Hudson River Stove Works Chatham questions (and a long story) from a new pellet stove user

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Chris_F

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Dec 10, 2014
29
East Fishkill, New York
Hi, my name is Chris. I’m a new pellet stove user. I am hoping that other forum members who also use a Hudson River Stove Works brand Chatham model pellet stove (with legs) can give me their opinions about my experience and answer some “new stove user” questions. (I did some research on the forums before posting.) I’ll try to give you good background, and I'm sorry that my post is so long!

In the middle of August this year (2014) a local company installed the stove. It seems like a simple stove, with an air shutter push/pull, and 3 electronic buttons to set the heat/temp, combustion blower, and feed rate to a setting between “1” (lowest) and “5” (highest).

We started using it in middle of October. I set the temp to 1, feed rate to 2, and combustion blower to 2. We don’t have a thermostat or anything else hooked up to the stove, and I run it on “manual mode”. After one week of night-only use, the stove shut off overnight with plenty of pellets in it (no jam), and the “mode” light continued to flash until I restarted the stove maybe 12 hours later in the morning. I contacted Hudson River Stove Works via their “contact us” webpage (the only means available) and they responded that I probably accidentally changed the auto/manual/remote mode switch and there was no problem. That switch had not been moved at all, but since I restarted the stove with no problem, I put the matter out of my mind.

The stove seemed to run fine for the next four weeks: two weeks of night-only use and then two weeks running 24/7, eating about one bag of pellets every 24 hours. My cleaning schedule follows the manual: I clean the glass and empty the ash pan every couple days as needed, and every 7 days I shut the stove down, let it cool, and clean/vacuum all the recommended parts (heat exchange tubes, fire box, ash pan, etc. – everything except the flu pipe and hard-to-reach internal parts that the manual says to clean once or twice a year).

But that was only 5 weeks of use in total….

The third week in November (one month after its first shutdown, and 2 days after a routine weekly cleaning), it started to make a very heavy black ash buildup on the glass, and the pellets started to pile up into a large mountain in the burn tray. The pellet mountain had a small lazy fire at the top, and eventually the pile filled up the entire burn tray and then reached up and into the feed chute. I turned off the stove myself and let it cool off overnight. In the morning found that the “mode” light had continued to flash for 12. I cleaned it all out and restarted the stove, and one hour later it shut itself off. I checked the auger and feed chute to make sure there was no jam and plenty of pellets. I restarted it again successfully, but during the next week it shut itself off multiple more times (every couple days).

I contacted Hudson River Stove Works via their webpage again but they never responded (and still haven’t…). I called “BAC Sales”, which is the ‘distributor’ side of the same business at the same location, but the person who answered the phone sounded defensive from the start, said they only deal with sellers and not customers, and refused to give me information about their company. I guess that “Hudson River Stove Works” exists only the stove’s designer and brand name because the manufacturer is Sherwood Industries Ltd in Saanichton, BC, Canada.

At the beginning of December, I contacted the installer to ask for help with the frequent shut-offs and increasing frequency of problems. The installer does not know how to fix stoves and said it was unlikely that Hudson River Stove Works would send anyone to help, so he subcontracted a repairman, who is purportedly highly-experienced (15+ years) with this brand, to troubleshoot and repair the stove. The repairman said my settings were the problem, and he changed the temp to 3, feed rate to 5, and combustion blower to 3. He also opened the air shutter more. It made a great fire and he said it was working perfectly. I didn’t like those high temp and feed rate settings for two reasons: 1) it wasn’t very cold out so the stove was making the house way too hot, and 2) it ate too many pellets in my opinion (well over two bags a day). So, I reduced the temp to 2 and feed rate to 3, and then raised the combustion blower to 4 and opened the air shutter quite a bit more to get the fire and burning-pellet-mound to have the goal qualities the repairman showed me indicated ideal burning conditions.

