Hoping you can help - Inherited a complicated fan setup, which just broke

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
First post here. But you guys seem to know your stuff, and as you can see by the photos - which look like an insert murder scene - we've got some problems.

We have a great Pacific Energy wood-burning insert in our finished basement. The previous owners installed it, and the husband - who enjoyed doing electrical work as a hobby - installed his own fan and duct system above the insert to route the hot air to the main floor of the house. These two fans atop the insert are wired and set up by him separately from the insert's standard fan on the side.

It worked great all last year, but this year, we noticed one of the fans had stopped working. Cut forward about two weeks and we had to call the fire department out because there was an awful burning plastic smell and some very faint smoke coming through one of the vents on the main floor from the top fireplace fan.

There wasn't any fire (and the insert and chimney were both inspected at the start of the season and in perfect shape). But the old owner's system had been a bit jury-rigged and the duct tape he had used had begun to melt when one of the fans stopped working. Not to mention the wall to the right of the insert was reading at 130 degrees since the air was just sitting in there (the firemen found that the duct on the right side goes out and up at a 90 degree angle. On the left side, it's curved).

Now we have a fan system at the top that's been pulled apart and we have no idea what it looked like before.

We've called two local hearth companies, our chimney sweep, and an HVAC company, and everyone keeps directing us to someone else. Last we heard it was an electrician we should call.

We don't know who to call to come out and look at the mess, and we really need the insert going again as it's one of the primary ways we heat our home in winter (we also have baseboard heat, but prefer the insert).

Anyone seen anything like this? And anyone know who would be the person to fix it up and get it running again?

Edit: Just talked with my husband and we're thinking we may just remove the fans resting on the top of the insert rather than fix them.

Then, we may install two new fans at the vents up top. Seems safer to have the fans off the top of the insert and at the top of the duct to push the hot air out so it doesn't sit in the ducts. Husband wanted me to ask if we even need fans, or will the hot air just rise up the ducts? We worry about it getting too hot in the walls.
 

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brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
4,410
NE Ohio
Guess I'm not seeing why the stove can't be pulled out...looks like a standard insert stove setup to me...other than the extra fan/duct work...what am I missing?
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
Guess I'm not seeing why the stove can't be pulled out...looks like a standard insert stove setup to me...other than the extra fan/duct work...what am I missing?
I don't know. There were about 7 firemen standing around and they couldn't pull it out without taking bricks out, is what they said. Do you have any insight into who we might call to get the fans up and running?
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
4,410
NE Ohio
I would think a local stove shop or full service chimney sweep could do it...if nothing else they could pull it out and then you could have an electrician fix the fan(s). Should be a one stop deal with a tech from a stove shop though.
As far as getting it out, the chimney (liner?) has to be disconnected first, then the stove will pull out...kinda tight working in there, but it can be done. Looks to me like that brick has been there much longer than that stove has even existed...
 

Ludlow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2018
1,186
PA
I dont see why you couldnt remove all the fans and wiring and keep using it. Was that 130 degrees on the brick? That isnt hot for brick.

The plastic smell was probably the case and wires of the inoperable fan melting. Who puts stuff like that on top of a woodstove anyway?
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
I dont see why you couldnt remove all the fans and wiring and keep using it. Was that 130 degrees on the brick? That isnt hot for brick.
The drywall was 130. And thank you for answering the question I forgot to ask about just taking the fans out. If we did that, but left the ductwork in, would that be dangerous in any way or would the heat just rise up the ducts on its own? Guess I worry about it sitting there in the duct and getting too hot.
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
The plastic smell was probably the case and wires of the inoperable fan melting. Who puts stuff like that on top of a woodstove anyway?
A guy who fancies himself an electrician : ) He was a really unique man, the previous owner. There's a lot of weird stuff he did around the house. We keep discovering it as we live here. He died last summer, otherwise I'd ask him what he was thinking.
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
I would think a local stove shop or full service chimney sweep could do it...if nothing else they could pull it out and then you could have an electrician fix the fan(s). Should be a one stop deal with a tech from a stove shop though.
As far as getting it out, the chimney (liner?) has to be disconnected first, then the stove will pull out...kinda tight working in there, but it can be done. Looks to me like that brick has been there much longer than that stove has even existed...
Weird thing is we called the full service stove and fireplace center here and they told were hesitant to come out. They directed us to our chimney guy. And he directed us to an electrician. The other hearth center I called directed us to an HVAC company because of the ductwork... And the HVAC people told us to call the chimney guy... So it's been round and round we go. Frustrating for sure. Then I found you guys. And you all seem to know more then all of them combined!
 

Ludlow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2018
1,186
PA
The ductwork poses a problem. How did that get in there anyway? Did he bust out the brick? It looks like a standard masonry fireplace but having duct work running from the firebox into combustible walls is dangerous. You better call someone.
 
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MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
The ductwork poses a problem. How did that get in there anyway? Did he bust out the brick? It looks like a standard masonry fireplace but having duct work running from the firebox into combustible walls is dangerous. You better call someone.
The ductwork runs from the outside top of the insert and isn't near any fire in any way. I mean, he did run it from where old firebox would have been, but with the insert in the ducts are just taking the hot air from the outside of the insert and running that up. So no fire risk there. But who do we call is the issue. No one seems to know.
 

