Saving Money With Pellets

MILWAUKEE – Steve Schutz of New Berlin knows how frustrated people can get when their heating bills soar
and they have only one choice of heating fuel, such as propane, which has tripled in price in recent weeks.
Schutz, owner of Sunnyslope Gardens Inc., lowered his heating bill between $2,000 and $3,000 a year by installing
wood pellet stoves in his greenhouses and home 9 years ago. Now the stoves are his primary heating source,
supplemented by natural gas. Every morning, Schutz checks his stoves and empties the ash pots.
It takes him about an hour to make the rounds for six stoves before he leaves them unattended. “There is a learning curve.
You’re dealing with fire, so you have check things,” he said. A lot of people appear to be lining up for
that learning curve, especially in rural areas, where they’ve faced propane shortages as well as rising prices.
National trade groups say sales of pellets and pellet stoves are climbing this year, the result of a winter
people are likely to remember for decades. Dejno’s Inc., a pellet manufacturer in Kenosha, Wis., has seen its business
heat up as more people turn to pellet stoves and dial back their propane use. The Kenosha mill takes sawdust and shavings
from companies in the home construction industry and presses those waste materials into pellets. It keeps the waste
out of landfills and is a renewable source of homegrown energy, said Larry Dejno, company vice president.
Wisconsin has a keen interest in wood pellets and pellet stoves, as about five mills in the state produce the fuel.
The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison conducts research on pellet fuels, and pellet stove manufacturers
have used Wisconsin labs to test their products. Earth Sense Energy Systems, in the Outagamie County town of Dale Wis.,
claims to be the nation’s largest pellet stove dealership. “Sales are much stronger than average now, driven by
high propane costs more so than the cold,” said Chad Curtis, operations manager for the company, which has been
in the pellet stove business for 22 years. The stoves burn compacted pellets, usually made of wood, but some
models can burn nutshells, corn kernels and small wood chips. They’re more convenient to operate than
ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces, and some have much higher heating efficiencies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
A stove rated at 60,000 Btu can heat a 2,000-square-foot home, while a stove rated at 42,000 Btu can heat
a 1,300-square-foot space, the agency says. What most homeowners want to know is how much money they could save
from heating with a pellet stove compared with using propane, fuel oil or natural gas. With propane priced at more
than $4 a gallon, an equivalent amount of heat from wood pellets would be about five times cheaper, according to Mark Knaebe,
forest products technologist with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory. “It’s a no-brainer for propane and fuel oil users.
You would want to switch over to a good wood system,” Knaebe said.