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Old 01-13-2012, 11:23 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I love my pellet stove, but damn...

Here's a good "root cause" analysis for ya.

I bought my pellet stove used (barely) about 5 years ago. I've used it every winter since then with minimal required maintenance. However...

Some things I've found out.
-When I bought the stove, I also took all the exhaust plumbing along with it, because that stuff is expensive, and there was more than enough to install in my shop.

-The previous owner had installed the unit himself in his basement.
-The previous owner had used a horizontal end cap in a vertical orientation.
-The previous owner complained about the stove always going out, so much that he got sick of it and sold it to me
-Temporarily being an idiot, I installed the exhaust in more or less the same fashion that I had removed it from the PO's house

Horizontal vent cap, for reference:
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The proper vertical vent cap:
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It turns out, that using a horizontal vent cap in a vertical fashion will cause draft problems when the wind blows perpendicular to the vent cap. Of course, I didn't know this 5 years ago, and it's never really given me problems until now. All I've noticed is a little soot buildup on windy days, but nothing that really affects the stove too much.

Fast forward to earlier this week. Strong winds from the northwest for two days straight. I couldn't keep the stove lit. I'd light it, and a short time later, it would go out. I can only assume that it was a short time later due to lack of fuel it had consumed. Since the stove was going out due to a lack of oxygen, not a lack of fuel, it would sit and smolder for quite awhile whilst feeding wood pellets onto the smoldering heap in the firepot. This generated a metric shit ton of creosote. I've never had to deal with creosote before, but it is some nasty stuff. After some research on the interwebs, I realized that I had the wrong vent cap. So I went out and picked up the proper one, installed it, and voila, even with the strong winds, I had a decent draft. Amazing what the proper exhaust will do for you.

So... now I have the proper exhaust. I spent about 9 beers worth of time to clean every square inch of the inside of the stove, sweep the exhaust, etc etc, and fire it back up. It doesn't stay lit... fuck. Time to diagnose this supposedly new problem.

Step 1) Light stove, sit in front of it and drink beer.
Step 2) Observe that all seems to be going well for about 30 minutes, go to bed.
Step 3) Check stove and realize that it went out shortly after you went to bed last night
Step 4) Clean and relight stove, sit and drink beer for 45 minutes. At around the 40 minute mark, notice that the wood pellets aren't feeding in as fast as they should, even though the auger is turning just fine. Apparently, there's a pellet jam.

Hmmm... remove auger, clean with degreaser and a rag, check auger bore for cleanliness, reinstall auger, relight stove. The auger in question, is about 8 inches long and made out of stainless steel. Quite a beautiful piece of manufacturing in my opinion. After relighting, the stove went out again, due to a pellet jam. So I sat there for awhile drinking beer and thinking. Then it dawned on me, the creosote build up is a glassy smoothe brittle buildup on every surface imaginable, but when it heats up, it turns into a thick, sticky goo. So I removed the auger again, cleaned it with some emery cloth, wire brushed it, and polished it with some Mother's mag polish.

The stove works now... fawk. One tiny little layer of creosote was enought the change the coefficient of friction in the auger, leading to repeated jams with wood pellets? This thing is really built that much on the edge of survival that two mouse farts worth of build-up cause a jam? I mean, it wasn't like there was a noticeable layer of creosote on the auger, it was merely slightly discolored. Apparently is was enough, after the auger warmed up to the proper creosote goo transition temperature, to cause the pellets to stick to the auger, causing a jam at about the 40 minute mark. Inconcievable!

Further googling, and I've found out that draft problems that lead to creosote formation is called a stove killer for a reason. Complete disassembly of the burn pot, stirrer, and auger, followed by meticulous cleaning was the only way to bring it back to life. I can see why someone would just go out and buy another. Hell, it's taken me all week to work through the problem.

Rant off... I'm going to go drink more beer now.

Cliff's Notes:
-Always assume your predecessor was retarded - Question Everything!
-Creosote build up in a pellet stove? - Clean/Polish EVERYTHING!

Last edited by krugford; 01-13-2012 at 11:26 PM.
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Old 01-13-2012, 11:35 PM   #2 (permalink)
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First of all, drink more. Pellet stoves aren't a wood stove. Moving parts and all.... Plus no power= no heat. They are nice in the right place and good luck to you getting it right for less than what it costs. But on the good, no mess, no splitting firewood, no hauling, stacking and storing wood. Just a neat pallet and some bags.
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Old 01-13-2012, 11:57 PM   #3 (permalink)
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What's wrong with just throwing some wood on the fire? I mean - the one in my tent burns all night, and it's just a rinky dinky little thing. Surely the ones in homes burn a lot longer and put out more heat.
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Old 01-14-2012, 07:15 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Yep, pellet stoves are awesome but require maintenance. make sure and take out the exhaust motor and clean the pipes after every ton or so burned.

What brand do you have? I was trained by Travis Industries to work on all their gas, wood, and pellet stoves. I specialize in Travis and Harman stoves but can fix most of them.
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Old 01-14-2012, 07:28 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I had a little Jamestown that just kicked butt.... never gave me a problem. I just got a new place and plan to get another!

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Old 01-14-2012, 07:33 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I picked up a Whitfield pellet stove for $150 off CL for the garage because the PO said that it would go out ofter 10-12 hours and the pellets would start piling up. Cleaned the shit out of it and it works great. I read a lot about pellets before finding one and I would guess that 80% of the problems people bitched about were solved by just a good cleaning or a thin washer for one of the motors.
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:54 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I also have a Whitfield and was having the same issue of it not burning well and the pellets would pile up after a few hours. I would clean and vacuum the piss out of it and it still had the problem.
So after reading the interwebz. I found out there are air ways behind the firebrick and you have to take that out to clean it. When I did that there was like 2 gallons of ash back there as it has never been done.
Once I got that cleaned out it runs like new now.
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Old 01-14-2012, 09:20 AM   #8 (permalink)
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i have no ventcap on my pellet stove chimmney. it works just fine, and has for years. what kind of issues does this cause?
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Old 01-16-2012, 07:48 AM   #9 (permalink)
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IVE had a quadra-fire stove for 6 years and i love it. my exhaust is just a thru the wall vent with a 45 degree turn down without any kind of cap. works fine.
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Old 01-16-2012, 08:36 AM   #10 (permalink)
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The gf's family cabin relies on a pellet stove as well.

I've spent too many hours toying with it to get it running well when I should have been drinking beer and relaxing.

The concept is fairly simple, in fact we use auger valves controlled by steppers for super accurate dispensing at work, but they require alot of maintenance to keep running smoothly.

I guess it works out considering all you have to do to feed it is buy another bag of pellets not split a cord of wood.
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