New stove worked great for 2 days, now smoking horribly

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OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Hi,

I've been lurking on this forum for a week or so now and haven't found an answer to my question, so I'm starting a new thread. My apologies if this has been covered before and I missed it. Also, sorry if this gets long-ish, but I want to give details to avoid wasting members' time and paint a full picture.

I'm not new to wood stoves, having previously heated a house in Wisconsin with one (a Jotul--ahhh, those were the days...). I now live in Mexico, on the coast south of Ensenada, and it gets chilly and damp here in the winter (30s at night). After six years of no heat, I finally installed a wood stove a week ago. I did a lot of research prior to installing the stove and oversaw the installation by a professional contractor; I believe everything was done correctly.

I purchased a US Stove Logwood 900 sq ft old-fashioned style stove (narrow and deep with two enclosed "burner" plates on the top). While reviews of the stove were mixed, it met my budget for my 500 sq ft house, and I have a very similar stove in my yard (too rusty and leaky to bring inside without a ton of work), and I love it for outdoor fires with just five feet of sheet metal chimney and a homemade coffee can spark arrester on top. It draws great and only smokes where it leaks in the back. I can run it both door open and door closed. The new stove, however, has an EPA-approved structure with a baffle on top, instead of drawing straight up the back. I didn't realize this difference until I got the new stove.

I installed the stove with 6" double-walled Duravent piping going straight up through the ceiling (already had a hole for ceiling fan there). I had to eliminate the damper/flue collar that came with the stove, as the piping would not fit with it; instead, I used a Duravent stovetop adapter between the stove and pipe, sealed with high-temperature caulk. On the roof, I have a 3-foot triple-walled Duravent chimney with a cap/spark arrester on top). I have just about 12 feet of chimney total, but that's about all I can reasonably use. All the double-walled chimney is contained within the house (single story, slightly pitched roof).

My house faces the ocean (on a bay, about 20 feet above sea level, although the tides rise higher, almost to street level at their highest). I have no back yard, rather a ridge that goes up about 20 feet with a row of houses and trees behind and above me. Not ideal, I know, for chimney draw, but the chimney is clear of other structures by a good 10-15 feet on all sides.

My firewood is not ideal; in fact, I'm not usually sure what I'm burning as its very difficult to even get wood here. It took me a full day of phone calls and driving around to even find someone who could deliver wood. Otherwise I'm stuck with overpriced bundles from the little markets that only last one night. I do think all my wood is dry, though. While I live on the sea, 50 yards behind me is desert, and everything dries out here real fast. We've only had two days of rain since last winter. The reality of potentially poor firewood is not going to change for me, unfortunately, so I have to work with it.

The first two times I used the stove, I made sure to build smaller fires to cure the paint. There was a faint paint smell, and the fires lit well and kept going. When I first started the fire, I left the door cracked about an inch and also left the side door to my house open for air. There was a small amount of smoke occasionally when I opened the door to check the fire if it was not down to coals yet, and I had a good continual flame going. I let both fires go down to coals when I went to bed and decided to leave the ash for the next fire. I had not lined the bottom of the stove with anything, since the maker did not mention it.

The next three or four times using the stove have been a nightmare. The kindling takes forever to catch, and even crumpled newspaper smokes out into the living room if the stove door is left open. I've experimented with different DIY firestarters (can't get fatwood here) to no avail. When I finally get a fire going, any flames go out within minutes of closing the door. The second I open the door, smoke pours into the room, mostly from the top of the opening. I've tried burning different types of logs and bits of pine mill ends that should burn easily, but nothing seems to catch well. I have only been able to get real coals once. The firebox gets hot, but the chimney is nearly cold. I have a monster headache from just opening the door a few times to literally toss wood in and hope for the best.

I didn't warm the flue before starting my first two fires that worked so well, but I'm going to try it next time, in case that's an issue. It could be that the chimney just happened to be warmer the first two times I used the stove. I'll have to use either a hairdryer with a piece of cardboard over the opening or perhaps better, my butane torch.

The first two times I used the stove were under similar weather conditions to subsequent attempts: one day still and chilly (60s outside, 50s in the house, dropping to 40s at night as the fire progressed) and another day very breezy (onshore) with the same temps. I can see smoke coming from the chimney and moving immediately away from the house, not swirling around the chimney. It's possible there are pressure differences I don't notice, but it doesn't feel like it.

The first two times I used the stove was with a bare metal bottom to the stove and then a small layer of ash, so I'm also going to try getting rid of all the ash and knocking the inner tubes etc. to make sure nothing is stuck in there. Since the system was just installed this week, and the chimney is securely capped, I know there are no critters in the piping. The way the stove is set up, air enters two quarter-sized holes in the door, moves to the bottom of the firebox, circulates back up to the front over the baffle, and back out the flue. It's possible that a few inches of ash could impair circulation, but I don't know. I don't think two small fires could possible create enough soot or creosote to suddenly cause smoking.

