Am I wrong to hate my Lopi Freedom insert for not being a Blaze King?

pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Short story:
I'm used to a Blaze King Ashford 30.1. Will I never be happy with the Lopi Freedom? Should I just start looking for a Princess insert?

Long story:
We just bought a new house and moved unexpectedly. At my old house, I remodeled the whole place, moved walls around, did airflow analysis and whatnot, and located a freestanding Blaze King Ashford in the perfect place. It heated the 2196 sqft perfectly without a blower. We'd load it, and never think about it again all day.

Our new house has a beautiful stone fireplace with a Lopi Freedom insert trying to heat 2626 sqft. The blower works great and is nice and quiet. It does seem to heat the place ok if I keep it running hard (kinda have to keep it running hard as a secondary combustion stove anyway). Burn times are quite lackluster. The firebox must be an absolute kiln for the better part of an hour if you expect to get it turned down and running reliably off secondary combustion. It seems like it'll fizzle on you if you don't get enough momentum going though. By the time you get it well established, it seems to put a decent dent in the wood, and you're not left with much cruising time. It's bad enough that we just get sick of tending it, and end up letting the gas furnace take over constantly. I don't yet know what that will cost me. It's in great shape and seems to be in proper working order, I just kinda hate it.

The supposedly "large" 2.9 cubic foot firebox seems like a waste. It has no height, and I can't get two solid rows of splits in there. It's not quite deep enough for N/S loading. It's trapezoidal, so I can't make good use of all the space. Maybe if I had a lot of weird wood and put a ton of thought into playing Tetris with it, but it just seems like an inefficient use of space. I went to all the effort to move our firewood collection from the old house. It took seven trips with a heaping 6x12 dump trailer, and now I don't even feel like using it all!

I miss thermostatic control, and I miss long burn times. I really don't want to fork out for another retail price Blaze King...again! Ugh. The wife found a mint condition Blaze King Royal Heir 2250 for cheap, and I'm actually considering it! I just missed out on a Princess Insert with the pewter door for $500 locally. Needless to say, it didn't last long, and I'm mourning the loss of what I never had.
 
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BKVP

Minister of Fire
Inserts are hard to compare to freestanding wood heaters. Having the entire heater within the confines of the living space is a major plus over inserts. Travis makes great products with great product reviews.

Have you tried larger pieces of wood in order to reduce surface area? Larger pieces can extend your burn times. Perhaps get the unit fired up and once you have the secondaries going, then load the large sized pieces and slowly reduced the air to extend those burn times.
 

pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Well, Chris, I must say: you truly are a class act. Your response here speaks volumes about your care for the customer's experience rather than dollars in the company's pocket. This is one of the reasons I've already outfitted two homes with Blaze Kings and also convinced two additional friends to do the same--you all have earned my trust. I gave you an easy opportunity to disparage a competitor's product and promote your own, but you stayed objective and earnest, lending helpful advice instead.

I hear what you're saying about inserts vs freestanding. I know there's an efficiency penalty, and natural convection is nearly dead compared to a jacketed stove with 360 degree exposure in the room. But with a blower, I feel like I should be able to harvest more BTUs with less wood, or for a longer span of time.

I guess I just can't get past the open-loop control system. It's ineffective, compared to the thermostatic Blaze King. I've tried larger splits, smaller splits, softwoods, hardwoods--you name it. I just find myself constantly preoccupied with whether or not it's properly dialed in for the size of wood and species of wood. This is why a closed-loop control system is so crucial to me. Six weeks of this, and I'd kill to have an Ashford I could just set and walk away from.

The Lopi Freedom by Travis is indeed a quality-made product. I have no qualms about how it's put together. It puts on a great show as well, and is great for ambiance when we have company over. The secondary combustion works great, and it appears to burn cleanly. It just isn't gaining my confidence as the everyday workhorse. It's more of a show-pony. There's a market for that, it just isn't with me. It's a shame too, since someone probably paid a handsome price to outfit our home with it. I'd venture to guess that the folks who rave about its performance probably haven't spent much time with a well-tuned Blaze King.
 
