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Pellet stoves help take a bite out of winter fuel costs

November 6, 2007
The Altoona Mirror
Consumers are feeling the pinch of skyrocketing fuel prices at home.

And the future doesn't look promising as a barrel of oil approaches $100 along with the uncertainty of electricity deregulation in the coming years.

The United States Department of Energy said in an October Associated Press article for Americans to expect fuel prices to rise this winter.

Those facts have left consumers looking a less expensive option. And the solution in many cases has been pellet stoves.

Joe Panaro, owner of J&O Fireplaces, Old Route 22 in Duncansville, said pellet stoves are the hottest product on the market.

"All types of fuel … gas and oil … everything is going out of sight," Panaro said. "We sold 17 pellet stoves last Saturday.

"Using a ballpark figure, it costs $600 to heat a 2,000-square-foot home (during the winter months). And we have some stoves heating the whole home. Pellet stoves are the rage … they have a thermostat … it takes a half hour a week to keep clean."

Pellet stoves range in price, but Panaro gave a ballpark figure of $1,800 to $2,000 plus installation of the venting kit of an additional $250 to $300. He said installation process from start to finish takes less than two hours.

"A pellet stove pays for itself in two years," Panaro said.

The pellets, which are considered extremely efficient, cost around $185 a ton and come in 40-pound bags. Panaro said some consumers purchase pellets during the summer when manufacturers offer a price break. The average consumer uses around three tons of pellets a winter.

Panaro also suggests purchasing locally produced pellets from the Mid-Atlantic States.

"There are two local mills — one in Tyrone and one in Ebensburg,' Panaro said. "We purchase from them to save on freight charges. Not to bad mouth some of the pellets sold in stores, but buy a hardwood pellet from Pennsylvania, West Virginia or New York. The pellets made in the South and in the West are pine based and you could have a problem with tar and more ash.

"We sell a huge number of pellets. We have 500 tons of pellets in stock."

Panaro advises customers to shop around and do their homework. Stoves come in many different sizes for heating areas along with fuel options, including wood, gas, electric, coal and corn. Products are displayed at or visit the showroom in Duncansville with 28 models on display.

"Wood and coal are very strong this year," Panaro said. "Two years ago, corn was hot. There are many factors to consider."

Panaro, who has operated J&O Fireplaces since 1976, likes to spend time with customers to help them make an informed decision.

"I like to spend at least a half hour to explain options," he said. "I'll sell them what they want, but I want to make sure this is what they want two years from now."

Fireplace Creations, Inc. owner Tom Glass said there is a steady flow of interest in both wood and pellet stoves this time of year.

"Wood stoves are still a major staple of a fireplace shop,' Glass said. "The pellet stove is more curiosity. They aren't purchasing it as much as they are considering it."

The big selling point for the pellet stove is the temperature control.

"The biggest advantage of pellet over wood stoves is the control of the temperature. With pellet stoves, you have a thermostat. You can set it for 70 degrees, and it will be 70 degrees. The second advantage is you don't need build a flue. You can just vent it out the wall. You can't control the wood stove (temperature). They are just not as high tech."

Glass believes buyers might be a little cautious about pellet stoves after the fuel supply shortage a couple years ago.

When gas prices went through the roof after the Hurricane Katrina hit oil refineries off the Gulf of Mexico, the demand for alternative heating supplies reached all-time heights. The demand for pellet stoves created a pellet fuel shortage.

"People are still a little leery about running out of (pellet) fuel like in 2005-06 season with (Hurricane) Katrina," Glass said. "There are pellet manufacturers all over the place and the market has stabilized. But people remember '05-'06 when they couldn't buy pellets. People were searching for any kind of burning pellet they could get their hands on. "

Glass believes pellet heaters are a great source of heat, but the layout of the house may dictate how much coverage it provides.

"The pellet heaters are zone heaters. It's hard to get the heat to travel from point A, to point B, C and D," Glass said. "I know some people who heat their house. But it's highly unlikely that you can get the heat pushed all through the house if you have the stove in a front room and the heat has to make it through a 36-inch doorway and a right turn into a kitchen."

At Fireplace Creations, gas fireplaces and stoves still generate the bulk of the business.

"Gas fireplaces and stoves account for over 60 percent of our sales,' Glass said. "(The gas fireplace) puts off a lot of heat. The bulk of the people want them for the heat. They figure if they are going to pay for the gas, they might as well as get heat. They are zone heaters, but they add to the atmosphere."

Glass said there is a different approach to consumers shopping for pellet and wood stoves.

"The people looking for pellet stoves are looking to cut down on oil, electricity and gas (bills)," Glass said. "They are looking to save money on utilities. If a customer is putting in a gas fireplace, they are looking to add ambience and some heat."

Fireplace Creations, Inc., is located on Route 22 East in Duncansville (695-4627).

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