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Oxygen starved fire or so it would seem

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by skidud, Oct 17, 2010.

  1. skidud

    skidud Member

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    I recently installed a Napoleon 1400 stove in our dining room, which is off the back side of our house. We built our home in 2004 and it is very tight. I just tried to light our first fire in the stove a couple of days ago and had no success. I'll start from the beginning to give you a better picture. The stove was used one time by the previous owner. Not his cup of tea, good for me, or so I thought. I finished the installation about three weeks ago. When I first finished it I went and opened the door and put my hand up along the top and could feel the slightest bit of draw. I thought everything was good and looked forward to burning. I started with some well cured small kindling and newspaper. Nothing wrong with my fuel source or at least nothing that I can tell. Instantly I had a room full of smoke. I quickly realized that my wife had the dryer going and was quickly relieved to see that the back draft stopped the instant I cracked a window. I got the kindling going, threw on a few small pieces of wood, opened the damper to full bore and shut the door. Instantly, the fire started to die. For the next hour I worked to get a decent fire going but every time I closed the door, the fire would quickly snuff out. The instant I crack the door, you can see and feel the air rush in and the flames are renewed. I don't get it. I realize I'll need an outside air kit which I plan to install in the next few weeks. My chimney in inside our home and goes straight up through my dining room ceiling with no bends, plus I could feel draw so I don't think it can be that. I was starting to wonder if something didn't decide to nest up in the air passages while it sat in my garage all summer. I do notice that going from full close to full open has very little effect on how well the fire burns, it seems to dwindle and die either way and maybe lasts a little longer with the control full open. I don't know what to try next. Any help or suggestions are greatly appreciated.

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  2. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Welcome to hearth.com. My suggestion is: I think you'll find that more people will read your posts if you organize your thoughts into paragraphs.
    WidowMaker and wazzu like this.
  3. branchburner

    branchburner Minister of Fire

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    Assuming this is a masonry chimney. What is the size of your chimney flue? Is the stove connected to a steel liner, or does it just dump into the flue?
  4. Battenkiller

    Battenkiller Minister of Fire

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    Forget about what the fire looks like to you, sufficient flue temp is what is driving the machine.

    Put a thermometer on your flue pipe about 18-20" above the stove flue collar. Be patient with your fire and build it slowly while you watch it with the door cracked. When the thermometer reaches 500ºF, close the door and see what happens. If it dies, something is wacky with the stove. If you can't get it up that high with the door cracked open, something is wrong with your wood or your flue.
  5. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    How dry is the firewood (not the kindling)? It sounds like this is a pretty tight house, if so does it have a fresh air exchange system that runs continuously? It could be the stove needs an OAK, and perhaps drier wood.
  6. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    How tall is the stack? Exterior chimney?
  7. skidud

    skidud Member

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    It is a Class A with 6" flue.
  8. Pagey

    Pagey Minister of Fire

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    One way you can do a brief test of the effectiveness of your air control: crumple up several sheets of newspaper (knotting them loosely can help them stay put), put them in the center of the fire box, and light them. With the flames established, shut the door and latch it. Now slam the primary air control shut. The paper should die to a smolder. Open the control to full air, and the flames should jump back to life. Now, I'm not saying it's the most scientific or accurate test on the block, but it will give you an idea as to whether or not your primary air control is working.
  9. skidud

    skidud Member

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    It’s doublewall pipe so I would guess the outer liner won’t hit 500 would it? Either way, I know the inner liner wasn’t at 500 because I borrowed my brothers laser thermometer and shot a beam in through a vent slot in the outer wall. I don’t remember what temp it was reading there but I know it wasn’t over 300 at the time I checked it.

