Friday, June 28, 2024

Survey: Pellet stove owners love their stoves – and are also interested in heat pumps and solar panels

 Pellet stove adoption is growing and reached 25% of market compared to wood stoves in New England 

A survey taken by 486 people who use pellet stoves revealed some predictable and some unpredictable results. For instance, an overwhelming majority of pellet stove owners, 85%, said they would buy another pellet stove if theirs broke and 90% say their stove is reliable or very reliable, challenging a perception that pellet stoves are not very dependable. 

Pellet stoves are cleaner and more efficient than wood stoves and make up 25% of the stove market in New England, and 10% nationally, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Table CE7.1.  Until recently, likely around 5 years ago, American homes still made more renewable energy from wood and pellets than they did from residential solar photovoltaics, which have since surged past wood and pellet heat. 

The survey was undertaken between April and June of 2024 by the Alliance for Green Heat, an independent non-profit. AGH chose the Survey Monkey platform and circulated it through scores of social media pages, newsletters and neighborhood listservs. Thus, the survey is not rigorously scientific and likely over-represents pellet stove enthusiasts. Keeping that in mind, the data offers a glimpse into an important demographic of pellet stove users. By segmenting the data, we were also able to compare the views and values and pellet stove users based on income, region, motivation to buy a pellet stove and other characteristics. 

Of this group, 61% of the 486 respondents used their stoves for primary heat and in the future 38% were interested in buying heat pumps and 33% were interested in buying solar panels. Unlike households adopting solar panels, the primary reason homes adopt pellet stoves is for the substantial short term cost saving.  In the survey, all income groups except one listed “saving money” as the most common reason to heat with pellets.

Twenty-six percent of households with pellet stoves displaced electric heat (both resistance and heat pumps) 20% displaced oil, and 18% displaced wood, 16% displaced propane and 13% displaced gas. This along with several other questions showed a high crossover with wood and pellet stoves, as many households that used to heat with wood have moved to pellet heat. In some cases, the reverse also happens with homes moving from pellets to wood fuel. 

The median annual household income group was $75,000-$99,000, higher than than the national median ($74,580), and significantly lower than the median average income of homes with solar panels ($117,000 in 2022). The number of people per household was close to the national average with an average of 2.58. The national average is 2.51.

The survey also asked if pellet stove owners smelled smoke from their stoves and 17 % said they did, and 52% said they didn’t. In between those groups, 30% said they only smelled it during start-up which in most homes is no more than once a day. 

Survey respondents were from across the county, with respondents from every state except five, mostly in the deep south. The top 5 states were New Hampshire (10% of responses), Massachusetts (9%) and New York (9%), California (6%) and Pennsylvania (6%). Canada and countries outside of Canada and the US had 7% of responses. 

Scores of state and national studies show that small scale wood and pellet heat is enormously important to the transition away from fossil fuels both here and throughout Europe, in part because it does not strain the grid in the winter, and complements available renewable electricity.

Pellet heating has grown considerably in America, but public education lags, and there remains a lot of confusion about the export of pellets to make electricity versus the use of pellets for domestic heating.  The US Energy Information Administration publishes vital data about pellet production in America that can help clear up some of this confusion. 

Data from Each Question

Q1. How long have you been heating with pellets? The responses show a range of households who are just starting to use a wood stove, to those who have used them for a long time. That indicates that there is continued interest by new people in starting to use pellet stoves.

Q2. What is the main reason you heat with pellets? Respondents were only allowed to pick one answer. Predictably, “saving money” was the leading reason, with 43% choosing this as their main motivation. But the surprising aspect is that so many people chose avoidance of fossil fuel as their main motivation (23%). The 18% choosing “as a back-up” could either be a regular or periodica back-up to another heating system or an emergency back-up if their other heating system broke down. Or, it could be people who have battery back-ups or generators so they can use a pellet stove during a power outage.

The three most common “Other (please specify)” comments were related to the following categories:

  1. The ease of use and consistency of pellet heat over log wood heat with comments such as, “Switched from firewood. Easier to deal with,” “Wood-fired heat, but more controllable than a wood stove,” and “Too old for firewood.”

  2. It’s popularity in supplementing other heat or areas of home with comments like, “Heat compensation, my furnace doesn’t keep up with a big drafty house,” and “Supplement heat for my basement.”

  3. Those heating with pellets because they are associated with the industry (pellet stove dealers, engineers, etc.)

Q3. Would you buy another? This may be one of the most surprising results: 85% said they would buy another pellet stove if their current one could not be fixed, with another 9% choosing “Maybe.” This indicates a strong loyalty to the appliance. For those who selected “Maybe (please explain),” their answers were concerned with whether the price of pellets remained reasonable and if their health still allowed them to deal with the physicality of pellets. Another popular reason for explaining further was that they were confident they could fix their pellet stove if it ever stopped working: “I’d probably just fix it because they’re easy to repair.” 

