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Wood Stoves Gains Popularity as Alternative Heat Source

The crackling, colorful flames and heat are what Michelle Belfie of Brookeville, Maryland, says she and her family like about this stove. But that is not the main reason she decided to install a stove that burns sawdust pellets a year and a half ago.

Pellet stove offers an alternative heat source

"BGE (Baltimore Gas and Electric), our electricity company doubled the rate," Belfie said. "The pellet stove is for the central part of the house where we have here the living room and the kitchen. During the day when it is on, we can turn other heat sources down and enjoy the flame and heat of the unit itself. So it is to save money basically on electricity."

As energy costs rose in recent years, industry data indicated more Americans were seeking alternative heat sources.

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which represents stove manufacturers, says that shipments from manufacturers to retailers of wood burning stoves were up 55 percent in the first six months in 2008 [over 2007], as energy prices spiked. And the shipment of pellet stoves jumped 135 percent.

Mike Taylor, owner of Acme Stove in Rockville, Maryland, says he is seeing higher demand. "Since the beginning of the season, the majority of manufacturers have been backlogged," Taylor said. "I will say even a little overwhelmed. But they are starting to catch up with the orders."

Wood burning stoves

Ronald Rubin of Rockville has two wood stoves in his house. Both are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, which has set limits on the amount of particulate pollution from wood stoves.

The agency has warned that wood smoke can contain a number of toxic air pollutants that can cause health problems and urges consumers use the cleanest burning stoves.

Rubin sees advantages to his new stoves. "The wood stove acts as a radiator. It just radiates heat," he explains. "So, you dont have the smoke that gets in the house at all because it is entirely enclosed and it draws air in and everything goes up the chimney."

Both energy sources are thought to be environmentally efficient

Some wood or pellet stove users say they are motivated not just by money savings but also by avoiding the environmental problems caused by production of other energy.

"Electricity burns coal. Coal causes global warming," Belfie states. "We did it to be green as well. Pellets themselves are made of recycled wood products: sawdust, furniture manufacturers' and sawmills' leftover pieces."

Belfie says that the pellet stove cannot be the main source of heat in the house but she believes it is good for the environment and also for the pocketbook. And she adds that the warm ambiance it creates is a bonus.