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BKVP

Minister of Fire
Cordwood just isn't a metered fuel, period. It's arbitrary in the way it burns. Sitting in the lab or in front of your own stove, watch how the wood collapses and enjoy it because it only happens one time in that exact same way. The trick is metering out that potential heat load.

I have many friends in the industry that own many brands or designs of stoves. Each has learned "tricks" to get the most from their respective stoves...and hopefully you'll figure out a trick or two and share your experience.

Although you are looking for longer burn times, maybe using less per load and loading more often, will allow for a more even heat output.

@Webby3660 has installed plenty of the Travis units. Try to PM him. He moved into a hollow somewhere and has limited access, but try him nevertheless.

And thank you.
 
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PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
883
MA
I have a little Lopi insert and love it for my application.

Your framing the question has:

Stove vs. Insert,
Home 20% larger,
Previous home built for optimum air flow.

Difficult to compare products with meaningful variables.
 
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pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
I have a little Lopi insert and love it for my application.

Your framing the question has:

Stove vs. Insert,
Home 20% larger,
Previous home built for optimum air flow.

Difficult to compare products with meaningful variables.
It's true that there are new challenges, but I still think a Blaze King would do better for our purposes. My biggest issue is the need for constant monitoring to get optimal performance from this Lopi. It doesn't seem like I can count on it to get us through the night, and we can't be gone all day either. The only way to get a long burn seems to involve turning it into a smoke dragon by turning the air down too far and killing the secondary combustion. Even if a stove can't heat the larger house, just getting more consistent "help" for the gas furnace would be a step in the right direction. I'm not quite as concerned with BTUs as I am with burn times. Don't get me wrong, more BTUs is great and I'd love it if an insert could heat this larger home by itself (may be unrealistic), but the primary problem right now is usability.
 
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pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Although you are looking for longer burn times, maybe using less per load and loading more often, will allow for a more even heat output.
That could potentially be doable one or two days a week. I like to wake up to a warm house with lots of coals. I don't think that's possible with this Lopi. I also get sick of starting new fires. With my Ashford, I could count the number of times I had to strike a match during the winter on one hand. I'm sad to have left that behind. The new owner hasn't even fired it up yet, which saddens me just a bit more.
 

Woodsplitter67

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2017
1,698
Woolwich nj
I dont think your going to be happy with any insert you install. Your used to a free standing stove and the heat that it puts out., as well as a firebox that is more square. Any insert you install is going to have a different firebox than what your used to. The feel that your used to will be different. In my house you walk in and you feel my cast stove.. All sides are exposed, You walk into my friends house who has an insert and you just don't feel the heat. because just the fronts exposed. Its just different. I dont own a Lopi stove but looked at them and was considering one when I was looking at stoves. Its not the brand of stove you having issues with.. its free standing vs insert is the issue..
 
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pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
I'm doing some more experimenting, observing, and thinking. The jury is still out.

I may be retracting my statement about the secondary burn operating as expected. I think I was just seeing general swirling flames at the top of the box running off some amount of primary air during a hard burn. If I shut the primary air off, I eventually end up with zero flames. I never really see any flames attached to the tubes, and the don't appear to be operating like burners. I'm wondering if my secondary air path is somehow blocked? I'm not sure what path it takes.

I'm obviously Blaze King biased. I'll freely admit that, but I think they've earned my bias. That said, I think there should be a possibility where the Lopi is at least "acceptable" in my mind. We're just not there yet.

One thing for sure is I'm going to have to start cutting my wood differently. The firebox shape just won't let me stack the big splits of odd lengths that my Ashford allowed. I have a ton of wood (many tons, actually) that I scavenged from arborist leftovers, and they're not known for cutting regular lengths or shapes! I may have to keep an axe on the porch and resplit this stuff as I use it. Loading N/S seems to work a little better for getting more wood in the box, but I can't use long stuff that way. This could get a bit annoying until I'm back to regular 16" splits that I've cut myself.
 

pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Its not the brand of stove you having issues with.. its free standing vs insert is the issue..
Thanks for the input, but I think that's oversimplified. I also have a friend that installed a BK Princess insert on my recommendation, and we both love how it operates and keeps his house warm. It's dependent on a blower, of course, whereas my Ashford was not.

