England's Stove Works / Englander 32-NC strange behavior

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lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
Hi all-
We just installed a new (Manufactured 12/21) Englander 32-NC to replace our sadly split-at-the back-seam Fisher Mama Bear. The Fisher was here when we bought the place, and we've burned her for 10 years, now. Sadly it has a split seam in the back that needs repair, and that will take some time to get welded. So we thought we'd go green and buy an EPA-approved appliance.

We're not know-it-alls, but we have grown up with wood and coal stoves all our lives: from our faithful Fisher to a big CD catalytic cast iron beast, and many other stoves that we'd rather forget. We're not exactly newbies to stoves--but this Englander has us stumped--and quite frankly a bit humbled. So my wife suggested that we ask the folks who have probably forgotten more about stoves than we'll ever know...

We had the stove professionally installed, using the same outside, double-walled stainless chimney with down-draft preventing cap that vented the Fisher. We were careful to follow the steps outlined in the stove's manual. Right out of the gate, something didn't seem right with the stove. The outdoor break-in burns were incredibly difficult to accomplish, and the stove would not stay lit when we closed the door. Every time we closed the door, the fire would go out. The primary air damper seemed to have little effect on the stove during these break-in burns. We chalked it up to the unseasonably cold day, and lack of extra stove pipe on the stove during the break-in burns.

When we installed the stove we knew it wasn't in the best location in the house: a below-grade, minimally-heated basement, but the Fisher never had any issues (apples & oranges, I know), so we thought it would be fine. But it wasn't fine... nothing we do will keep a fire in this stove, no matter where we set the primary air, The best we can do is watch helplessly as the flames quickly die as soon as we close the door and the fire smolders its way to a finish.

Here's what we've done to fix this installation:
1. Installed a Draft Collar. Nothing would start this stove--not a flaming piece of newspaper, not a propane blowtorch, nothing. The Fisher started with one sheet of newspaper--I know, apples and pears. (BTW, this Draft Collar is a very good product--it keeps the flue temp between 85 and 90 degrees, and it's currently 7 degrees outside. Left on its own, in this weather, the flue temp would be around 45 or less!)
2. Added three feet of chimney. At 20-ft, the chimney is almost too tall now, but my installer says that's as high as he would go.
3. Checked our fuel moisture level--everything is under 10% on the meter. The fuel is mostly well-seasoned oak.
4. Chimney is clean, with no obstructions
5. Yes, we've done the open-the-window thing--no effect whatsoever.
6. Our installer did not recommend an outside air intake, since the stove is below grade.
(He said it could be a smoke hazard, but didn't go into why.)

The strange behaviors:
1. Even when we let the flames build for 30 mins or more, with the door cracked, the flames die within 1 min. once the door is closed. Stove temps are around 300, primary air fully open. Could there be an obstruction of the primary air? I know the new 32-NC's no longer have a doghouse by the glass, and so I cannot see where the primary air comes into the stove. For now, with the door cracked, we essentially have a fireplace...

2. Even with a decent firebox of flames, opening the door more than a few inches will cause smoke to pour into the room--and yes, I'm opening it painfully slowly. It's almost as though there isn't a strong enough draft or there's some type of obstruction. Would this type of behavior come from a faulty primary air damper? The double-layer of ceramic batts above the secondary burn tubes look to be OK, but not really certain what faulty ceramic batts would look like. We've never achieved a secondary burn anyway.
3. Could this just be a draft issue? Having the primary smoke route to the flue just a few inches from the door (and only a few inches wide at that) sounds like a recipe for smoke rolling out of the stove, so I'm guessing EPA-rated stoves probably need better draft than say an old Fisher Mama Bear. But then, I'm not an EPA-rated stove designer.

For anyone who has read this far--many thanks. I'm calling the company tech line on Monday, but hoping that someone with more experience in this forum might have a solution.

Stay warm,

-Mark
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,474
central pa
Hi all-
We just installed a new (Manufactured 12/21) Englander 32-NC to replace our sadly split-at-the back-seam Fisher Mama Bear. The Fisher was here when we bought the place, and we've burned her for 10 years, now. Sadly it has a split seam in the back that needs repair, and that will take some time to get welded. So we thought we'd go green and buy an EPA-approved appliance.

We're not know-it-alls, but we have grown up with wood and coal stoves all our lives: from our faithful Fisher to a big CD catalytic cast iron beast, and many other stoves that we'd rather forget. We're not exactly newbies to stoves--but this Englander has us stumped--and quite frankly a bit humbled. So my wife suggested that we ask the folks who have probably forgotten more about stoves than we'll ever know...