The stove ran that way, seemingly fine, for five days, and then it shut off overnight again. When I checked it in the morning, this time the “#3 temp” light and the “mode” light were flashing; another difference was that this time there was no mound of pellets or ash cake, everything that had dropped into the burn tray had been consumed cleanly after the stove shut off. And that was the end of the stove’s usefulness. I cleaned it all out again, and tried to restart it about 12 times, but each time was the same: the fire would ignite, the pellets would feed and burn, and 2 to 15 minutes later the fire would go out (always under the control of the stove's computer, so I cannot change any settings!), leaving no pellets in the tray and the “#3 temp” light and “mode” light flashing.

The repairman now believes that a heat exhaust temperature relay part isn’t working. He and the installer tell me they called Hudson River Stove Works for 4 days to try to order the part, and the installer said it took that long before the company answered the phone or called them back because the company was “swamped”. Today is the third day that I’m waiting for the supposedly-mailed part to reach the installer, so the repairman can come to fix the problem…assuming that is the problem. Meanwhile, the stove hasn’t worked at all for one full cold, icy week, so I’m back to pouring money into heating oil (last year’s oil usage to keep the thermostat at 60 cost about $800/month), but this time while looking at a $6,000 useless investment in the house.

That’s my story, which leads me to my questions:

1) Can anyone tell me how my experience compares to theirs with the Hudson River Stove Works company or their Chatham pellet stove? I'm trying hard not to feel like I got ripped off for several thousand dollars by the installer and treated badly by a combative, unhelpful stove company.

2) Am I doing anything wrong in my operation of the stove or the temp, feed rate, combustion blower, or air shutter settings I’m choosing? The repairman gave me detailed tips: use only the three middle temp settings, then fine-tune the flame and burning-pellet-mound qualities using the air shutter. Adjust the feed rate and combustion blower only if changing brands of pellets or if a particular bag of pellets is burning differently from the others.

3) The repairman told me that this particular pellet stove should be run only at feed rate 5 and not less, and pellet stoves in general are not meant run on the lowest (“1” in my case) or highest (“5”) temp settings for more than an hour. Is this right? It seems odd to me that a stove would be manufactured with 5 feed rate settings if only the highest one can keep the stove running, or that stoves would have temp settings that shouldn’t be used.

4) The repairman also said that pellet stoves aren’t meant to be a primary heat source but only to augment my boiler temporarily, because they are much more prone to being out of service. Also, he said it’s normal for my stove’s 45-pound capacity hopper to empty out and the stove to shut off during the 8 hours I’m sleeping at night, even on low settings for temp and feed rate. What do you think of these statements? My goal in installing the pellet stove was to use it as the main heat source (significantly cheaper than oil), especially so that the house could be heated overnight with no upkeep while we sleep, which I can’t do with the traditional wood stove. I know a few people who heat their whole home (slightly smaller and better insulated than mine) with a pellet stove, so I think there must be some way to make it get through the night without a refill.

5) From reading other posts I realize this is a controversial question, but would any forum members using my same brand/model of stove recommend certain brands of pellets? This would give me a good starting-off point. I’m currently using New England pellets, which the repairman didn’t like. He recommended 100% softwood pellets instead of 100% hardwood or a hardwood/softwood mix, but he also specified the brands LG, Energex, and Lignetics (which are hardwood/softwood mixes, aren’t they?).

6) Does anyone know roughly how many bags of pellets per day I should expect to use on low, medium, and high temp+feed rate settings? We live about halfway between Albany and New York City, NY. The house is 2,400 square feet, built in the later 1800s, with storm windows (plus heavy drapes we close at dark) but typical poor insulation. It’s a center hall colonial with two chimneys, one at each end of the house; a new traditional wood burning stove insert is on one chimney and the pellet stove is on the other. Each stove claims to be able to heat up to 2,200 square feet. I installed corner/door fans to move hot air around the house.