You're right, it's not the brand, per se. It's also not the heat output I'm concerned with. I have no complaints there. I do feel the insert when I walk into the great room where it resides.

My issues are:
Catalytic vs non-catalytic
Square box vs trapezoidal
Thermostatic control vs open-loop control

I think the blower on the Lopi insert vs no blower on the freestanding BK Ashford levels the playing field when it comes to heat output. You can tell the insert does nothing before the blower kicks in. You really can't feel the heat until that thing turns on, unless you're right in front of the glass.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,564
South Puget Sound, WA
Some stoves pinch back the rear of the stove to keep it shallower so that it doesn't project as much into the room. After a couple of seasons with the shallow Castine, then switching to the T6, I became a total fan of the square firebox. In a fireplace, they do this to conform to the typical rearward taper that is built into the fireplace. In that case, the issue is not the insert, but the constraints dictated by the fireplace construction and depth.

Next time instead of cutting the air all the way down, turn it 75% down and see if that improves secondary burning. The fact that the fire can be snuffed out when the air is all the way closed does not indicate secondary passages are blocked. That almost never happens because the secondary tubes are in a vacuum environment created by the flue draft. Air is pulled out of them by the draft. Poor secondary burn indicates either less than ideal wood or weak draft or both. Weak draft could be due to a number of factors like a short chimney, warm outside temperature, or a compromised liner, or no liner at all (slammer install).
 
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pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Some stoves pinch back the rear of the stove to keep it shallower so that it doesn't project as much into the room. After a couple of seasons with the shallow Castine, then switching to the T6, I became a total fan of the square firebox. In a fireplace, they do this to conform to the typical rearward taper that is built into the fireplace. In that case, the issue is not the insert, but the constraints dictated by the fireplace construction and depth.

Next time instead of cutting the air all the way down, turn it 75% down and see if that improves secondary burning. The fact that the fire can be snuffed out when the air is all the way closed does not indicate secondary passages are blocked. That almost never happens because the secondary tubes are in a vacuum environment created by the flue draft. Air is pulled out of them by the draft. Poor secondary burn indicates either less than ideal wood or weak draft or both. Weak draft could be due to a number of factors like a short chimney, warm outside temperature, or a compromised liner, or no liner at all (slammer install).
Our fireplace does taper at the back, but I'd rather have a square firebox and have the unit stick out. Even if I had to put a small hearth on the floor to stay compliant, I'd rather have the square box.

It's not a slammer install, though I did discover that a large blob of mortar fell down at some point and busted the smoke shelf. It's also not a short chimney. We have a 21' inside ceiling, and the chimney is at the peak. I'd estimate it to be 25' at least. It's also at the highest point of the roof.

I have tried not shutting the air all the way down, and that's where the problem lies. Reintroducing primary air just seems to eat the wood up, and I think it's a primary burn rather than a secondary burn. It just doesn't seem right to me.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,564
South Puget Sound, WA
Yes, There are some inserts out there with square fireboxes. That sounds like a good height for draft. When turning down the air, try to find the sweet spot in between a raging fire and the flames going out. Turn down the air to the point where the flames slow down and get lazier. Then wait, if the fire regains strength in 5 or 10 minutes, repeat.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,597
central pa
Well, Chris, I must say: you truly are a class act. Your response here speaks volumes about your care for the customer's experience rather than dollars in the company's pocket. This is one of the reasons I've already outfitted two homes with Blaze Kings and also convinced two additional friends to do the same--you all have earned my trust. I gave you an easy opportunity to disparage a competitor's product and promote your own, but you stayed objective and earnest, lending helpful advice instead.

I hear what you're saying about inserts vs freestanding. I know there's an efficiency penalty, and natural convection is nearly dead compared to a jacketed stove with 360 degree exposure in the room. But with a blower, I feel like I should be able to harvest more BTUs with less wood, or for a longer span of time.

