Choosing between hardwood and softwood pellets can seem like a big initial question, when in fact, this should not be such a challenging decision at all.
In the early days of wood pellet production, pellets were classified and labeled according to the species group they were made from: hardwoods (deciduous) and softwoods (conifers). This labeling inadvertently infers that pellets made from softwood species have the attributes of softwood stove wood, and that pellets made from hardwood species have the attributes of hardwood stove wood. In fact, wood pellets made with either of these species are all hard pellets. To differentiate, they should be labeled hard conifer pellets or hard deciduous pellets. The real proof for every consumer is how any particular brand of wood pellets performs in your particular brand or type of pellet stove.
Both types of wood pellets are produced in today’s market, with some companies producing a ‘blend’.
If you have experience with wood stoves or campfires, you know that hardwood is the fuel of choice. A block of hardwood versus a block of softwood of the same size always wins hands down. The hardwood is heavier simply because it is denser, more compact, therefore it burns longer, generating more heat than the same-sized piece of softwood. That’s like comparing apples to oranges.
When you look at hardwood and softwood pellets, you’re now comparing apples and apples. The process for producing pellets from any wood sources is essentially the same. Whole wood is broken down into chips, which go through a hammer mill to produce a finely ground material, which is then compressed into pellets. The result using wood fibre from deciduous or conifer species is a pellet with a diameter of about a pencil, about one-quarter inch, compressed to the same weight and density. In other words, a volume measure of softwood-based pellets now weighs exactly the same as the same volume measure of hardwood-based pellets. The standard sized bag used in the industry holds 40 lbs. A 40 lb. bag of pellets is a 40 lb. bag of pellets no matter what kind of wood it came from. Heat output in terms of BTUs solely depends on the quality of the raw material used. Talk to people who have tried both types of pellets. We know you’ll be convinced of the merits of LacWood pellets which produce high heat levels and extremely low amounts of ash.
Most wood pellet producers list some product specifications on the pellet bag, including moisture content, ash and heat output in BTUs/lb. These facts should be based on current, independent laboratory testing from a recognized testing facility. Any consumer wanting verification of those facts should be able to contact the pellet producer and request a certified and signed copy of the lab test results.
How and Where are Pellets Tested?
There are a number of independent, internationally recognized and certified testing labs in both Canada and the USA. ICS (LacWood) likes to have their wood pellets tested regularly to confirm that they’re producing a consistent high quality product for their customers.
Samples of our pellets are tested for pellet density, moisture content, fines, bulk density, durability, ash, energy production (heat expressed as British Thermal Units — BTUs/lb) and any trace amounts of sulfur or chlorine.
After measurements are taken, and before the burn tests, pellets are first measured for moisture content (MC) “as received”, which is indicative of the moisture content of the pellets you buy from a retailer. A sampling of these pellets is then burned to give BTUs and resultant ash.
Then a second sampling is dried to 0% moisture content before being burned. Since there is no moisture, these pellets will burn hotter, producing more heat and less ash because these pellets are more combustible. There is a direct and measurable correlation between moisture levels and heat levels. The higher the MC the lower the BTUs.
Since the measurement of BTUs is substantially higher when pellets are burned with 0% MC, some pellet producers claim this higher BTU figure to try and make their product appear more attractive to unwary consumers.
An educated pellet consumer is our best customer.