We had the stove professionally installed, using the same outside, double-walled stainless chimney with down-draft preventing cap that vented the Fisher. We were careful to follow the steps outlined in the stove's manual. Right out of the gate, something didn't seem right with the stove. The outdoor break-in burns were incredibly difficult to accomplish, and the stove would not stay lit when we closed the door. Every time we closed the door, the fire would go out. The primary air damper seemed to have little effect on the stove during these break-in burns. We chalked it up to the unseasonably cold day, and lack of extra stove pipe on the stove during the break-in burns.

When we installed the stove we knew it wasn't in the best location in the house: a below-grade, minimally-heated basement, but the Fisher never had any issues (apples & oranges, I know), so we thought it would be fine. But it wasn't fine... nothing we do will keep a fire in this stove, no matter where we set the primary air, The best we can do is watch helplessly as the flames quickly die as soon as we close the door and the fire smolders its way to a finish.

Here's what we've done to fix this installation:
1. Installed a Draft Collar. Nothing would start this stove--not a flaming piece of newspaper, not a propane blowtorch, nothing. The Fisher started with one sheet of newspaper--I know, apples and pears. (BTW, this Draft Collar is a very good product--it keeps the flue temp between 85 and 90 degrees, and it's currently 7 degrees outside. Left on its own, in this weather, the flue temp would be around 45 or less!)
2. Added three feet of chimney. At 20-ft, the chimney is almost too tall now, but my installer says that's as high as he would go.
3. Checked our fuel moisture level--everything is under 10% on the meter. The fuel is mostly well-seasoned oak.
4. Chimney is clean, with no obstructions
5. Yes, we've done the open-the-window thing--no effect whatsoever.
6. Our installer did not recommend an outside air intake, since the stove is below grade.
(He said it could be a smoke hazard, but didn't go into why.)

The strange behaviors:
1. Even when we let the flames build for 30 mins or more, with the door cracked, the flames die within 1 min. once the door is closed. Stove temps are around 300, primary air fully open. Could there be an obstruction of the primary air? I know the new 32-NC's no longer have a doghouse by the glass, and so I cannot see where the primary air comes into the stove. For now, with the door cracked, we essentially have a fireplace...

2. Even with a decent firebox of flames, opening the door more than a few inches will cause smoke to pour into the room--and yes, I'm opening it painfully slowly. It's almost as though there isn't a strong enough draft or there's some type of obstruction. Would this type of behavior come from a faulty primary air damper? The double-layer of ceramic batts above the secondary burn tubes look to be OK, but not really certain what faulty ceramic batts would look like. We've never achieved a secondary burn anyway.
3. Could this just be a draft issue? Having the primary smoke route to the flue just a few inches from the door (and only a few inches wide at that) sounds like a recipe for smoke rolling out of the stove, so I'm guessing EPA-rated stoves probably need better draft than say an old Fisher Mama Bear. But then, I'm not an EPA-rated stove designer.

For anyone who has read this far--many thanks. I'm calling the company tech line on Monday, but hoping that someone with more experience in this forum might have a solution.

Stay warm,

-Mark
First thing did you verify that the baffle is placed in the stove properly?

How are you testing moisture content. Below 10% is very suspect because that really isn't achievable without a kiln in most areas
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
7,130
NE Ohio
3. Checked our fuel moisture level--everything is under 10% on the meter. The fuel is mostly well-seasoned oak.
That ole Fisher would eat wood that is not dry...modern stoves will not...and you have all the classic symptoms of "not dry" fuel
If you are not splitting the wood open and checking it in the middle of a freshly exposed face, then you are doing it wrong...and I agree with bholler, almost impossible to get wood down to 10%, unless you are in Arizona maybe...
 
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MAD MARK

Feeling the Heat
Jan 31, 2016
475
Pittsburgh PA
My 5 year old red oak reads 7.7% on the outside. Top covered facing the sun and wind.

When I properly test it (bring to 65°, split it, test middle with the grain) it comes out to 17-18. Some big chunks (8x8x20) even come out above 20.

This is 5 year old css.
 

lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
First thing did you verify that the baffle is placed in the stove properly?

How are you testing moisture content. Below 10% is very suspect because that really isn't achievable without a kiln in most areas
Thanks for your reply.

I did as good a check of the baffle as I could--I'm assuming the baffles are the double-layered ceramic boards, above the secondary burn tubes. They didn't seem all that tightly put in place, but they didn't have much play in them. I actually considered removing them when the stove arrived, since they didn't look all that substantial--if I hadn't read the manual, I might have actually removed them as packing material.

That ole Fisher would eat wood that is not dry...modern stoves will not...and you have all the classic symptoms of "not dry" fuel
If you are not splitting the wood open and checking it in the middle of a freshly exposed face, then you are doing it wrong...and I agree with bholler, almost impossible to get wood down to 10%, unless you are in Arizona maybe...
Thanks for your message.