I guess I just can't get past the open-loop control system. It's ineffective, compared to the thermostatic Blaze King. I've tried larger splits, smaller splits, softwoods, hardwoods--you name it. I just find myself constantly preoccupied with whether or not it's properly dialed in for the size of wood and species of wood. This is why a closed-loop control system is so crucial to me. Six weeks of this, and I'd kill to have an Ashford I could just set and walk away from.

The Lopi Freedom by Travis is indeed a quality-made product. I have no qualms about how it's put together. It puts on a great show as well, and is great for ambiance when we have company over. The secondary combustion works great, and it appears to burn cleanly. It just isn't gaining my confidence as the everyday workhorse. It's more of a show-pony. There's a market for that, it just isn't with me. It's a shame too, since someone probably paid a handsome price to outfit our home with it. I'd venture to guess that the folks who rave about its performance probably haven't spent much time with a well-tuned Blaze King.
Every tube stove I have run has been set it and forget it. I think if you give the stove a real chance you will figure that out. Can you describe your install and operating procedures a bit?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,597
central pa
Everyone loves pics, right?
Ok it looks like you have a decent height chimney. Does the liner run all the way to the top of the chimney? Is the liner insulated? Is there a block off plate installed?
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,564
South Puget Sound, WA
Everyone loves pics, right?
Well, even if the stove is not ideal, the place looks gorgeous. The fireplace, however, looka like it really pinches back.
 

pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
When turning down the air, try to find the sweet spot in between a raging fire and the flames going out. Turn down the air to the point where the flames slow down and get lazier. Then wait, if the fire regains strength in 5 or 10 minutes, repeat.
That's the current procedure. If I bump it up just a bit to reestablish some flame, it looks like the primary burn kicks off again, and the wood gets eaten up pretty quickly. It just doesn't seem to act like a tube burner. It acts like a conventional stove. I just don't think I'm seeing the secondary burn here.
 

pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Well, even if the stove is not ideal, the place looks gorgeous. The fireplace, however, looka like it really pinches back.
Thanks, we really love it. It's right by the river too. It's a real shame 90% of the neighbor's houses all burnt down on Labor Day. :(
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
86,564
South Puget Sound, WA
Yes, it's sad, that is such a beautiful area. Silver Falls is one of our favorite OR parks to visit.
 
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pvfjr

Burning Hunk
Nov 18, 2015
150
Lyons, OR
Ok it looks like you have a decent height chimney. Does the liner run all the way to the top of the chimney? Is the liner insulated? Is there a block off plate installed?
Finding the answers to these questions are probably my next steps. I haven't been on the roof yet. I'd imagine the liner goes to the top, but I question whether it's insulated. Although, I think that'd be more of an issue with creosote buildup than short burn times and lack of secondary burn performance right?
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,597
central pa
Finding the answers to these questions are probably my next steps. I haven't been on the roof yet. I'd imagine the liner goes to the top, but I question whether it's insulated. Although, I think that'd be more of an issue with creosote buildup than short burn times and lack of secondary burn performance right?
So you are burning in a setup which you really don't know anything about how it was installed?
 
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Nealm66

Minister of Fire
Sep 25, 2020
818
Western Washington
I totally get your frustration. Maybe a blaze king insert might not produce as much heat for the short time but I’d replace the lopi for a blaze king and get the longer burn times. I’d do it now while there seems to be high demand for the resale of the lopi. Just trying to make a blaze king out of the lopi is just going to frustrate the heck out of you. That’s what I would do, to each his own
 

BKVP

Minister of Fire
Inserts that sit out in front (hearth heaters) typically are function over beauty. We have the Princess insert that your buddy has, with 12.5" in front of the fireplace for better heat transference. Kuma makes one...there are others. These hearth heaters may also require floor hearth considerations too with 16" in front requirements.

You can't compare them to flush mounts...not with 3 sides and top behind a shroud, different animals.