We have been burning Puffin pellets for about 10 days now. This is the first time since the stove was installed (almost three years ago) that I’ve burned anything other than Balcas Brites, because this is the first time that any of the alternatives have been cheaper.
Balcas really have shot themselves in the foot this season; they have economies of scale unmatched by any other pellet manufacturer in the UK, but despite investing a small fortune in a new plant at Invergordon in Scotland, they are unable to supply bagged pellets from there. Bagged Brites (as I discovered a couple of weeks ago) still come from Eniskillen in Northern Ireland, with all the additional transport costs that entails for customers over the Irish Sea in Great Britain (American readers, here’s a geography lesson for you …. politically, ‘Great Britain’ is the short-form name for the whole country, but geographically ‘Great Britain’ is the island in which England, Scotland and Wales are to be found. Confused? That’s OK, we’re used to it).
Other pellet manufacturers in Great Britain are now reaping the benefits of Balcas’ apparent decision not to invest in a bagging plant at Invergordon. They may not be able to cut their prices to match, but for now they don’t need to, because Balcas has put its prices up by about 10% (a rate way ahead of inflation).
So … back to Puffin Pellets. The first thing to say about them is they are, as with all other pellets made in the UK, softwood. I have yet to come across hardwood pellets for sale here; we simply don’t have sufficient land given over to commercial forestry in the UK to allow for hardwood plantations of the scale that would be required to support it.
The second thing is, they are cheaper than Balcas right now, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Their Premium range is available to me, delivered, at £212.10 per tonne. I’m 180 miles from their plant, but as they use a palletized logistics service I don’t know exactly where my order is delivered from, or how much the delivery element is. The Premium Plus range is £220.50. These are the ones I am using at the moment, to see whether there is any noticeable performace gain in my stove.
Third, they come in slightly less convenient 20kg sacks (Balcas are bagged in 10kg sacks). I’m managing better with them than I expected, but it’s still tricky to lift them to shoulder height in order to tip them into my stove’s hopper. To be fair, Puffin do produce 15kg sacks as well, but the larger bags are cheaper, as well as coming on a pallet as a full metric tonne of 1,000kg rather than 990kg. I like round numbers!
Fourth, although on reflection I think I should have mentioned this first: they are very dusty. I’m not talking about the sort of breadcrumb-sized fines you get in the bottom of the sack from a few disintegrated pellets. When I pour a sack of Puffin pellets into the hopper, a cloud of very fine sawdust rises up and settles around the top of the stove. I have been used to just hauling sacks up to the mouth of the hopper and tipping them in at speed, but now I find I have to pour very slowly and carefully to try to limit the amount of cleaning up I have to do afterwards. I can only assume that Balcas has a more effective process for eliminating dust during manufacture, because I never once had this issue with a bag of Brites.
Finally, I had been hoping that putting a different brand of pellets into my stove would solve a problem I’ve had with it ever since it was installed (the electric ignition is not very reliable). The machine has been examined closely by the authorised repairer as well as a technician from Extraflame, neither of whom were prepared to accept there is a mechanical fault, but the stove has a tendency to simply fail to light in one ignition cycle, on average once every 10 iginitions. I had entertained the notion that somehow it didn’t like Balcas Brites and an alternative fuel would solve the issue, but this morning, for the first time, it failed to light up with a batch of Puffins. I re-started the ignition cycle and, as usual, second time round it came to life quite happily. So I’m going to have to have another think about that one.
All in all, I’m happy with my new supply of Puffin pellets. The packaging and cleanliness may leave a little to be desired, but ultimately, my wood pellet heating fuel is by a long way my single biggest utility bill and anything I can do to reduce the size of it is welcome. Assuming prices remain static, this season I stand to save at least 10% by using Puffin instead of Balcas Brites. Ironically, that’s about the same amount as Balcas have put their prices up. If I don’t notice a gain by using the Premium Plus pellets, I will drop down to the Premium range next time and the savings will be even greater.