Many thanks,
Chris
 
Welcome to the form Chris. I am sure one of the regulars with far more knowledge than I will step up and give you some great advice and guidance. There are many dealers and installers here that are always willing to do so. I see no mention in your post of a dealer. You mention the installer. Is the installer the dealer? Hudson River has a pretty decent warranty that the dealer should stand behind. While I would agree with your installer that a pellet stove should not be relied on as a primary heat source, I will disagree with his statements on it being able to run all night and having to be run on level 5 all the time. I have a Hudson River stove, as do many of the posters on this site. I can run my stove on any setting from the lowest to the highest with no difficulty. My stove runs 24/7 throughout the heating season and supplements the oil furnace. Your stove is designed to be a space heater. It will significantly reduce your oil usage, but it is in fact a space heater. There are a lot of tricks, such as air movement, to improve the stoves effectiveness in your home. Those big old houses do present some challenges as far as efficiency goes.

My stove has been a workhorse in my home since 2007 and has saved me thousands of dollars and has provided my family with great comfort. I don't think your problem is with the product. Something is obviously not right and hopefully you will get to the bottom of it. It almost sounds as if the installer has no experience with this stove or does not want to be involved.
 
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But as Doocrew pointed out, your stove has a good warranty. Someone, somehow should honor it. Assuming that your new stove is still under warranty, you might risk voiding that warranty by taking things into your own hands. Your repairman should be able to tell with high confidence whether that part will fix the issue. Sherwood makes Enviro stoves as well as Hudson River, and their excellent troubleshooting manual could likely help you figure out what might be going wrong. It would really surprise me to hear that he's not aware of that manual. While your stove doesn't have an Enviro logo, it shares all the same operational components, including the control board. Download the troubleshooting manual, and your own stove's operating manual, and learn, learn, learn. Even if your stove gets fixed under warranty now, it won't be covered forever.

Here's the troubleshooting guide: http://enviro.com/custom_content/docs/manuals/C-12145 Instruction PELLET Service Manual.pdf

I'm a novice, too. But the black ash and filling up of the burn pot indicate not enough combustion air. The shutting down after 12-15 minutes certainly sounds like the exhaust temp switch, so that part should fix you up. You should also take a look to see if you have any buildup in your vent, or your exhaust blower. You haven't said anything about your vent, so it would help folks here if you described that.

Good luck! You have a lot invested in that stove, and I'm sure once you get past these issues you'll be real happy. I'm running an 18-year-old Enviro that I just recently bought, nowhere near as nice as your stove, and it heats like a champ. Sherwood builds great products, IMO.

Brian
 
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Well the first thing I'm going to recommend is that the controls be returned to their defaults and the stove completely cleaned (which is more than you have done so far) .

Then I and a few others on here would like a detailed piece by piece description of the exhaust system.

Where in the house the stove is installed and whether or not you have an OAK hooked up and if so what is on the OAK in the way of screening and where is the OAK inlet in relation to the end of the exhaust vent.

Running most pellet stoves on heat level 1 (the grungiest level) requires the stove to be fairly well installed and setup.

You set the slide damper to match the stove up to the venting (and sometimes due to a fuel change usually the feed and combustion trims can do that job), this setup is normally done in the highest heat level.

When the flame starts getting lazy it is time for a good cleaning.

How much of a cleaning depends upon the pellets you are burning and the ash they produce, there really is no set interval between them, it is ash driven..

LG produces both a 100% softwood pellet and a 100% hardwood pellet

Several others produce both those and a blend.
 
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Now on to the operation, if the stove has been properly setup and you are burning the same pellets the only buttons on the controller you need play with are the on/off and the heat range button.

Playing with the trim buttons is used to adjust the stove to a change in the pellets being burned.

Then what the tech was hinting at but didn't say is that the stove generally operates more efficiently in the higher heat ranges, this means that a thermostat needs to be used or you roast your hind quarters.

Any thermostat used needs to have the ability to have a swing setting to stop the igniter from cycling to often.
 
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Not sure how I feel about the repair guy's answer to your stove not working being pellet stoves are a supplement, it's kind of a separate issue. It's a fair point but definitely a separate issue. And when working properly they put out a lot of heat. I'm pretty close to you, this is my first season burning pellets, when my stove is up and running we barely use oil. Just the few days when the Hudson Valley was in the teens did we turn on our upstairs heating zone to get up a degree or so (I'm installing a power vent to hopefully fix this). But generally our pellet stove keeps our house (about 2300 sq feet) hovering above the thermostat set levels. My Magnum has a pretty small hopper, and on setting 4 I fill it once at night and once before I go to work.
 
