Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Are pellet fireplaces the most efficient fireplaces?

Fireplace pellets, made from wood byproducts or other natural materials, can be an eco-friendly way to heat your home.
Fireplace pellets, made from wood byproducts or other natural materials, can be an eco-friendly way to heat your home.

When the weather starts to get cold, the first thing on your mind is probably warming up your home. The most common choices to heat homes are central heating and fireplaces, including gas, wood-burning and wood pellet fireplaces. Which fireplaces are the most efficient and why is efficiency important?

The more efficient an energy source is, the more you can lower your energy costs. Higher-efficiency heating appliances also reduce the amount of consumables required and have lower carbon emissions, thereby making a smaller impact on the environment. Heating appliances with higher efficiency are also safer to use -- because they actually burn more of the materials, there is less buildup of flammable residue.

There are two indications of efficiency. One is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification and the other is BTU, or British thermal unit. The EPA certification ensures that a fireplace has complied with emissions and pollution regulations and is in line with expected energy costs. It's not uncommon for jurisdictions to require that all fireplaces installed be EPA-certified. BTU is an efficiency measurement that indicates the amount of energy required to produce heat. So are pellet fireplaces efficient?

Pellet fuel appliances burn small pellets that look like rabbit feed but are made of either wood or wood byproducts, such as sawdust, or a variety of other materials, such as corn kernels, soybeans, nutshells, barley, dried cherry pits, beet pulp, wheat and sunflowers.

Wood pellet fireplaces are quite efficient: They use roughly 20 percent of the power of a home's central heating system. They also produce 50 times fewer particulate emissions than wood stoves without EPA ratings and two to five times less than EPA-rated wood units [source: Dunn].

Wood pellet fireplaces, which have combustion efficiency that rates between 75 and 90 percent, are considered the cleanest, most efficient of all the solid-fuel systems typically used for household heating. (Gas is next, running at about 75 percent.) In fact, wood pellet fireplaces run so cleanly that they're exempt from EPA certification requirements.

Wood pellet fireplaces do consume electricity to power their mechanisms, however, so while they're eco-friendly, they're not an "off-the-grid" option.

To learn more about fireplaces, check out the links on the next page.