I always check the moisture content the same way: I use a decent-sized split, which I further split with my kindling cracker. Then, I test the split kindling with my moisture meter (on the ends and in the center) of the recently-split kindling. This year's wood is at least two years old, kept in a very well ventilated and sunny-drenched woodshed. My Home Depot moisture meter may not be the best--I'll certainly admit that--but I'm confident that the wood is quite dry.
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
7,130
NE Ohio
7.7% on the outside.
Outside measurement is meaningless for burning.
This is 5 year old css.
@bholler says it doesn't matter how old it gets after 2 years, it doesn't dry down more than its 2YO MC...not saying I agree with him though...I've had 3 year CSS'd (and top covered) white oak that still sizzled and pizzed water out the end.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,474
central pa
Outside measurement is meaningless for burning.

@bholler says it doesn't matter how old it gets after 2 years, it doesn't dry down more than its 2YO MC...not saying I agree with him though...I've had 3 year CSS'd (and top covered) white oak that still sizzled and pizzed water out the end.
That is not at all what I said. I said for me it doesn't get much better after 2 years. And that time isn't what matters it's moisture content.

Btw I would never have anything 8x8 in my stacks 6x6 max most are 4"
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
28,474
central pa
Thanks for your reply.

I did as good a check of the baffle as I could--I'm assuming the baffles are the double-layered ceramic boards, above the secondary burn tubes. They didn't seem all that tightly put in place, but they didn't have much play in them. I actually considered removing them when the stove arrived, since they didn't look all that substantial--if I hadn't read the manual, I might have actually removed them as packing material.


Thanks for your message.

I always check the moisture content the same way: I use a decent-sized split, which I further split with my kindling cracker. Then, I test the split kindling with my moisture meter (on the ends and in the center) of the recently-split kindling. This year's wood is at least two years old, kept in a very well ventilated and sunny-drenched woodshed. My Home Depot moisture meter may not be the best--I'll certainly admit that--but I'm confident that the wood is quite dry.
Start by reading the manual. Then confirm your baffles are positioned correctly
 
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brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
7,130
NE Ohio
I always check the moisture content the same way: I use a decent-sized split, which I further split with my kindling cracker. Then, I test the split kindling with my moisture meter (on the ends and in the center) of the recently-split kindling. This year's wood is at least two years old, kept in a very well ventilated and sunny-drenched woodshed. My Home Depot moisture meter may not be the best--I'll certainly admit that--but I'm confident that the wood is quite dry.
Try throwing some kiln dried construction scraps (not treated!) in with your next load, see if that helps keep the fire going. (or buy a few of those pressed sawdust firewood bricks)
You have all the classic signs of wood that is not dry...it should be half decent, based on how you say it was stored (after being split?) but what you describe sounds like the classic "wet oak" syndrome.
If it was stored in the shed for those 2 years still in the round (unsplit) then it really doesn't dry that much in the round.
 

lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
You have all the classic signs of wood that is not dry...it should be half decent, based on how you say it was stored (after being split?) but what you describe sounds like the classic "wet oak" syndrome.
Thanks, brenndatomu. I'll get myself another load of wood from the shed, and try a burn with a different batch. (And yes, I always season it after it's been split.) I'll make certain to recheck the moisture content after cracking a few splits with my kindling cracker just to be certain--that should eliminate that variable. I'll also add a few of those pressed firewood bricks that I keep on hand for emergencies, as you suggest.

I appreciate your help.

-Mark
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,236
South Puget Sound, WA
The outdoor break-in burns were incredibly difficult to accomplish, and the stove would not stay lit when we closed the door.
That's totally normal, especially with a short chimney. Modern secondary combustion stoves are more draft dependent. The draft is the engine of the stove. It's what powers the secondary combustion and airwash that keeps the glass clear.

The stove below grade is a key clue here. Draft is marginal. This is not important when there is nothing between the firebox and the flue outlet, but that is not the case with a modern stove like the 32-NC. There are some things that can help, like eliminating a 90º turn on the stovepipe and using 45s with an offset instead.

What size chimney pipe is outside -6" or 8"? Can you post some pictures of the stove installation including stove pipe and of the chimney?

If you have access to some 2x4 construction cut-offs, try them too. They should be drier and made out of more combustible softwood.
 
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Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
19,698
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
I have an nc30 and it was always weird to me that pulling the air control out is full open. Are you pulling it out? My stove rips on 20’ of ice cold chimney in a detached shop that isn’t heated full time.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
6,541
07462
Take the down draft cap off and try running the stove, perhaps the cap is a little to restrictive.
 

lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
The stove below grade is a key clue here. Draft is marginal. This is not important when there is nothing between the firebox and the flue outlet, but that is not the case with a modern stove like the 32-NC. There are some things that can help, like eliminating a 90º turn on the stovepipe and using 45s with an offset instead.

