Pellet Buying 101

Whether you just bought a stove and are brand new to wood pellets, or you have been burning wood pellets for the past fifteen years, there will always be some challenges to face when selecting your fuel.

I can’t tell you how many people have obsessed over finding the hottest pellet or lowest ash pellet available and went out on a” hunt” to find the pellet with the “Best Specs Ratings” that they could find. They will laboriously read and compare manufacturers’ labels and specifications including ash content and BTUs, only to find out that their “hunt” was nothing more than a wild goose chase.

Well, listen up… First of all, the BTU numbers and ash content numbers that you see printed on the bag, (as well as the rest of the information printed on the label and specs) are probably misrepresentative at best. You see… these pellet manufacturers are currently operating in the “wild west” when it comes to quality policing and “truth in labeling”. (There is however a governing body that is trying to enact and enforce a quality assurance testing process.) Currently, they can put whatever they want to put on their bag, and there is no governing body that can enforce any kind of standards. Therefore, TAKE EVERYTHING THAT IS PRINTED ON A LABEL WITH A GRAIN OF SALT, as there is no enforcement of truth in these labels. But a little bit of homework will pay off dividends if you know what to look for. Essentially, you want a pellet that is made of good, clean, bark-free sawdust that has a very low moisture content. Knowing where a manufacturer gets their sawdust from is the most conclusive way in determining a wood pellet’s quality.

Always consider the source of the raw materials that are used in the manufacturing process when trying to predict the quality of a specific brand of wood pellets. Basically, there are two types of wood pellet manufacturers out there; Primary manufacturers and Secondary Manufacturers. Primary manufacturers are those companies, (typically very large producers) and secondary manufacturers. (typically small manufacturers).

Primary pellet manufacturers are companies whose main business is the production and sale of wood pellets, and they do so in very large volume (Typically, over 100,000 tons per year) They will either buy their raw materials (sawdust and/or wood chips) from third party vendors, and in some cases these manufacturers may rely on the availability of raw materials from over one hundred of these third party vendors.  Therefore, consistency will very much be an issue, and the quality of your pellets will be very much dependent upon the source and quality of the raw materials that were used for your particular batch. Typically, primary manufacturer’s pellets will be less expensive than the secondary brands, and for the budget minded consumer, these may seem like an affordable alternative. But spending a season burning the lower priced brands may be a long and difficult one for many pellet stove owners.

Now, that brings us to the secondary pellet manufacturers. These are companies that will use their own source of raw materials to make their pellets. (Typically, these include furniture, cabinet, lumber and flooring manufacturers) For these companies, wood pellet production is a secondary business to their “parent company” and done as a resource to get rid of their internally-generated sawdust. This is where the big difference comes into play. Remember that the sawdust that is being generated here is coming off of hardwood lumber that has already been kiln dried. Therefore, these companies are typically using good, clean and dry sawdust to make their wood pellets. Although these brands will initially cost you a little bit more, you will later see that the difference in heat, cleanliness and overall quality will be well worth it and the trouble free burning will extend the overall life of your stove.


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