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Burning in old Vigilant

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by azapple, Oct 14, 2007.

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  1. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    This forum is amazing guys. Anyway - I'm already learning more than I ever thought there was to know about wood for heat. I just posted the "Rebuilding the Vigilant" question; and now after reading a bunch of posts, I have another question:

    We live where freezing and well below is the norm for the winter in a refurbished old "farm house". The house is about 1500 square feet of livable - Probably about 900' down and 600' up. "Upstairs" is more like a loft configuration - so pretty good ventilation through out the house. The "new" Vigilant is going to live downstairs right in the center of the home. We plan for it to be our primary heat. We work from home, so the stove will be burned all day every day for the most part. Juniper and Pine are the most prolific wood we can get around here - which concerns me a bit - sounds like we need to really watch the chimney etc.

    I'm reading all about the down draft "technology", burning the stove hot and long, etc. Any more specifics about how best to use, maintain, and install this stove for it to function well for our use? Before we spend anymore time and money rebuilding her...am I getting a vibe out there that perhaps this stove isn't worth it? Like I read on one post...it sure is pretty though. :) And our use may just be the thing it was intended most for "poorly insulated farm houses in VT"...just substitute 8000' evlevation in AZ.

    Any feedback from all you experts is greatly appreciated.
    We make custom concrete countertops and elements here at our home shop...so if I can help any of you with that... ;-)
    Thanks.
    Lynda

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  2. titan

    titan Minister of Fire

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    I don't claim to know much about the Vigilant,but since it is a radiant heating stove and you say you're in a drafty old farm house......I'd say you're on the right track.How old is the stove?BTW-don't believe everything you hear...if you burn seasoned softwood at a reasonably hot temperature you shouldn't create any more creosote than you would with other fuelwoods.
  3. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Couple things....

    An older stove like that is, relatively speaking, a smoke dragon - but the largest variable is often the person burning the thing! In general, less wood and MORE air is the ideal - and use the updraft mode in warmer weather. So if you are around, it is better to fill it 1/2 full and open the air control further.

    Other hints:
    1. keep a flame on the fire - if it is smoldering, that is a poor burn.
    2. Watch the chimney top - when the stove is burning well, less (or no) smoke will be exiting
    3. Start the stove up quickly and hot - get a good bed of embers - this critical mass keeps things relatively cleaner.
  4. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    ARGHHHHHH!!! Smoke Dragon is RIGHT. We cannot figure this thing out. It will burn great for a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden, it completely looses its draft...and "back puff" does NOT begin to describe the amount of smoke pouring out of this thing. It makes it's way though the flu, out the draft holes, out the doors, everywhere. And we just cannot figure out what the common demoninator is. I'm sure that our chimney height, stove placement, gaskets, etc. are all happy.
    Can you please give me more information on the SMOKE DRAGON description? I've got to try to figure out what the common denominator is for the 4 times the stove has completely FILLED my entire house with smoke....visualize smoke alarms being thrown out in the snow, all the doors open on a cold winter day...
    HELP!
  5. struggle

    struggle Minister of Fire

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    OK I will bite. I had a Vigilant that I rebuilt thanks in part largely to removed member ELK. Well What I found was that after the stove it worked so well that it exposed chimney problems that were not repairable. I completely tore the stove down into individual pieces and fully restored it.

    SO I sold the Vigilant on Ebay and relined my clay tile chimney and purchased a Hearthstone Mansfield soapstone stove since the Vigilant used an 8" flue and since I relined the existing chimney I was reduced to a 5.5" liner so a new stove was in order.

    All I can say is I can not understand way anyone would want to run the older stoves after moving up to the new EPA regulated models. The Mansfield is an absolute joy to run compared to the Vigilant (keep in mind I used the Vigilant for 6 years as my primary heat source) Way waaaaaaay longer burn times in the new stove. It uses easily a 1/3 less wood and burns what seems like a 1000 times cleaner.

    With the Vigilant I would sweep the chimney three times during the winter and could almost fill a five gallon bucket up with creosote. Last year I ran the Mansfield half the winter as I had a chimney fire due to creosote build up and the Mansfield was new mid winter install. I swept the liner in the spring and I was only able to fill maybe half a pop can full of fine powder. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Here I was with a five gallon bucket that I barely covered the bottom with dust from using the new stove.

    Hands down the best penny for penny upgrade I have ever made in our house. Plus we get to view the fire with the new stove as the glass always stays clean.

    If you are able to spend some money on a new stove you will not regret one bit. If you are going to heat 24/7 soapstone deserves serious looking into as I would never buy anything else now.
  6. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Amen bro. That's a heckuva an endorsement.
  7. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    Thanks for the comment. We've laid in bed saying "we might have to get a new stove". Fact is though, that money is way tight this winter and between flu and replacement parts (we too took apart the whole stove and rebuilt it) we're into it well over a grande. Not feeling particularly WISE, but that's the fact.