    Definitely something I didn’t realize was how long it can take to build a fire that is hot enough to close the door. My only wood stove experience is with my parent’s which isn’t an airtight.
  10. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Definitely a tight house and no air exchanger. If the dryer is running, it's back drafting like crazy until I open a window so I know I need an OAK. But with the window open, wouldn't that have the same effect as an OAK? Drier wood COULD be the problem but I'm really doubting it at this point since it burns well, or seems to be, with the door open and it should be seasoned by now. Does wet wood require more oxygen hence making it harder to close the door and keep the flame?
  11. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Inside the home Class A with about 11' of stack length.
  12. Pagey

    Pagey Minister of Fire

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    Wet wood will spend a lot of its BTUs boiling away the water. In addition, the steam released can cool the gases inside the stove (that would otherwise get hot enough to burn), and it can serve to cool the flue gases, resulting in more creosote.
    Rex likes this.
  13. Swedishchef

    Swedishchef Minister of Fire

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    SKidud,

    Welcome to the forums! There is a wealth of information, tips and different opinions which will be of great value to you. They certainly are for me.

    The Napoleon 1400 manual doesn't really explain how to light a fire. Especially for someone who hasn't used an EPA stove before. I don't have an Napoleon stove but the manual for my stove certainly seems to be a bit better than the 1400s. Here's what my stove manual states for ignition:

    " After making sure that the stove air intake controls are fully open (completely pull-out towardsyou), place several rumpled sheets of paper in the centre of the combustion chamber. Place 8 to 10 pieces of small dry kindling wood over the paper in the form of a tent. You may also place a few pieces of heating wood, but choose the smaller ones. No chemical product should be used to light the fire. Before igniting the paper and kindling wood, it is recommended that you warm up the chimney. This is done in order to avoid back draft problems often due to negative pressure in the house. If such is the case, open a window slightly near the stove and twist together a few sheets of newspaper into a torch. Light up this paper torch and hold it as close as possible to the mouth of the pipe inside the combustion chamber to warm up the chimney. Once the updraft movement is initiated, you are ready to ignite the stove by lighting the paper and kindling wood inside the combustion chamber. We therefore advise you to leave the door slightly opened (1/4") for a 10 to 30 minutes period, under supervision, in order to allow for good combustion. After this time, you must close the door and progressively adjust the air control to obtain the desired temperature.

    I usually leave my door open 1/4 of an inch for about 5-10 mins and by then, the kindling of roaring.

    You're right, a double wall stove pipe magnetic thermometer won't read 500. Purchase a probe thermometer. I have DW stove pipe and a probe. When I get the fire going, I warm up the temperature to approximately 400-500 and then start turning down the primary air flow. As the HOT gases go up the chimney, the chimney warms up. The warmer the chimney gets, the more draft you obtain. Hence why when you light the fire initially, leave the door slightly open for a few minutes and let the fire crackle nice and hot. DON'T LEAVE THE STOVE. There's a chance you forget the door is open and can overfire your stove (and possibly burn your house down).

    Lots of my in-laws have gone from what people call "smoke dragons" (pre-EPA stoves, toss in the wood and let er fly) to EPA stoves. It was quite the learning curve for them.

    Good luck!

    Andrew
    Rex likes this.
  14. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Good thought, I'm going to try that right now. Thanks to everyone else as well. I was up way too late when I posted my question so excuse me if it was rambling a little. I forget about the time difference sometimes and didn't figure anyone would respond so quickly at that time of night.
  15. skidud

    skidud Member

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    I just tried the crumpled sheets of paper test. I lit it and closed the door with the air control closed. It burned for maybe 20 to 30 seconds and then started to die. I then opened the control up but it still died out about 10 seconds later. I then cracked the door open to throw another match on it and it instantly relights itself and all the smoke gets sucked up the chimney. I close the door and air control. It goes another 20 to 30 seconds, it dwindles, I open the air control but it still dies. Then I open the door and it relights itself again. I'm baffled by this thing.
  16. Pagey

    Pagey Minister of Fire

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    Definitely sounds like a negative pressure problem. Can you post some pics of the exterior? How high above the roof line is your Class A? Does it have a screen on the cap? Any obstructions in the way?
  17. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Thanks for the good info chef. I feel like if it isn't the stove itself, then it's got to be me. I can't believe this is a wood moisture or chimney issue. I was ready to try and start another fire but after my little paper test, I'm not so sure it would work. Something has to blocking my air ways but I can't see any blockage at the little holes in the air tube thing at the top. I also don't see anything at the slot in the bottom where the damper controls the air input. I'm wondering about trying to blow a little air through that bottom slot with my little electric air mattress pump to see if I can feel or see anything coming out in the firebox. This thing acts like it's not getting any air unless it's through the door.
    swagler85 likes this.
  18. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Sorry, my camera is in pieces right now. It's about two foot above the roof peak which is about 8' away. No screen but it does have a rain cap. I don't believe there are any obstructions since I just put the thing up about two weeks ago. Why would opening the door be any different than opening the damper in regards to negative pressure? Is this something that the OAK would cure?
  19. Pagey

