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Should I repair my existing pellet stove or buy a new one?

Should I repair my existing pellet stove or buy a new one?

In nearly all situations it is going to be cheaper to repair a stove than it will be to replace it. It’s important to remember that your pellet stove is already installed and provided that it’s installed correctly, needs nothing else except for its components to work properly. Each stove has specific installation requirements, so while swapping out one stove for another may seem like a simple enough endeavor, it may cost more than you expect to get there.

I can tell you from my experience in the industry, the average lifetime for a pellet stove in use is somewhere between 12-15 years. Just like automobiles, parts wear out or the look becomes dated and the stove gets changed out. It’s usually not the stove’s fault.

There are benefits with purchasing something new. There are often some intrinsic upgrades such as a larger hopper capacity, ease-of-use benefits or automated controls that have developed through technology that can justify a replacement pellet stove. Whatever the motivation, it’s important to consider that maintaining an existing stove will always be much cheaper than buying new.

Pellet stoves made prior to the year 2000 often contain technology which was commonplace to most first generation stoves in the industry. With the exception of Breckwell and Enviro, there are no makers still in business that were making stoves in the 1980’s. By age alone, if you have a stove from this era, I would consider replacing it. Many parts for these stoves are hard to find and I am constantly finding stoves with modified parts to keep them in operation. This is a safety hazard. Don’t do this.

There’s also scenarios whereby metal can become “over-fired”, a condition where the metal absorbs less and less heat energy each time the stove is used and the physical properties of the metal itself start to degrade. If this happens to a stove component, such as a burn pot, you replace it but if it happens to the refractory wall of the stove, the stove should be replaced. Refractory metal has a lifespan which is why it’s usually made from a very  thick metal stock. The refractory is the welded and shaped metal that is used to construct the firebox of the stove. How hot the stove operates a day-to-day will determine its lifespan. If you have small fires now and then with regular maintenance and the stove will last a very long time. Running the stove at its highest level every day with less maintenance and the stove will last a couple seasons at best. Either way, the refractory metal cannot sustain infinite use.

Not all stoves are created equal either. Some stove makers put consumers at a disadvantage simply by making a product that’s a poor design or made from poor materials or do not offer any type of service after the sale. If you are in the market for a new pellet stove we caution you to exercise due diligence. Do not shop on price or convenience alone. If you aren’t handy, don’t buy your stove from the internet, on closeout or used. Go to a retailer with a good service reputation.

If you purchased your stove from a respectable retailer and are concerned that your stove might need to be replaced, give them a call and arrange to have the stove serviced and inspected for safety.

Repairing or refurbishing your old pellet stove may not be as expensive as you think. We find that most stoves need a very good cleaning and they are running just like new. Removing all of the components, brushing all the dust and debris from the fans, greasing auger motor gear boxes and replacing gaskets and seals will often turn the noisiest stove into a whisper again.

Every pellet stove is different but here are some common problems with some suggested fixes. If your pellet stove will not start, first check the igniter to see if gets warm when the stove starts, if not, check for an inline fuse that may be blown. If the igniter is removed from the machine and looks bent in any way…it’s done and should be replaced. If the igniter is getting warm and you can verify that the pellet stove is clean (including the venting), check the burn pot for warping or cracks. Close a dollar bill between your door and the stove and pull, if it has resistance that’s good!  If it slips out easily you may need to replace the door gaskets or align your door properly. Most pellet stoves use a cartridge heater to super heat air that is flowing into the stove igniting the wood pellets in the burn pot. If the burn pot has warped, air may leak up the back-side of the pot and the pellets don’t get hot enough to light. Additionally, if gaskets that seal the firebox, such as a door gasket or ash pan gasket are leaking in air, the volume of air actually being heated in the burn pot will be less than the required amount because its leaking in from other areas and the result will be the same.

I’ve never seen any pellet stove manufacturer list a timetable for replacing parts as a way of preempting failure but here’s a good rule of thumb.

  •         Igniters usually have a lifespan of between 1500-2000 cycles which equals roughly 8 years.
  •         Combustion blowers, especially those with sealed bearings have a lifespan of 15,000 hours, which equals roughly 625 days of continuous use or 5-8 years of intermittent use.
  •         Convection blowers can often go 10-12 years before they start to wear.
  •         Gaskets should be replaced every 3-5 years
  •         Burn pots should be replaced every 5-7 years

Last but not least are control boards. These electronic components usually do not fault on their own but rather by an event of power loss and surge. Do yourself a favor and unplug your pellet stove during the off season. Most power failures and surges happen during the summer months and a control board failure may not be known until the season rolls around again.

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