    It smoked us out AGAIN last night. And last night was the worst. I was up, digilintly getting it lit from cold after it sitting all day (didn't have the gumption to go at it again after it smoked us out in the a.m.). One thng I noticed - I could NOT get it up to temp. I finally got it up to around 300 degrees (flu temp about 16" above stove) - but never really seemed to get going. Wood was a combo of Aspen and Juniper -well seasoned and dry. Well, I'm sitting there, and the wind picked up and I literally watched the wind blow the flame out and cause a big "puff"! It's always windy here. And although this time, the wind was definitely the culprit - it has not been windy every time this has happened.

    SO - what can we do about the wind issue? Is out flue/chimney too short? I'm having a hard time believing this though - we've got a good 15' (high ceiling) inside and another 8-10' feet outside - plenty high according to code - above 10' away from chimney.

    PLEASE does anyone else have any advice to at least get us through this winter with this stove. I'm so frustrated....not to mention my sore throat and stinky clothes from smoking my house out...YIKES.

    We just keep seem to be getting some sort of "Perfect Storm" every once and a while. Sometimes it could be wind, sometimes it could be a little warm out? But what the heck is warm??? I'm reading a book right now about succesful wood burning - but haven't found info yet about all this.
  8. samandlillie

    samandlillie Member

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    Perhaps you need a chimney cap that is made with a wind vane to prevent downdrafts. Do you live near the bottom of a hill, that could cause the downdraft.
  9. seaken

    seaken Minister of Fire

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    Shokan, NY
    It's always hard to diagnose these things from a distance so I'll just raise some questions that may dislodge some unknowns.

    Is this your first wood stove?
    What does "seasoned" wood mean to you?
    What type of "kindling" wood are you using?
    Are you building up a 3" bed of red coals on the bottom of the stove?
    Do you have a high wind cap on the top of your chimney?
    Have you done any draft testing?
    Do you have a thermometer placed on the stove top giddle? How old is it?
    Do you have a probe thermometer in the connector pipe? Or, is it a surface thermometer?

    Sounds to me like you have wind problems and, probably, fuel problems. After that it's up to you, the operator, to work out the kinks and adjust to the circumstances of your own installation. If this is your first stove you are going through the learning curve. It is frustrating, especially with old technology. I still have hundred of Vigilants in service so it can be done. But, as already mentioned, a new modern technology stove will dramatically improve your experience.
  10. struggle

    struggle Minister of Fire

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    I did have a terrible problem with draft with mine and then had a custom baffled top made by a neighbor that had a machine shop and it made all the difference in the world. We before stopped using the Vigilant on windy days and after the baffled top on the chimney we could burn on the 30+ mph days no problem.

    Even that being corrected still will not help it burn any cleaner though but might buy you some time until a better set up comes your way.
  11. swestall

    swestall Minister of Fire

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    Draft, draft, draft: The question is why is it reversing on you?
    Either you can't pull through that stove or the chimney is not pulling enough.
    This is a real problem for you as it is smelling up you, the house, and your stuff.
    I would suggest calling in a chimney specialist for advice on how to get the draft under control.
    They can make some recommendations for you and that part won't likely cost much. From there you can
    decide what to do about the actual problem.
  12. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    Thanks everyone. This is our first wood stove in over 10 years, so psuedo newbies...but it is the first in this house for us. We DO live at the "bottom" of a hill - if you can call it that. We live about a 1/2 mile from the base of a 13,000 (elevation) foot hill (it's about 6,000 feet higher from our elevation) - we are also at a "low" point for our immediate area - it is a very large meadow (about 1.5 across and a mile deep) that is surrounded by slightly higher than us (a few hundred feet) hills on the three sides, and then the big volcano on the side I mentioned. Wind is common and constant here - and it is no unusual to have 30-40 mph gusts randomly through out the week.

    Seasoned wood is wood that was cut dead or down about a year ago and has been stacked and kept dry after it was split. That's what it is to us anyway. Our kindling is basically small thin "splitters" from that and from an old barn we took down off our property last year.

    Yes on the coals. That was one of the frustrating things - but last night it was diffused as part of the bafflement...up until last night, we'd have this problem after the stove had been burning and it was time to stoke it. So, there were nice hot embers, some flame, etc. and we'd add wood - and Poof, or Puff, or whatever. But last night, it was from a cold start. And I did a very slow cold start - which I think I mentioned - a few pieces of paper, kindling, let that get burning good, add one log, let that get burning good, get the flue thermometer (outside not probe on single wall) up to about 300 then add another couple of logs - at which point I would normally let her crank for a while - up to about 475-500 and then I'd start to shut her down a bit or depending on what we had going on - then I'd do the "horizontal burn" thing that the Vigilant does. But last night, it was at that moment, with a decent but small fire going that the gust of wind did it's thing. I watched it this time.

    So - we are definitely going to add a few feet to the chimney. Get any prevailing wind turbulance around the roof factor taken away. I'm hoping that works. If not, then it's time to call in the professionals. I'm a bit skeptic that it will work - because I know that at at least one time the thing backed up on us, it was not particularly windy....BUT some of my neighbors have said that a very strong gust of wind can blow through here with now forwarning and no trace afterwards...so maybe that's been the issue all along.