    Pagey Minister of Fire

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    You may need another section of chimney. You should be at least 3' above the roof penetration, and 2' higher than anything within 10' of the chimney.

    http://www.fireplacesnow.com/smchinfo.asp
    The chimney must extend at least 2 feet above any portion of any structure within 10 feet (measured horizontally) AND must extend at least 3 feet above the highest point of its roof penetration.
  20. oldspark

    oldspark Guest

    My summit will not start with the door closed period, I am sure some people remember my posts about this last spring, do not know if this applies to your stove but I get my flue temp up to at least 200 and then close the door. I have what seems to be a good draft as the stove works well after the start up so maybe you could keep the door open (a crack is all) until the flue is above 200 and then you can shut the door and it might work fine after that.
  21. madison

    madison Minister of Fire

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    If the fire responds to the door opening and closing, than I would think you could rule out obstruction of chimney But you could not rule out inadequate draft.

    I would personally get the schematic (link below), and pull the firebricks out, and shop vac the interior of the stove, ash pan if you have it, and see if you can identify where the primary air enters the unit and make sure that it is not clogged with ash or something, as well as figure out if the primary air controls are indeed opening.

    Otherwise, as stated above, inadequate draft, ie chimney height or chimney construction should be inspected.

    Manual link: http://www.napoleonfireplaces.com/Tech/installation_manuals/EPA_Pedestal.pdf
  22. oldspark

    oldspark Guest

    To add to that I DO NOT have a problem with my draft but I still have to have the door open when I start a new fire.
  23. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Oldspark, your thread is one of the first ones I read when I was searching and it along with what the chef wrote, had me thinking more about it being my issue as opposed to the stove. I think I'll try and get a fire going again and leave the door cracked until I get the flue temp up. I'll post back once I've tried that. If that doesn't work, I'm going to look into some more chimney length, which I might add anyways if it's going to help. Basically Pagey, what your saying is that my negative pressure is going to be so strong that the damper isn't enough air flow but opening the door is and that another length of chimney would help this? Don't take what I'm writing the wrong way. I really am baffled by this and am trying to get to the bottom of it. I just want to make sure we understand each other. Also, thanks again for everyone's quick replies. I never thought I would get so much help so quickly.
  24. Pagey

    Pagey Minister of Fire

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    Well, let me lay out this way and give you some food for thought. Today's houses are much tighter, and that alone can make a negative pressure situation more common that it once was, perhaps. Another thing to chew on is that modern, EPA certified stoves have a much smaller opening which flue gases pass through. In an old stove, there was no baffle to impede the flue gases from going straight to the flue collar and up the chimney. Now, my Lopi Endeavor features a bypass damper (in addition to the air control) that I can open. This "bypasses" the baffle in the top of the stove and allows flue gases to go straight up the chimney. A handy feature when lighting off a cold stove and when cleaning the flue. But most EPA stoves have only the opening at the top/front of the baffle. This alone restricts draft by limiting the air space. Add to that a tight house and a potentially short chimney, and the effects may be multiplied.

    Now, I'm not a dealer/installer/engineer. So take what I say with a grain of salt. But if you do in fact have a tight house and only 2' of chimney exposed above the roof line, it sounds like you're on the border with a strong negative pressure situation + marginal chimney height.
  25. skidud

    skidud Member

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    Good to know. Funny you mention your Lopi and the second control. I was talking to my brother about my issue and he was saying how the Lopi he wants to install has that feature. He wasn't sure why it needed two controls or what their purposes were. I'm sure he'll be glad to know that he at least will have that advantage over me and hopefully won't hat the issue I'm having right now.

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