reliable brand of furnace is still important, and the December 2012 issue of Consumer Reports advised consumers to think twice about York furnaces which broke down about twice as often as other brands.

Bryant, Trane and American Standard furnaces needed repairs the least often, according to the Consumer Report survey of 32,251 appliances bought by subscribers of the magazine. Many other brands, including Carrier, Rheen, Ruud and Lennox, held up nearly as well. Consumer Reports also has excellent general advice about purchasing a gas furnace.

Consumer Reports has never done a large survey of wood or pellet stove reliability, although they did test and review 6 pellet stoves in February 2011. The magazine gave highest rating to the Harman P68, which, at $3,900, was also the most expensive of all the pellet stoves they reviewed. A close second to the Harman was the Napoleon NPS40 which cost only $2,350, and rated higher than 3 other more expensive models from Lopi, Enviro and Quadrafire. At the bottom of the list was Summers Heat 55-SHP10L, made by Englander, but that model only cost $1,300 and is often considered a good value.

Consumers Reports has never tested wood stoves, so don't subscribe thinking you will find any ratings or recommendations. Both wood and pellet stoves deserve far more attention from consumer organizations as there is little reliable third party testing and reliability surveys. The testing that Consumer Reports did of pellet stoves in 2010 did not include reliability, noise levels for pellet stoves or how much electricity the stove drew.

Wood stoves are inherently more reliable and often need little repair, other than cleaning the chimney annually and replacing the gaskets every few years. However, the durability of many wood stoves, while a selling point, can also be a drawback because many people keep their old, inefficient and polluting stoves for too long, not realizing that newer ones can save them up to 50% on fuel cost and be far better for their health.
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By Luke Geiver | January 04, 2013

The Pellet Fuels Institute held a December 2012 fly-in trip to Washington, D.C., to fight for a biomass heating tax incentive, and those efforts have paid off. Included in the fiscal cliff tax deal was the stove tax credit, which provides a tax credit of 10 percent up to $300 for the purchase of any biomass burning appliance, including pellet stoves. The credit lasts through 2013 and is retroactive through 2012.

Jennifer Hedrick, executive director of the PFI, said that although it may be difficult to judge a single incentive such as this one, PFI thinks that it will have a positive impact on fuel and stove sales.

“When the credit was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, we were in the midst of a recession, and we did not see the spike in stove shipments that we anticipated. However,” she said, “with the economic rebound, as well as the high heating costs that many Americans continue to be faced with, we’re hopeful that this credit will provide further incentive for homeowners to switch to a biomass heating appliance.”

Although PFI was successful in its efforts to push the stove tax credit, Hedrick said her team will now be focusing on new areas. In addition to attempts to help the current Farm Bill’s Energy Title receive full funding, PFI will also continue to focus on tax policy, including, she said, incentives for the conversion of biomass for use in thermal applications. “And, like all industries, we will be following the anticipated tax reform debate with a watchful eye and will seek opportunities to weigh in there.”

PFI is also working with other trade groups, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and other companies within the industry to encourage the Energy Information Administration to expand coverage of residential biomass usage in their energy reports.

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