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Many thanks to all of you for the information and advice! I look forward to getting experienced with my stove and being able to give help instead of just asking to receive it.

Doocrew:
The installer is the dealer: a local one-man owner-operator chimney building/repair company. He does installations of things that go on chimneys (gas fireplaces, wood stoves, etc.), but does not know how to repair them. He seems very obliging but I get the feeling he wants little involvement with callbacks. This is why I tried contact Hudson River Stove Works directly - I don't like having to depend on a dealer that doesn't want to put the time into actuating the warranty.

bcarton:
Thank you so much for the information and especially for the service manual! I hope to understand it better than my stove’s owner’s manual, which I found to be worded a little strangely and have important tidbits inserted in unintuitive places.

bcarton and SmokeyTheBear:
I don’t know much about the technical matters of the vent or exhaust systems. I will upload a photo(s) of the exhaust piping as soon as I can take the photo of it in the daylight. For now, I can describe it like this:
The stove is located in our 15'x17' living room and attached to an old brick chimney that used to run directly and only to a secondary boiler in the basement. The liner (I think 4” diameter) in that chimney was replaced about 16 months ago by the same installer; several months later we had that boiler removed, and four months ago when he installed the pellet stove he broke through the wall of the chimney where it passes through our living room and connected the stove to that liner using metal chimney pipe. He told us he put an angled connector inside the chimney so there is no “T” connection or any additional attached liner continuing downward inside the chimney below the pellet stove connection. Inside the living room, the pipe exits the chimney perpendicular to the wall, goes through a diameter-reducing connection, makes a 90 degree bend downward to continue perpendicular to the floor, and finishes with a sideways “T” connection. The “foot” of the “T” is horizontal with the floor and connects to the back of the stove, and the downward-pointing side of the “T” has a cap on it which the installer said is the access point for cleaning the fly ash out of the exhaust pipe and chimney semi-annually. There are a few creosote drippings on the hearthpad beneath the exhaust piping if that's an indication of anything. I've been waiting to see if they stop.

I do not know where the fresh air comes from but my assumption is that it’s drawn from the air in the living room, because there are no other pipes coming from or going to the stove or the chimney. I do not know where the stove’s air intake is relative to its exhaust outlet. The dealer/installer never mentioned an Outside Air Kit, so I believe there is no OAK unless it’s a hidden component that comes by default with the installation kit.

I do vacuum inside and around the heat exchanger tubes as well as inside the air intake tube (accessed from the burn tray), weekly. I will do the thorough cleaning as specified in the owner’s manual. When I removed the burn chamber’s ceiling panel to look at the outside of the heat exchanger tubes, I was surprised to see they were covered with rust and creosote (which locked up the heat exchanger tube cleaning device during the last week the stove was operational), considering the stove had only burned about 20 bags of pellets ever.

Whenever the repairman returns with the part to fix the stove (I'm on day 9 of waiting), I will ask him to reset the slide damper and give me a second lesson on it. I remember reading in the owner’s manual that this was to be done by a qualified authorized installer. The dealer/installer did not set it and told me he was sure it was probably OK however it came from the factory. The repairman later told me it was shut too much and he adjusted it, but he had me adjust it a few days later so it’s no longer at his setting. The other settings can’t be reset to default until the repairman is there and fixes the stove, so I’ll go over them at that time.

Thanks also for the advice about the operation and the thermostat. This helps me a lot!

GMadd
Thank you for the information about your stove and pellets. I look forward to comparing my consumption on different settings to see if my stove really is eating an unusually large amount of pellet. I hope to be able to fill it when I go to sleep and when I wake up, and not more overnight.
 
Stop right there, there should be no creosote anywhere.

That is bad news.

Do not attempt operating that stove until the mess is cleaned up.


By any chance is there a cap on that vertical vent section and a plate at the top of the chimney where the liner goes through? If not the weather can enter the chimney flue and also the pellet stove vent.