Q4. Primary or Secondary Heat? That 61%so many respondents use their pellet stove as a primary heater is somewhat surprising, since nationally, the number of people who use wood or pellet as a secondary heat source is higher than primary heat source. This may be because we tapped into a more enthusiastic demographic, or it may be an indication that pellet stove users use their stove for primary heating more than wood stove users. We also didn’t ask about house size, though we did ask about the number of people in the household, which averaged only 2.58. Thus, it may be that people who completed this survey have smaller homes, possibly close to the national median of 2,299 square feet for a single family home.

Q5. Other Main Source of Heat? Nothing surprising here. Electricity is the highest percentage with 26%, and many of those are likely homes with electric resistance heat or early model heat pumps which are not nearly as efficient as modern ones. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some that 18% of pellet stove users have cord wood as their other main source of heat. Cord wood is the third most common “other main source of heat” after electricity and oil, another indication that we may have reached a more hardcore, dedicated biomass heat demographic.

Q6. Interest in Heat Pumps or Solar Panels. Respondents could choose multiple answers on this one. On average, a respondent chose 1.3 options. We found it somewhat surprising to see such high interest in heat pumps and solar panels.

Q7.State of residence. No surprises here. The fact that we had such a good demographic diversity shows that our data doesn’t just represent one part of the country. 

Q8. Household income. According to the US Census, the median household income was $74,580 and the average was $74,755 in 2022. Both fall right below the median income bracket of the respondents of our survey ($75,000 - $99,000). This shows a lower household income for this group compared to homes that have solar panels, or drive electric cars.

Q9.Household size. The average household size is 2.58, slightly larger than the national average of 2.51.

Q10. Is your stove reliable? The number of households who strongly agreed or agreed that their pellet stove is reliable is remarkably high (90.1%). 

Q11. Do you smell wood smoke? While a majority did not smell any smoke in their house, 30% smelled some on start-up. And the fact that 17% of this group say they smell it more regularly is significant enough to warrant further study into this problem. AGH has done some at-home testing and found start-up smoke to produce about the same amount of PM as making breakfasts or dinners that involve frying, using a griddle or making well-done toast. While this was not an in-depth study, AGH believes that the very small amount of smoke during start up could be partially caused by stoves not being sufficiently cleaned, or it may be a design flaw in some stoves that are not completely airtight and can leak.

Q12. Concern about health impacts of wood smoke. This question was not worked as well as it could have been, because it could be interpreted two ways: first, are you concerned about the health effects of wood smoke generally, or are you concerned about the health effect of wood smoke from your own pellet stove. Thus, someone could be extremely concerned about the health implications but answered that they weren’t concerned because they didn’t smell it in their own home. 

All of these tables can also be viewed on the Survey Monkey platform.

Overlaying Responses from Two Different Questions

Survey Monkey allows you to take the individual answers of a question and see how those people answered another question, because all answers are attached to an IP address. Thus, we were able to see how different demographics answered different questions.

Income and main reason to heat with pellets

On Q2 overlaid with Q8, reasons for heating with pellets vs. income, saving money was the top rationale for all income categories exempt the middle, median income bracket. Lower income brackets favored saving money to some extent, and no one in the lowest bracket used their stove for ambience. As for being motivated to reduce fossil fuels, there is no clear pattern based on this sample of 486 people. 

Main reason to heat with pellets and interest in buying other appliances

Comparing Q2 and Q6 unsurprisingly shows that people who heat with pellets who are more motivated to reduce fossil are the most likely to be interested in buying solar panels. And people who are more motivated to save money least interested in solar or heat pumps.

Reliability vs. interest in buying another pellet stove 

Unsurprisingly, overall those who agreed or strongly agreed that their pellet stove was reliable were most likely to want to buy another one if it broke down. Those who strongly agreed that their pellet stove was reliable were more than twice as likely to want to buy another. 

Reliability and length of ownership

In this comparison, those who had their stove for longer than 10 years reported higher levels of satisfaction with reliability. And it was the group who owned stoves for 3 - 5 years who reported lower levels of satisfaction with reliability, possibly indicating that this is the period that repairs may be the highest.

Smelling smoke and length of ownership

This indicates that the group who smells smoke the most is 3 - 5 year ownership and that the longer you own a stove the less smoke you report smelling. 

Overlap between smelling wood smoke and being concerned about it 

When comparing the answers of concern to those having reported that they were smelling smoke, a majority of those smelling smoke were also concerned about the impacts of wood smoke. Those who did not smell wood smoke from their stove were least likely to consider it a health issue. (Again, the ambiguous wording of Q12 makes this comparison less useful.)

Issues and Limitations of the Survey Data


AGH intentionally created a short and simple survey to increase respondent activity but this also naturally made it more susceptible to bot activity. In addition, we offered two $75 gift cards which likely increased bot activity even more. Survey Monkey also did not have an option to include a CAPTCHA at the end of the survey, which would have been a simple tool that could have stopped some bot activity. 


Where IP addresses were repeated, and where the states also differed, the data was excluded from the analysis. Out of the original 626 responses, 140 of these were excluded on that basis. Bot activity appeared to be especially prevalent from batches of respondents identifying as being from Guam that also consistently submitted the same answer, with only one variation, for each submission. The exclusion of these responses did not significantly alter the results of any of the answers.