I'll also try a few bundles of wood from elsewhere, just in case my first few fires were a fluke in terms of fuel. Other than that, I don't know what to try. I'm losing sleep and work time trying to figure out the answer here. Scouring user reviews online, I see one guy constructed a DIY smoke guard on a hinge, claiming it solved a design flaw of the door opening being too close to the top of the stove (maybe an issue with air being pulled up over the front of the baffle?). On his Youtube video, it does work well. I was thinking about caulking a piece of sheet metal to the front to do the same to experiment, but that doesn't explain why the stove worked well twice and now doesn't.

Thanks so much if you made it this far in my saga, and any suggestions much appreciated. I have learned tons on the forum this week.

OscarsMom
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,130
central pa
If it is 60 out side and 50 inside it is going to be very hard to get any stove on any chimney to work properly. You need a temperature differential tho get a draft established. But your temp differential is the wrong way.
 

fire_man

Minister of Fire
Feb 6, 2009
2,535
North Eastern MA
Most stoves need at least 15' of flue height - yours is way too short.

Between your short stack and the high outdoor temperatures I'm surprised your first two fires went so well.
Why is 12' tall all you can reasonably use- is there no way to support a taller chimney?

I feel your pain losing sleep and time at work on a problem like this. What other forms of heat are available?
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
6,103
07462
Short flue is killing you, perhaps building a small fire in the box using very small dry sticks, like pinky finger thickness, then gradually going up from there, cumbersome yes but this might help (think of building a fire for survival in the middle of the damp Wisconsin swamp.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
If it is 60 out side and 50 inside it is going to be very hard to get any stove on any chimney to work properly. You need a temperature differential tho get a draft established. But your temp differential is the wrong way.

True, but the first two fires I built, which were fine, were under those conditions. Maybe a fluke?

ETA: 50s inside makes it really hard to work (I'm a writer working from home). And 40s at night makes me retreat to bed by 7--not exactly great for having any kind of a life. My temperature dilemma is pretty typical here in winter. The sun passes directly overhead and never shines into the house after about 10 am. The temps outside warm up a bit, but the indoors stays chilly. And because it's cold at night, the house stays cold, even with windows open. There's nothing to hold and radiate heat this time of year.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Most stoves need at least 15' of flue height - yours is way too short.

Between your short stack and the high outdoor temperatures I'm surprised your first two fires went so well.
Why is 12' tall all you can reasonably use- is there no way to support a taller chimney?

I feel your pain losing sleep and time at work on a problem like this. What other forms of heat are available?


I was thinking that too. I cannot have a taller chimney, or it will be blowing smoke directly into the windows of the houses on the ridge above me. Also, support will be a real issue with gusts from the sea. The roof is not great, so it won't be a terrific anchor either. Then there are the aesthetics to consider. My house is relatively low to the ground, and the existing chimney already looks huge on top of it. Adding another three feet will look crazy, and it's a rental--I don't think my landlords would allow it.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Short flue is killing you, perhaps building a small fire in the box using very small dry sticks, like pinky finger thickness, then gradually going up from there, cumbersome yes but this might help (think of building a fire for survival in the middle of the damp Wisconsin swamp.

I think you're right. I'm rethinking my fire-building strategy and going to take is smaller and slower next time. I think I might have to make a trip to the States to bring down some fatwood or similar kindling. Meanwhile, I think I'll use my butane torch to start the kindling after warming the fire box for a good couple of minutes.

Never thought I'd have a harder time building a fire in Mexico than in Wisco. LOL
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,130
central pa
True, but the first two fires I built, which were fine, were under those conditions. Maybe a fluke?

ETA: 50s inside makes it really hard to work (I'm a writer working from home). And 40s at night makes me retreat to bed by 7--not exactly great for having any kind of a life. My temperature dilemma is pretty typical here in winter. The sun passes directly overhead and never shines into the house after about 10 am. The temps outside warm up a bit, but the indoors stays chilly. And because it's cold at night, the house stays cold, even with windows open. There's nothing to hold and radiate heat this time of year.
Then have fires at night and let that temp carry you thru the day.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
It is not helping but regardless of the height at those temps any stove and chimney setup will struggle.

Yeah, it's not a good differential. But it's so dang cold in my house--and feels worse because it's a damp cold by the sea.