Ludlow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2018
1,186
PA
The ductwork runs from the outside top of the insert and isn't connected to the firebox in any way. It's just taking the hot air from the outside of the insert and running that up. So no fire risk there. But who do we call is the issue. No one seems to know.
Running it up where? Is it some kind of attempt at fresh air supply?
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
Running it up where? Is it some kind of attempt at fresh air supply?
The ducts are just basic lines that run from the top of the insert to the floor above (just a few feet long or so), where they push heat from the insert to the main floor - or used to, when the fans worked. Two vents upstairs are where they end (see photo for one of them).
 

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Mech e

Member
Feb 26, 2019
102
NorCal
www.dtengineer.com
I think you may need to abandon the system. You basically are removing air from the wood stove room and blowing it into rooms upstairs. This is a code violation. The return air inlet can be no closer than 10' from the stove. I had a previous owner do something similar in my home and Begreen let me know the same thing. I have abandoned the system.
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
I think you may need to abandon the system. You basically are removing air from the wood stove room and blowing it into rooms upstairs. This is a code violation. The return air inlet can be no closer than 10' from the stove. I had a previous owner do something similar in my home and Begreen let me know the same thing. I have abandoned the system.
Thank you so much for this comment. When you say abandon the system, how did you go about doing it? Do we just remove the fans and block off the ducts? If you wouldn't mind explaining it would be greatly appreciated!

Spoke to my husband just now and we agreed based on what we read here that the fans need to come out from the top of the insert. The question is what to do about the ducts that are routing that hot air upstairs?
 

Mech e

Member
Feb 26, 2019
102
NorCal
www.dtengineer.com
Yes, I would remove the fans because the materials that make up the motors could get too hot sitting on top of that stove. Other than that, you really don't need to do anything else.

All I have done on my system at this point is disable the blower motor.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
79,689
South Puget Sound, WA
I am surprised that no one including the home inspector mentioned that this fan setup is against code and dangerous. On top of being against mechanical code, the work is shoddy and there is also a risk of electrical shock. It should be removed completely and alternatives for better heat circulation should be explored. Use the insert's internal convective fans only.

After removal, a much safer method might be to install a couple of floor registers with fusible linked dampers that allow heat to convect upstairs. We need more information about the house floorplans if that is a choice.
 
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MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
Yes, I would remove the fans because the materials that make up the motors could get too hot sitting on top of that stove. Other than that, you really don't need to do anything else.

All I have done on my system at this point is disable the blower motor.
I am surprised that no one including the home inspector mentioned that this fan setup is against code and dangerous. On top of being against mechanical code, the work is shoddy and there is also a risk of electrical shock. It should be removed completely and alternatives for better heat circulation should be explored. Use the insert's internal convective fans only.

After removal, a much safer method might be to install a couple of floor registers with fusible linked dampers that allow heat to convect upstairs. We need more information about the house floorplans if that is a choice.
Thank you so much. I'm going to talk with my husband when he gets home about your recommendation here, and he will be the next one to write since he'll be the one in charge of the project. Appreciate your help very much.
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
4,410
NE Ohio
Thank you so much. I'm going to talk with my husband when he gets home about your recommendation here, and he will be the next one to write since he'll be the one in charge of the project. Appreciate your help very much.
So should we call him "MrMamaLama"? ;lol
 

Ludlow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2018
1,186
PA
In abandoning the distribution system it may be prudent to remove the flex pipe and brick up the cavities. That duct runs from the firebox into combustible walls. I wouldnt want that.
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
4,410
NE Ohio
I think you may need to abandon the system. You basically are removing air from the wood stove room and blowing it into rooms upstairs. This is a code violation. The return air inlet can be no closer than 10' from the stove. I had a previous owner do something similar in my home and Begreen let me know the same thing. I have abandoned the system.
What about that Napoleon NZ3000 stove that uses ducts to other parts of the house? I'm mean I know that professionally engineered and factory built is totally different than this homebrew setup...but it can be done...
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
79,689
South Puget Sound, WA
What about that Napoleon NZ3000 stove that uses ducts to other parts of the house? I'm mean I know that professionally engineered and factory built is totally different than this homebrew setup...but it can be done...
That is quite different than this jerry-rigged system. It is factory designed and tested to scavenge heat from the convection jacket with proper clearances established, the blower shielded and proper wiring.
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
Mr. MamaLama here. Thanks everyone for your thoughts and advice so far. My plan is to pull out all the aftermarket crap above the insert: fans, insulation...there's even some rolled up chicken wire in there! I'll also pull out the electrical wire he ran in, cut it and cap it. Then I'd like to get our chimney guy out to take a look at the insert and make sure the chimney sleeve liner wasn't damaged when the fire department tried to pull the thing out.

I'm now considering bricking up the vent holes. Any more feedback on this?

I'm not totally clear on the code violation you mentioned. Are you saying that because the vents are less than 10' long it is a violation?

Thanks again.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
79,689
South Puget Sound, WA
Welcome MrMamaLama. Mechanical code discourages having a return air sucking any closer than 10 ft from the stove. The stove is designed to be an area heater. If you still want to distribute heat from the insert to upstairs then we can help with a safer plan.
 

MamaLama

New Member
Dec 4, 2019
12
Virginia
Welcome MrMamaLama. Mechanical code discourages having a return air sucking any closer than 10 ft from the stove. The stove is designed to be an area heater. If you still want to distribute heat from the insert to upstairs then we can help with a safer plan.
Got it. What would you need from us to help come up with a good plan? We appreciate your knowledge and help!