    Again, thanks for all the input. This is such a truly awesome part of the internet.
  13. corpseal

    corpseal Member

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    Okay, Apple, here ya go. You live in a very similar mountain climate to us. We are at 8000', sitting on the east facing slope of a mountain. We have regular winds here, sometimes steady, but usually very gusty from 15-60 mph. We had similar backpuffing and smoking issues, to the point of going thru several differents stoves, and different types of wood, and adding to our stovepipe length-nothing helped. The problem was the wind induced downdraft! We had the same problem with our on-demand water heater in our basement- the wind would cause a downdraft and blow out the pilot light. The immediate remedy was a really cool cap for our stovepipe, which our local stove shop called a conquistador's cap!!! That is what it looks similar to. The aerodynamics of this cap cause an immediate rotation into the wind; as the leading edge of the hat is the lowest, and is lower than the top of the stovepipe, it very effectively deflects any and all wind gusts.It cost about $100, and was the best money we ever spent. At our recommendation, our neighbor also bought one and took care of his similar problems.If you can nae find it locally, call The Stove Shop in Alamogordo NM at 505-434-6809 (I have no interest in that company). I would almost guarantee this as a remedy for you. I have never run across this product on the internet. The only similar product I have seen is called the Vacu-Stack (I believe). Good luck to you.
  14. JimWalshin845

    JimWalshin845 New Member

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    NJAppleinAZ,

    A few have asked the age of the stove. If it isn't on the serial # plate, you should be able to find casting marks on the inside of the front door(s), they should be on the lower corner section where the doors meet. You may have to wire brush them since you have had some draagon issues.

    Jim
  15. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    THANKS Corpseal! We are going to add the 2' to our chimney, recognizng that given the prevailing wind and our roof line, we think that will be one piece to the puzzle - AND I'm going to find the Conquistador cap as well and see what happens. It does sound like you live in pretty much an identical spot as us and right next door in NM too. Thank you. Now at least I don't feel completely foolish knowing that at least someone else out there has experienced the same thing.
  16. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    The stove is from 1977.
  17. corpseal

    corpseal Member

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    You are welcome, Apple! Oh, one other thing we did that helped was to replace our single wall stovepipe with double wall. That definitely helped our draft. As you may have surmised, stove setups draft much better the closer to sea level you get. At our altitudes, we need to utilize every trick in the book to increase draft. If you want to see one example of altitude affecting physics, check out a vacuum guage reading on your vehicle- it will read considerably lower than at sea level. Now, just for info, we have about 12-14' of straight double wall stovepipe inside the house, then another 6' in the attic with 2 45degree pieces, and then about 4' straight on top right at the roof peak. This setup works real well for us. Our stove is a Jotul Castine (400), and we are very happy with the way it heats our 1500' house (our only heat source). We burn douglas fir, oak, juniper, and pinyon pine- all available locally in the national forest. I believe our climate is zone 5-6, which yours should be also. It can get below zero here, and we have had over four feet of snow fall in a 48 hr period. Now, if you listen to the others and buy a new stove, you will have to deal with less wood usage- I am sure you would not mind that.
  18. JimWalshin845

    JimWalshin845 New Member

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    Rereading here you said you start with splits and then add logs... these 'logs'... are they split or full rounds?

    Addit/Edit... What size stove pipe did you install?
  19. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    Splits.
  20. azapple

    azapple New Member

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    Yes, we seem to be in pretty much identical areas - I'd only add Aspen to readily available wood - and me are almost always below zero in the dead of winter. Our stovepiple has no angles or bends in it - just straight up.

    But, we purposely went with single wall so that that heat would not ALL go out the chimney and would help to heat the house. Our house is 1600 square feet, and when it's cranking this stove heats the whole house well. I'm really hoping that adding a few feet to the height outside, as well as the Conquistador - that we'll be set. There is no way I'm tossing the $1200 worth of stove pipe out the door. Yikes.

    We're having a big party Christmas day and no time to modify before then...oh, please, oh, please do not be super windy....gulp.
  21. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Another possibility, is that you may have built up enough garp in the chimney to need cleaning... I know that our old smoke dragon would start getting difficult and back puff on us when we needed to clean it.... However I would also agree with the other suggestions to add some height to the chimney - that seems to be the best first step towards dealing with draft issues.

    Gooserider
  22. woodconvert

    woodconvert Minister of Fire

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    Question to add to the heap....what kind of chimney is it, masonry with a clay liner or double/tripple wall type??.

    "It smoked us out AGAIN last night. And last night was the worst. I was up, digilintly getting it lit from cold after it sitting all day (didn’t have the gumption to go at it again after it smoked us out in the a.m.). One thng I noticed - I could NOT get it up to temp."

    If it's masonry with a clay liner you MUST get it hot and keep it hot. If it was sitting all day (cold) and you quickly started a fire...well, there is no such thing. You gotta get a real good fire going with a 2"-3" coal bed. This can easily take more than an hour.

    If you have a double/tripple wall liner....then pay no attention to what i've written.
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