Wood pellet burners

Wood pellet burners look similar to conventional wood burners, but it’s easier to control how much heat is produced and when. They’re a very environmentally friendly and clean heating option.

Pros and cons of pellet burners

  • Pellet burners provide convenient, easily controllable heating - most units light automatically and have a remote control, thermostat and timer.
  • Pellet burners can produce similar amounts of heat as conventional wood burners but you can control the heat output - you are less likely to overheat the room.
  • Pellet burners burn only compressed wood pellets - which you buy in 15kg or 20kg plastic bags or in bulk. The pellets are loaded into a hopper at the back of the unit and are fed into the fire through an automatic feed system.
  • Running costs tend to be higher than for wood burners or heat pumps - buying pellets in bulk can help keep costs down.
  • No need to chop or store firewood - though you will need some dry space to store the pellets.
  • Basement-furnace models can be used for central heating of the whole home - they can be connected to water-filled radiators, to under-floor heating, or to central-heating air-ducts.
  • Pellets burn very cleanly - pellets are made from 100% wood residue (sawdust and wood shavings) that has a controlled density and moisture level, so they burn with more consistency than logs and cause less air pollution.
  • Burning wood from sustainable forests is carbon neutral - while trees are growing, they capture carbon dioxide from the air. This carbon dioxide is released either when the wood is burnt, or when the tree dies and rots. While some emissions are produced in transporting and processing the wood, this is only a very small amount per unit of heat.
  • Wood is renewable and sustainable - and New Zealand has extensive areas of forestry.
  • Some wood pellet burners can be fitted with a wet back to heat water - check with your supplier about this option.
  • Low emission pellet burners are allowed in some areas that don’t allow new wood burners - for more information check with your local council.
  • Most pellet burners need electricity to work.
  • The built-in fans and hopper-feed motor make some noise.

New Zealand local council directory - LGNZ website

Checklist for pellet burners

  • Insulate first - starting with ceiling and underfloor insulation. You'll be able to buy a smaller pellet burner and your home will be cheaper to heat properly.
  • Check pellet prices and suppliers in your area - pellet prices are high in some areas and there are a limited number of suppliers.
  • Get a building consent - from your local city or district council to install a solid fuel burner. Check with them to find out if they have any extra requirements for solid fuel burners. If an illegally installed pellet-burner causes a fire, it may invalidate your insurance cover.
  • Choose an authorised pellet burner - check out the Ministry for the Environment's list of authorised wood pellet burners.
  • Free-standing or insert model? - If you want to replace an existing open fire, an insert model can be fitted into the same space.
  • Work out what size you need – pellet burners need to be carefully matched to the room or rooms you want to heat. Ask your heating supplier to advise you on the right size heater for your needs.
  • Wetback models use the heat of the pellet burner to heat hot water - by circulating water between the pellet burner and the hot water cylinder through pipes. The hot water cylinder needs to be placed reasonably close to the burner. A wetback can be cost-effective if you use the pellet burner daily for extended periods in winter, and if your household uses a reasonable amount of hot water. Note that some pellet burners with wetback option may only meet emissions and efficiency standards without the wetback fitted – check with the supplier.
  • Use a certified installer - quality installation is fundamental to your pellet burner's performance and safety. We recommend that you have your wood burner installed by a Solid Fuel Appliance Installation Technician certified by the New Zealand Home Heating Association.
  • Install a heat transfer kit - most wood pellet burners generate more heat than you need for one room. Unless your house is open-plan or has internal door openings that go right up to the ceiling, excess heat won’t easily get to other rooms. Heat transfer kits distribute the heat by pumping the warm air into other rooms in your house. You can buy these kits from DIY stores, but we recommend you contact a professional tradesperson for advice as there are a lot of factors that can affect how well they work.

Local council website directory - LGNZ website

Authorised wood burners - Ministry for the Environment website

New Zealand Home Heating Association website

Using pellet burners wisely

  • Follow operation and safety instructions - from your pellet burner manufacturer.
  • Use safety guards to protect children and pets.
  • Keep flammable objects well away - while your pellet burner is in use.
  • Keep wood pellets dry - store in a sheltered area, away from moisture.
  • Only heat areas you're using - and only while you're using them.
  • Shut doors and windows - to keep the heat in.
  • Set the thermostat to a healthy temperature - aim for 18ºC to 20ºC, and 16ºC in bedrooms overnight.
  • Don't set the thermostat higher than you need it - setting the thermostat to the maximum won't heat up your room any faster.
  • Use the timer - set your pellet burner to come on half an hour before you need it. Leaving your heater running when you're not at home is a waste of energy.
  • Service and maintain your pellet burner - as directed in the manufacturer's instructions. This is important for maintaining safety, performance and longevity - and for your insurance cover.