I've tried starting a fire once when the inside was about 60 and the outside was in the mid 40s, and it still didn't want to take. Maybe a perfect storm of impediments to a good blaze. It drives me nuts that the first fire was so good and also that the crappy rusted version of my stove outside draws with just a 5-foot chimney, but I guess there's no temperature differential there. I guess one way to tell if the temperature differential is really a problem is to wait for a cloudy day when it's definitely colder outside. I'd just like to take the edge off the cold for a couple of months...
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Then have fires at night and let that temp carry you thru the day.

My ideal right now would be to wait until just before the house starts to get chilly--about 3 pm--and start the fire up then. I'd keep it going until bedtime (10-12-ish) and tolerate the early morning chilliness until things warm up again slightly midday. (Or better yet, get a good enough fire to still have coals in the morning). It's those evening hours that are long and cold, and my house isn't well insulated enough to hang onto heat for long. And on overcast/rainy/really cold days, I'd ideally want the stove going 24/7.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Most stoves need at least 15' of flue height - yours is way too short.

Between your short stack and the high outdoor temperatures I'm surprised your first two fires went so well.
Why is 12' tall all you can reasonably use- is there no way to support a taller chimney?

I feel your pain losing sleep and time at work on a problem like this. What other forms of heat are available?

I think I posted a reply under someone else's comment about the flue height. I just can't go any higher, given the particulars of my house.

Electricity is really expensive here, and electric heaters don't really do much other than warm the immediate area without costing hundreds of dollars per month. Once you have a high electric bill in Mexico, you move into a different pricing zone for several subsequent months, as a sort of incentive for people to keep energy use down. So it's not a matter of just biting the bullet for a couple of bills.

Propane is used here too, but the way my house is configured, it wouldn't work to have a propane stove--nowhere to put a propane tank on the other side of the wall, and I don't want one inside like lots of people do here--too risky (not to mention ugly).

We really only need heat about 3 months out of the year, from mid-November to mid-February, but those months are cold. As I mentioned in another reply, my house isn't really well insulated, and it has a cold ceramic tile floor (great in the summer). Being in the 50s and 60s doesn't sound so horrible, but when it goes to the 30s at night on the ocean, it's really cold. And even a house in the 50s is chilly if you're just sitting and not doing chores or moving around.
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
90,572
South Puget Sound, WA
Wet wood can be a bear to keep burning, especially when draft is weak. Be sure to warch the cap screen for accumulation and plugging.
 
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fire_man

Minister of Fire
Feb 6, 2009
2,535
North Eastern MA
I wonder if a fan-driven draft inducer installed in the flue would help? They are not cheap but might help. I don't think it would add much to your electric bill.

Another thought: since your are near the ocean, could you be experiencing a turbulent wind situation that is messing with your draft? Maybe the days you had good draft the winds were calmer? In this case maybe the Vacu-stack might help.
 
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OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
I wonder if a draft inducer installed in the flue would help? They are not cheap but might help. I don't think it would add much to your electric bill.

Ha, I was reading about draft inducers too this morning, although I did have a small stroke when I looked at the prices. Are they relatively easy for a general contractor to install? We don't have many chimney experts here.

Also, I was poking around the opening thinking about what I could use for a temporary smoke guard, and I noticed the ceramic blanket was hanging out a bit from the baffle. I pulled a little bit of it out of the front of the baffle (removed it), and the edge had some creosote on it. There are a few spots of third degree creosote forming on the upper lip of the opening, where the smoke billows out. Incomplete combustion? Wet wood? Both?

Also, I'm wondering if the ceramic blanket is bunched up or blocking the flue creating more draft problems. Or if the blanket is so full of soot already that no air is moving through the baffle. Is that possible? Could that be why the stove worked okay the first couple of times and then not well afterward?

I didn't notice any more creosote on the blanket after a removed the front few inches, so I left the rest of it. How far back should the blanket go? I'm trying to remember what it looked like before I assembled the stove. I know some people say their stoves run better without the blanket, while others say it's necessary for secondary combustion. If I take it out completely, I assume I have to disconnect the chimney and take the stove apart? Or could I reach in there with a coat hanger and pull it all out from the front?

Arghhh... this whole thing is making me sick. It was arduous (and expensive!) getting all the materials down here, only to have so many problems with the stove. As a former EMT on a FD, I was so worried about overheating issues, I never figured I'd have too cold fires. And now, if there's creosote evidence already, I'm worried about chimney fires if I do get the draft moving.

Thanks for all the advice so far!
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
I wonder if a fan-driven draft inducer installed in the flue would help? They are not cheap but might help. I don't think it would add much to your electric bill.

Another thought: since your are near the ocean, could you be experiencing a turbulent wind situation that is messing with your draft? Maybe the days you had good draft the winds were calmer? In this case maybe the Vacu-stack might help.

Yes, the proximity to the ocean made me wonder about vagaries in wind direction. But the second night I ran the stove and had a good fire was very windy all day, with a strong onshore breeze. The first day was calm and cooler.

