If you're looking for a sustainable way to heat a cottage that you only live in part-time, then you need to strongly consider both standard wood stoves and pellet stoves. Standard wood stoves burn whole and split logs, whereas pellet stoves burn waste wood that has been turned into small pellets. Both use a natural fuel source and both are capable of adequately heating a small cottage home. Which is the best choice for you, however, will depend on your needs and preferences. Here's a look at how the two options compare.
When you have a wood stove, fuel is widely available. You can burn logs and sticks you find on your own land, or purchase wood from a friend. There's really no worry that you'll ever run out of wood, though you may have to pay more for it some times than others.
Wood stoves also burn with a large, flickering flame, which makes for a nice ambiance. You can gather around the stove and enjoy the flame's beauty.
Many wood stoves do not require electricity. Though they may come with an auto-ignition option, if the electricity goes out and the ignition therefore does not work, you can just light the wood on fire yourself.
Keeping a wood stove loaded can be a bit of a hassle. As the wood burns down, you'll need to be around to add more to the fire. If you stay in a lot when you visit your cottage, this may not be an issue, but if you use your cottage for hunting getaways or go on long hikes, your wood stove may burn out before you get home, leaving you with a chilly cottage.
Wood stoves also need to be placed carefully. They can't be too close to a combustible wall or any other combustible materials, since a lot of heat radiates out through their sides.
Wood stoves don't burn as cleanly and completely as pellet stoves. You will have more soot and ash to clean up, and since wood stoves must vent through a chimney, you'll need to have the chimney cleaned regularly, which can be a hassle if you're only at the cottage every once in a while.
Wood pellets are easier to store than loose wood. They come in clean, sealed bags, so you can keep them stacked in a spare room or next to your pellet stove without making a big mess. Since you can store them inside, you don't have to worry about others stealing them while you're away like you might with wood.
Pellet stoves combust fuel more completely than wood stoves, resulting in less ash and soot. For this reason, they can be vented out a small tube rather than a full-size chimney, making them easier to install without doing any major renovations.
Since most pellet stoves are fitted with automatic feeders, you don't need to worry about stoking the fire every few hours. Just fill the automatic feeder with pellets, and it will slowly add them to the fire over the next day or two. This makes a pellet stove a great choice if you go out for long periods when staying at your cottage.
Depending on the season, pellets can be in short supply -- since they're a manufactured product. Once the store runs out, you're out of luck, so you'll need to keep up with buying plenty of pellets in advance so you don't get stuck without heat.
Pellet stoves also rely on an electronic ignition. This means that if the power goes out, you will be without heat. If the climate is mild, this may not be a major issue, but if you live in an area where winter means below-zero temps and huge storms that really do knock out power for long periods, a pellet stove may not be for you.
Pellet stoves are also more expensive to run than wood stoves. Pellets will cost you about $20 per million BTU of heat, whereas wood will cost you about $13 per million BTU of heat (and much less if you get wood cheaply from friends or cut it down on your own land).
In the end, both wood stoves and pellet stoves allow you to heat your cottage sustainably, using natural fuel. If convenience is your priority, a pellet stove may be a better choice, but if you are prone to power outages or like being able to buy fuel anywhere and everywhere, a wood stove may be more your style. Contact an HVAC professional for more information on which option may work best for your needs.