Would you mind snaping and posting some pictures of the installation to include the venting and the setup at the top of the chimney.
 
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X2 with what Smokey said.

I'm not feeling all warm and fuzzy about your dealer comments. Most manufacturers of products rely on their dealers to provide warranty repair and troubleshooting. If he wants little involvement with callbacks, who do you contact for warranty repair and/or service?

Again, you will get great advice here. I hope your handy and can troubleshoot/repair any problems you have. If not, I would be searching real fast for someone in your area who can.
 
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Good afternoon SmokeyTheBear and Doocrew.

I'm sorry it took me so long to post the pictures. I'm not normally home during daylight hours. I attached three photos of the exhaust connection (from the right, from the left and showing the drippings on the floor, and from above) and one of the bluestone-topped chimney. It's a wide chimney but has only ever had one flue in it.

The repairman came the other night and said that the problem was a dead exhaust temperature sensor (or relay?) that had come from the factory bad. He tweaked the fire using feed rate 2 and combustion blower 3, and instructed me to leave those settings alone and just adjust the air shutter whenever I change the temp setting. The stove has been running well for the past two days and is once again lasting 12 hours on a full hopper of pellets (so it stays on overnight)!

He also said the creosote drippings would be a problem for a wood burning stove because it runs hot, but are not worrisome from a pellet stove. I doubted that, so he explained that the black spots which dripped onto the hearth pad come from the chimney lining heating up and "sweating" off small amounts of buildup, which run down the liner and drip out the seams between the stove pipe segments. Does this sound good to you?

Cheers, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays otherwise also,
Chris
 

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Ok where to start.

Creosote is a problem if it gets into the exhaust stream close to the combustion blower and pellet stoves do burn hot.

If the creosote gets on the heat exchanger (where the ash rake is) it is sitting above a very hot flame and can light off.

Why there is creosote in a burn system is always a cause for concern.

You are dumping your exhaust into a masonry chimney which based upon what your repairman is saying is the source of the creosote, this means that the pellet stove exhaust system isn't going up the full length of the chimney and properly caped

Which leads to this possible situation.

4. You can vent the stove through an exterior wall behind the unit or connect it to an existing masonry or metal chimney (must be lined if the chimney is over 6” (15 cm) in diameter, or over 28 inches² (180 cm²) cross sectional area)

If the exhaust venting is exposed to outside elements that allows water in then some of that is going to find its way into the stove under certain weather conditions.

Now exactly what is the chimney's flue size? A 6" flue is 28.2744 square inches in cross section. If that flue is say 6" x 6" (36 square inches) it needs liner.

The sensor is a run of the mill 120::F close on rise ceramic air stream thermo disc (aka snap disc, POF) those puppies are usually solid units (part number 39 on the exploded parts diagram).

The pile up you had was the result of an airflow issue either the damper, or trim control wasn't set correctly for the venting or fuel or the stoves exhaust blower couldn't keep the airflow going due to the cross sectional area of the flue. In any case cruding up of the stove proceeds at an accelerated rate, you just see the end result.

This can lead to that thermo disc not seeing the correct temperature because of ash and soot during the start up window and the stove shutting down the controller should show a blinking #3 heat range led when this happens. Yes at 8 hours on heat level 5 you can easily empty a 45 pound hopper. This also causes a blinking #3 heat range led (the stove doesn't know why the snap disc isn't closed and doesn't really care.

However a properly setup and trimmed pellet stove can indeed burn on lower heat levels. In fact heat level 1 is the normal piloting level when running in hi/low mode on a thermostat.
 
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Good morning and Happy New Year, SmokeyTheBear and all.

I'm sorry not to have responded in so long (I wasn't online around the holidays).

Thank you again for the very helpful advice and info about the chimne and the creosote and ash crudding-up! It has helped me a lot.

The stove has been working without failure for the past couple weeks. I'm keeping an eye out for evidence of more creosote buildup, and I'm really glad to have the knowledge now about the impact of the height and width of the chimney/flue combined with the other variables of the stove.

Cheers!
Chris
 
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