As many heating costs rise, heating a home is becoming increasingly expensive for your buyers. Good insulation and an efficient furnace or heat pump can help, but you can also give your buyers an energy-efficient supplemental heat source that will not break the bank: a pellet stove or insert.

The Arlington, Va.–based Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI) says pellet fuel is a renewable, clean-burning, and cost-stable home heating alternative. The pellets are made from sawdust or other wood waste, but some appliances also use bio-based fuels such as wheat, corn, fruit seeds, and grass clippings. They “not only reduce dependence on finite supplies of fossil fuels like oil and gas, but they also put to good use materials that would otherwise unnecessarily and expensively add to our waste disposal problems,” PFI says.

“From a builder perspective, putting any type of fireplace or wood-burning product in a home adds value, but [a pellet appliance] can be put in so inexpensively,” says Bruce Lisle, president of pellet fuels manufacturer Energex in Mifflintown, Pa., and the current president of PFI. “If you are interested in being environmentally friendly, it is better than other wood-burning products.”

Pellet stoves offer two compelling benefits: They give home buyers the aesthetics of fire, but are also a great source of heat. Most of the stoves have a rating that ranges between 8,000 and 90,000 BTU per hour, Doe says, but what makes them really cook is the technology inside. For example, Cumberland, Wis.–based Cumberland Stove Works says its multifuel features Tri-X Heat Control, so the product has more surface area and provides more efficient heat.

“It has great heat exchange and fans that blow heat into the room,” says Renae McGinnity, product manager for Cumberland's multifuel division. “It in turn keeps the space warm.” Add to that the natural radiant heat of the unit and you've got yourself a real foot-warmer, the industry says. This means builders can offer buyers a unit that both looks good and provides heat rather than putting in an open wood-burning fireplace that looks good but may be inefficient.

The Department of Energy (DOE) agrees. “[Pellet appliances] are more convenient to operate and have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces,” says DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “As a consequence of this, they produce very little air pollution. In fact, pellet stoves are the cleanest of solid fuel-burning residential heating appliances. With combustion efficiencies of 78 percent to 85 percent, they are also exempt from U.S. EPA smoke-emission testing requirements.”

A pellet stove costs between $1,500 and $3,000 and is easy to install. “The flexibility of putting it in is much easier than other wood-burning appliances,” Lisle says. Units can be direct-vented and do not need an expensive chimney or flue. As a result, the installed cost of the entire system may be less than that of a conventional wood stove, DOE confirms.

Some manufacturers say a pellet stove may be used as a home's primary source of heat, but others do not recommend it. “You can use it year round in your home to save a lot of money on heating expense, but there are times when you have to shut it down to clean it,” says McGinnity. Cleaning the system should not take very long—about a couple of hours—she says, but it has to be turned off. You will need another way to heat your house during the cleaning.

Another thing to consider is that even though pellet stoves emit very small amounts of pollutants and are exempt from EPA emissions requirements, some municipalities restrict wood-heating appliance use when the air quality is low. So, on those “no-burn days,” homeowners will need to find another source of heat.

Nevertheless, a pellet stove is yet another option for builders looking for ways to spice up their homes with a hearth product. In situations where warmth is required and a gas hearth product is not feasible, a freestanding pellet stove is a good and inexpensive way to light a fire.