What size chimney pipe is outside -6" or 8"? Can you post some pictures of the stove installation including stove pipe and of the chimney?
Thanks, begreen. The flue is 6". We eleminated one of the 90° turns in going from the Fisher to the 32-NC, but as with any basement stove that passes through block, there is a horizontal passage to the outside chimney. That passage is less than 3-ft, but now I'm wondering if the combination of basement location and meandering smoke path are combining to reduce the draft more than I thought. I wish there were an easy way to pass through the block foundation at a 45° angle.

We added three feet of chimney, but now I'm wondering if that was enough, given what I'm hearing about EPA-rated stoves.
 

lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
Are you pulling it out?
Thanks, Highbeam. Yup, I'm pulling it out as far as it'll go... but I did check the manual twice, since there was no visible change in the fire, so I thought I may have had it reversesd!

ake the down draft cap off and try running the stove, perhaps the cap is a little to restrictive.
Thanks, Kenny. That's worth a try--the cap and the screen could be restricting something up there--I've been avoiding going up on the roof with all the cold weather and snow.
 

MAD MARK

Feeling the Heat
Jan 31, 2016
475
Pittsburgh PA
Outside measurement is meaningless for burning.
Correct. I was showing the difference in readings between a bad way and the right way.

And I'll completely disagree about the 2 years statement but it seems you misquoted him.

I have a couple 8x8s for negative temp overnights. Usually end up with 10 or so per burning season.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
93,236
South Puget Sound, WA
Thanks, begreen. The flue is 6". We eleminated one of the 90° turns in going from the Fisher to the 32-NC, but as with any basement stove that passes through block, there is a horizontal passage to the outside chimney. That passage is less than 3-ft, but now I'm wondering if the combination of basement location and meandering smoke path are combining to reduce the draft more than I thought. I wish there were an easy way to pass through the block foundation at a 45° angle.

We added three feet of chimney, but now I'm wondering if that was enough, given what I'm hearing about EPA-rated stoves.
You've done the right things. Getting rid of all 90s (except for the turn at the tee) helps a lot. That also shortens the horizontal path to the tee. When dealing with negative pressure, it's good to look at the upper floors of the house. Leakage at an attic door, upper floor windows, even bath vents can create a subtle suction on the lowest parts of the house. If none of these things help then the alternatives get slimmer. One is installing an HRV system to pressurize the basement zone. Another is to switch to an easier breathing wood stove.
 
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lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
Another is to switch to an easier breathing wood stove.
The mobile welder is visiting on Mon to repair our old Fisher. Hate the thought of giving up on the 32-NC, but now we'll have the option of going back to the Fisher if I get too frustrated.

Your mention of negative pressure reminded me that we changed over our ancient wooden windows and storm sashes (very tight) a few years ago... the house hasn't seemed as as warm since then. Probably not a coincidence.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
19,698
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
Many chimney sweeps are helpful but some are lazy. Those screened caps can plug up with junk and cause this problem.

Also, are you sure that the cap at the bottom of the tee just outside your block wall is tightly in place?
 

lebrunmn

New Member
Jan 21, 2022
34
Hampshire Co. WVa
6. Our installer did not recommend an outside air intake, since the stove is below grade. (He said it could be a smoke hazard, but didn't go into why.)
Quoting my own post, but I was wondering if anyone understands why our stove person didn't recommend installing an OAK? Did they just not want to put another hole in the block or is there an inherent safety issue with adding an OAK that is positioned above the stove? As I begin to explore the negative pressure theory of why this stove won't burn well, I was wondering what the physics of this might be.

Thanks,

-Mark
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
4,353
Long Island NY
Yes, if you have a draft reversal in your chimney, you can have hot gases be pushed into your oak, leading to fire.

It's therefore against code to have an oak be not below horizontal.
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
4,353
Long Island NY
Another way is to think that with an oak going up, you have two chimneys. And you can't choose which one the fire will choose.
 

Enplater

Member
Jun 6, 2017
145
NH
I seem to remember a post about an englander 30 and the air damper wasn’t working, no matter the position. It was some kind of defect from the factory. Not saying this is your problem but something to keep in mind if all else fails.
Sounds like when I had my first fire in my 30, I was using wood that I was assuming was dry (wasn’t) and was having similar results to you. Also when I start a fire I need to have the garage door open and the door open that goes into the garage open or I will get reverse draft. It’s possible to get it going without those doors open if you get a hot, top-down fire going fast with dry pine on the top of the stack and a blow torch to start the newspaper knots.
I have 24’ of prefab chimney pipe outside.
Your easiest thing to do is confirm the wood is the issue by getting some kiln dried wood and/or some of those compressed sawdust logs.
I’m interested to see what your issue ends up being.