Pellet Heater Is Cheap Way to Warm Home

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Dulley</i> is<i> a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant</i>

QUESTION: I saw cheap bags of American-made pellet fuel at my hardware store and supermarket. Does it cost much to burn a pellet heater? Can one heat my entire house and can I install one myself without a chimney?

ANSWER: Pellet heaters are ideal for homes. I use one in my home. Pellets are made from “home-grown” recycled sawdust, peanut shells, etc., so they are earth-friendly. Using a pellet heater keeps our energy dollars and jobs in the U.S.

Heating with pellets is usually less expensive than using oil or electric heat. Even with gas heat, using a pellet heater in a kitchen or living room allows you to set the furnace thermostat lower and to zone heat (different temperatures in various rooms). This can lower your overall heating costs.

Pellet heaters look somewhat like a small decorative wood-burning stove. Some have real gold and nickel plated trim and large glass doors to view the flames. One small stove can heat up to a 2,500-square-foot house. Most have heat output controls or can be connected to a wall-mounted thermostat.


It took about an hour to install my pellet heater. It vents directly through an outside wall so no chimney is needed. The outside of the pellet heater does not get dangerously hot. Fireplace insert models are also available.

Pellet heaters are very convenient and clean to use. Pellets are sold in waterproof bags. You just empty a bag of pellets into a built-in hopper. This is enough to burn for more than an entire day. As the hopper gets low, open its lid and pour in another bag of pellets. The heater stays lit.

Some larger heaters hold three bags of pellets for three to four days of heat before refilling. There is a small ash pan under the firepot. With the fire still going, open the ash door, slide the pan out and empty it.

Premium pellets contain 1% ash so they produce only about one cup of ash per day. Empty the ash pan every three to four days. Save the ash. It makes a great natural fertilizer. Pellets also burn nearly pollution-free, so they easily meet all air emission standards.


Pellets are automatically fed into the firepot by a slowly rotating auger. As you increase the heat output setting, pellets are fed in at a faster rate. A quiet blower circulates room air through the heat exchangers.

There are major differences among various models. A variable speed blower is best for comfort. An automatic combustion air fan improves efficiency at all heat output settings. Top-feed augers are most efficient and safe. Some heaters have a built-in warming shelf for slow cooking and brewing coffee.

Write to me for Utility Bills Update No. 861 showing a buyer’s guide of 14 pellet heater manufacturers listing heat output, hopper capacity, max. burn time, auger/feed design, special features and prices. Please send $2 and a self-addressed envelope to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.

How to Install Wall Switch for Closet Light


Q: My bedroom closet has a ceiling light with a pull string. I fumble around trying to find the string and end up just leaving the light on. How can I attach a wall switch to it?

A: You can install a wall switch using approved electric cable with a ground. Nail a metal switch box to the wall and run the cable from the box along the wall to the light. Follow codes for spacing of wall cable straps.

A simpler option is installing a new light bulb with a built-in motion sensor. I use one in my closet. It switches off in five minutes after no motion is detected. They are available in hardware and home center stores.