I just posted above about the ceramic blanket too. I can't help but think I've got a few things going on. I've already got some small areas of creosote (all degrees) in the fire box--is that normal after five or six fires? I kind of think with all the smoke in the fire box, it's concentrated in the stove and not the chimney, but if I had poor combustion, would it be distributed along the entire system?

ETA: Just noticed you are in NE MA. Grew up there myself, two sisters in Groveland, one in Natick, folks on the Cape. My bones don't miss the cold weather, but the rest of me gets homesick sometimes.
 
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OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Maybe you should have gone with a rocket mass heater

Perhaps, but I think the horse is out of the barn now. Gotta figure out how to work with what I've got. If the Apollo 13 crew could make it home by jerry rigging a fix, I should be able to fix poor draw on a wood stove. Maybe I'll get an induction kit, or if it appears to be a stove problem, bite the bullet and replace the stove. I have telescoping piping, so it's an easy swap--just more than I had hoped to pay.
 

Rickb

Minister of Fire
Oct 24, 2012
1,165
St.Louis
You are dealing with the worst case senerio of burning. Bad stove.(My day had one for years.... Even with good draft your going to get smoke.), Bad temp deferential, and it sounds like wet wood, along with short chimney.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
You are dealing with the worst case senerio of burning. Bad stove.(My day had one for years.... Even with good draft your going to get smoke.), Bad temp deferential, and it sounds like wet wood, along with short chimney.

Yep, bad combo working against me. I can't change the temperature differential, other than heating the flue before starting the fire, which I intend to try. I can change the stove, although I don't want to, if I don't see better results this week, and I'm prepared to do so. The hard part of installing the chimney has already been done, so it's just money and a few bucks to my contractor, in addition to the stove cost. If I do it before January, I won't have to pay duty on it because we get extra duty allowance over the holidays, which they nicely extend to home supplies at customs. I think my wood is poor too, and I'm trying to figure out my alternatives. I can keep the wood I have and season it for next year or use it in my outdoor stove, but I have to find a better source for right now. Time to start networking some more. My neighbors burn the same wood as me from the same supplier without issue, though, with a marginally longer flue and the same exact conditions, so some of it I suspect could be remedied with a better stove. Thanks for weighing in.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
Wet wood can be a bear to keep burning, especially when draft is weak. Be sure to warch the cap screen for accumulation and plugging.

Thanks for the heads up. I will be checking it tomorrow. As of yesterday, before my evening fire, it was clear--a little brown in color, but no accumulated gunk.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
More and more I'm thinking that not only do I have an issue with a short flue and a cold chimney, but a design issue with the stove. I think the ceramic blanket on top of the baffle may be preventing air flow, especially with a door opening so close and little access for air below the door. (The old version of this stove had movable hearth plate to adjust air into the firebox, but to get the EPA cert, apparently they had to make it a fixed-burn stove with a non-movable hearth plate.) People who review the stove report better performance with either the removal of the ceramic blanket or a smoke guard, which makes sense if this is the issue. I'm thinking of yanking the blanket, which I can always replace if I decide I need it back. But if I lose a little heat up the flue, it may be okay if I get better draw because of it. It would probably make a difference in Minnesota, but not in Mexico.

Any thoughts on how much space I should have above my baffle and if the ceramic blanket could be pushing smoke back down into the front of the firebox instead of allowing it to flow back to the flue? That might also explain why the stove worked better the first couple of times--before the insulation became caked with soot. IDK, I've never had this issue before.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
26,130
central pa
More and more I'm thinking that not only do I have an issue with a short flue and a cold chimney, but a design issue with the stove. I think the ceramic blanket on top of the baffle may be preventing air flow, especially with a door opening so close and little access for air below the door. (The old version of this stove had movable hearth plate to adjust air into the firebox, but to get the EPA cert, apparently they had to make it a fixed-burn stove with a non-movable hearth plate.) People who review the stove report better performance with either the removal of the ceramic blanket or a smoke guard, which makes sense if this is the issue. I'm thinking of yanking the blanket, which I can always replace if I decide I need it back. But if I lose a little heat up the flue, it may be okay if I get better draw because of it. It would probably make a difference in Minnesota, but not in Mexico.
It was a horrible stove before the retro fit and I would expect that it will be pretty much the same after.
 

OscarsMom

New Member
Dec 10, 2016
32
Ensenada, Mexico
It was a horrible stove before the retro fit and I would expect that it will be pretty much the same after.

Maybe, but since I live below the poverty line, I feel I need to pursue all possible solutions before shelling out the money for another stove. I only use it a couple of months out of the year--it doesn't have to be state of the art, just serviceable and safe.
 
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