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Does My Pellet Stove Need To Be Repaired, or Just Cleaned?

Does My Pellet Stove Need To Be Repaired, or Just Cleaned?

It’s that time of year, the cold weather is setting in and it’s time to turn on your eco heater. But what happens if your stove won’t turn on? Each winter season, many pellet stove owners find themselves in this situation. Usually, the first thought that comes to mind of a homeowner is that a part has failed. Though it is natural for parts to fail over time, cleaning and fuel-quality are an often overlooked aspect of why a stove is underperforming, or not operating at all! In this short article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about fuel selection and how to keep your stove operating in tip top shape.

Pellet Fuel Type and Quality

When working in the showroom, one of the most common questions customers would ask me was “what type of wood pellets should I burn?” Most people think any hardwood pellet works just fine, but not all pellets are created equal, as there can be major variations from one pellet to another. Many brands list their product as a “Premium Wood Pellet”. Unfortunately, this recognition alone is not enough to determine whether the wood pellet is of high quality. In my experience, the best way to determine if you’re getting a high-quality pellet is to first compare the ash content and BTUs per pound.

Ash Content

Some “premium” pellets will have an ash content of 1%, which sounds good, but others can have an ash content as low as .25%. That may not seem like a big difference but that means one pellet could produce up to 4 times more ash than another! This higher ash content translates to much more regular cleaning and potentially more problems for the homeowner.

Pellet Stove Burn Pot Ash

BTUs Per Pound

Another thing to consider when selecting a brand of pellet fuel, is BTUs per pound. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, a unit of measurement that shows the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. The higher the BTU rating, the more heat you will receive per pound of pellets. I have seen pellets as low as 7500 BTUs per pound and some approaching nearly 9000 BTUs per pound. A pellet with a higher BTU per pound rating will result in more energy or heat for the same volume of pellets being burned. There are other factors to consider, moisture content, pellet length and fines are important as well. Lower moisture, shorter pellets with less fines will burn much cleaner.

Softwood Vs Hardwood? 

Often when we think of wood burning, we don’t even consider softwoods, they are viewed as less dense, lower BTU options. While that may be true when it comes to traditional wood burning the same cannot be said when it comes to wood pellets. Unlike what occurs in nature, a softwood pellet can be compressed to a point where it has almost the same density as a hardwood. The benefit is that these softwood fuels would typically burn hotter and produce less ash. While softwood pellet options are usually not as readily available as hardwoods, In my experience they almost always outperformed any hardwood pellet when tested and compared. For more info on how to identify a quality wood pellet check out the PFI Standards Program

Bag of wood pellets in front of pellet stove

Cleaning and Maintenance Related Issues

Airflow Issues

One of the most overlooked concepts of pellet stove operation is airflow. A build-up of ash in the venting, combustion blower area, or burn pot area can negatively affect this flow. It is important that these areas of the stove are inspected and cleaned on a regular basis. Often customers will complain of slow start-ups or missed ignition (the stove doesn’t start at all) and believe it is caused by a failing igniter. Often this issue is caused by reduced airflow through the unit. In this situation, a thorough cleaning of the unit will usually fix the problem. What are 

Excessive Ash Build-up

Another common issue customers experience is excessive ash build-up in the burn pot. While this can be the result of burning a lower-quality pellet, it is often another issue caused by reduced airflow. Your stove’s burn pot is designed to allow combustion air to flow in around the pellets in a particular way. This allows the fuel in the pot to burn completely and creates the hottest fire possible. When the holes in the burn pot start to become plugged, the amount of combustion air flowing to the fire is reduced. This can lower the temperature of the fire, stop the pellets from completely burning, and contribute to more buildup inside the stove and venting.  Regularly cleaning the burn pot and making sure the burn pot air holes are open can greatly reduce the amount of ash build-up in the pot and other areas of the stove

Combustion Blower & Venting Issues

The last area we will cover is cleaning the combustion blower and venting. Most stove owners follow the belief that their venting only needs to be cleaned once or twice a season. In some situations, this may be true, but many factors can affect how often this cleaning needs to be done. Vent configuration, fuel type, and stove settings are all factors that can impact this. Stove owners should regularly check the venting to see how quickly build-up occurs. Once you have an idea of how quickly ash accumulates you can establish a regular cleaning schedule that will meet your needs. 

Tools & Cleaning Tips

When it comes to cleaning your stove, there are a number of tools that can make your life easier. We always recommend the below items to make cleaning that much less of a chore.

At the top of our list is an ash vacuum. Ash vacuums are vacuums designed specifically for cleaning ash and coals out of pellet and wood stoves. You might be wondering why you can’t use your average shop vacuum, good question! Due to the size and properties of ash, your shop vac will very quickly clog, overheat, and burn out it’s motor. We carry an affordable ash vacuum ready to make cleaning not only faster, but also mess free.

Pellet stove ash vacuum

Next is the soft bristle brush. We recommend two different types, a flat scraper brush, and a round soft bristle brush. The scraper brush can be used to help scrape metal pieces, such as a burnpot, inside the door, exhaust ports, etc. On the other hand, the soft bristle brush will allow you to clean those small crevices and spaces.

While the info we went over does not cover everything that can cause issues with your stove, checking these common issues is a good place to start. We hope you find this information helpful in getting your pellet stove back up and running!

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