A Current Affair
Controversial Trends and other "inside information" on the Hearth Industry

- Link to a some pictures and descriptions of new products at the HPA (Hearth Products Association) Trade Show.(2001 show)

 

Past current affair - Vent-Free Gas Fireplaces, Stoves and Logs
This commentary written by Craig Issod (webmaster@hearth.com)

Pellet Stoves - Love 'em or leave 'em ?

Most of you have heard about Pellet Burning stoves. These stoves burn wood pellets, which are made from compressed sawdust. They have some great features, such as:

However, these appliances have had their fair share of problems. So much so that a large percentage of Fireplace and Heart dealers have stopped carrying and promoting the products. Let's talk about these problems:

1. Overselling of the Product: Yes, it was exciting when these stoves first came to market...a whole new category. However, some of the early "pushers" of these products made exaggerated claims about the efficiency, ease of use, cost savings, reliability and quality. Truth be told, many...if not most of the early units had terrible quality-control problems. Breakdowns and service calls became the norm rather than the exception.

2. Lack of Adequate Testing: In a rush to be in on the sales craze, many manufacturers brought units to market prematurely...resulting in service headaches and unhappy customers.

3. Lack of Infrastructure: When the first pellet stoves were manufactured, only two or three pellet fuel plants existed. There were actually shortages of pellets at some times, in addition to high prices (due to trucking pellets over a long distance).

These factors led many dealers, and some manufacturers, to rethink the viability of these machines. A backlash occurred, and pellet stove sales slowed.

What Now ?

I'm happy to report that things are now looking much brighter

1. Stoves are more reliable: The manufacturers are now into their third generation of pellet stoves, and have made changes that improve reliability and efficiency.

2. More Wood Pellet Plants: Most areas of the US now have wood pellet plants nearby. In addition, large companies such as Agway, Wal-Mart and others are offering pellet fuel.

3. Dealers that sell pellet stoves are now familiar with the servicing and realistic performance of these machines.

So, can I apply the ultimate test? Would I buy a Pellet Stove? The answer is now YES...I just love watching these things work....the auger feeding the pellets into the firepot, the automatic lighting systems. It feels good burning a fuel which is made from a renewable resource.

Before you rush out and buy one, do consider the following:

1. They do require electric to operate - some have battery backups in case of power failure.
2. Fuel prices can vary - pellets do cost more than firewood, but less than propane or electric heat. See our fuel cost comparison calculator to compare the costs in your area.
3. Be sure of the dealer and manufacturer that you purchase from...how long in business ? What length warranty? etc..

ENJOY YOUR NEW PELLET APPLIANCE !
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Last years current HOT subject below

 

Ventless Gas Logs, Fireplaces and Stoves have become extremely popular within the past few years.

This popularity is due to some great features:

Seems too perfect - there must be something wrong !

These ventless products have caused quite a stir in the Hearth Industry, and different Manufacturers , Retailers and Distributors have varied opinions about them. For instance, Heatilator Inc., one of the top makers of Fireplaces and Stoves in the US, has taken a stand against the use of ventless products. They refuse to sell them or to allow them to be used in their manufactured Fireplaces. Some States actually forbid the use of ANY unvented appliance, and even where they are allowed, certain Retailers, Installers and even gas providers have refused to deal with them.

Just what are the facts ? Should you consider an unvented appliance for your home ?

As usual when this much money is involved, many experts are available to spew forth dialog standing up for their side of the story. Here are some of the specific issues, followed by my personal opinion (as one who sells theses products). Hopefully, you'll be able to sort through these issues and decide if an unvented appliance is for you !


Concern --Safety

The Ventless Proponents Say: These units are safety tested by AGA (American Gas Association) and meet every standard applicable. They are all equipped with an ODS (Oxygen Depletion Sensor) which would automatically shout the units down if the oxygen content in the air dropped below a certain point.

The Ventless Opposition Says: The AGA is just an arm of the Gas Industry, and pretty much just tows the line. Yes, the ODS works, but that doesn't address the problems of soot in the home (if the logs are moved or dirt gets in the burner), the open fire and the excess temperatures generated in front and on top of these appliances.

My personal opinion: Both sides are correct in their assumptions....the manufacturers are doing more to make certain that customers can't reposition the logs, and are installing screens on the units to stop the "open fire" effect. Customers should keep dust, lint and other foreign objects away from the fireboxes of these units. Also, they should only be used when folks are around, not when you are asleep or leaving your home.
Concern --Odors:

My personal opinion: The proof is in the pudding - and certain customers are very sensitive to odors and air changes of many types. These people, and others with respiratory sensitivities such as asthma, etc. should probably avoid these appliances. Instead of hiding behind the "meets all standards" banner, the Gas Industry should fund real world studies showing long term operation of these units in real homes. Currently, the Gas Industry is not funding any such study. It is the authors opinion that such a study would help the makers of these products as well as the customers.
Concern --Excess Heat Output

Many of the ventless products sold have a heat output of 40,000 BTU. This is an extremely high output for any space heater, and is too large of an output for all but the largest rooms and homes. For comparison sake, 40,000 BTU is more heat than seven (7) electric plug-in heaters, each running on full power. Most rooms need from 5,000 to 15,000 BTU for optimum comfort.

The Ventless Proponets Say: This output of 40,000 BTU is the maximum allowed by code. Many units can be turned down to lower outputs, so the customer does have some flexibility

The Ventless Opposition Says: Yes, some units can be turned down, but they lose most of the "real fire" looks. Only a small glowing blue or red flame is left.

My personal opinion: Having been in the heating business for 17 years, I can attest that 40,000 BTU is too large for the majority of people. The makers of these appliances are starting to respond and produce smaller units. For most folks, a maximum of 15-25,000 BTU is fine. Shop carefully, and make certain that the unit you buy has a good looking flame at the output that you would normally use.

Bottom Line (authors opinion)-- Ventless can be safe, and if properly installed and used, can provide hours of comfort and security. However, they are not designed for heating a home on a continuous basis, and should not be used while unattended. Sensitive people should look at fully vented or direct vented appliances, and you should check with your local code officials to determine if unvented products are allowed in your area.
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