Pellets not burning completely, piling up, making black soot. Any ideas why?

Chris_F Posted By Chris_F, Jan 25, 2019 at 3:40 PM

  1. Chris_F

    Chris_F
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    Dec 10, 2014
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    Good afternoon everyone.

    I have a Hudson River Stove Works brand Chatham model freestanding pellet stove in my living room. It was installed 4-1/2 years ago. Ever since I started using it this past November, it's been running worse than it used to:
    - the pellets are not burning as rapidly as they used to. The mountain of pellets in the burn tray piles higher and higher - after about 24 hours of burning, the pile reaches up into the pellet chute and I have to turn the stove off to let the current pile burn back down.
    - the pellets used to burn down into a fine ash, and the burn tray would be mostly empty. Now the burnt pellets turn into a compacted pile of sticky black ash that turns into an ever-taller brick in the burn tray. Within 24 hours of use, I would need to bang it out of the burn tray so it wouldn't block the starter should I have to turn it off and back on again.
    - the firebox walls and window now get coated with a thick black soot within several hours, whereas previously it would be a finer, less dark ash that took longer to collect.
    - after the same amount of use, the ash tray is far less full than it used to be.
    - a lot more unburnt pellets collect on the firebox floor.
    - lazier and lazier flame with hours spent burning.

    I'm concerned because historically I've had real challenges finding anyone who can/will attempt repairs on this stove (established stores with good reputations near me don't service this brand, and the maker/dealer/service company itself in Hudson doesn't want to come to inspect or service it.

    I couldn't find posts that were obviously relevant to this problem. I am familiar with the "black soot and lazy flame" sticky post. I am using Barefoot brand pellets, the same as I've happily used the last few years. I don't see any obvious vacuum-seal leaks around the firebox or ash pan. I adjust the air intake level to no effect. I have increased the "Combustion Blower" setting which seems to somewhat slow the rate of progress of the problem.

    I have three semi-un-educated guesses about what the problem may be. Please can someone give me guidance?
    1) Some kind of air leak? In the spring of 2018, after I finished using the stove from last winter, I had the stove's annual cleaning done by a company I've never used before (though it's one of the big names in my area). They cleaned it for a couple hours and took it apart and seemed to do a thorough job, but I don't know if it's possible they put something back together poorly.
    2) Pellets absorbed moisture? I bought the pellets in May 2018 and had them stored in stacks on pallets in my basement. My basement is usually bone dry but this past year it was damp and even had some standing water due to the exceptionally wet weather all spring/summer/fall.
    3) Some kind of electrical/sensor problem? This stove had a sensor go bad twice within its first year of use. Could it be something like that?

    I'd be very thankful for any advice.

    Thank you in advance!
     
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  2. bob bare

    bob bare
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    I suspect partially restricted exhaust passages.
     
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  3. Peterfield

    Peterfield
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    Dec 12, 2013
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    You should suspect the need for a wicked good cleaning. Some folks think they are getting everything clean only to find some nook or cranny where ash has accumulated.
     
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  4. Tails1

    Tails1
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    Nov 19, 2016
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    Incomplete combustion due to the fire not getting enough air, vacuum leak somewhere or blocked exhaust or faulty combustion blower. Also if there is an OAK check to make sure it isn't blocked.
     
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  5. kenora

    kenora
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    Nov 20, 2007
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    I missed a reference to venting... horizontal, vertical... how much pipe..is there a cleanout...
    If you are able to get to the exhaust tip I would suggest an easy but very effective method for cleaning the exhaust path.. I'm referring to the leaf blower cleaning method.. I adapted a almost used up roll of duct tape (has about a 3 inch hole in the "tube") and hot glued/taped it to the inlet of an old leaf blower.
    The inlet fits over the exhaust tip of my chimney.
    I then OPEN the door of the stove (its off and cool for this)
    push inlet of leaf blower onto exhaust tip and turn it on full blast..pointing away from anything you don't want to get dirty.
    The leaf blower will suck 99% of the ash out of you pipes...
    see numerous ref on youboob.. here is one..



    in my case I have a 3 inch horizontal exhaust so the 3 inch tape roll fits the end of the pipe (where it narrows)

    Give it a try
     
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  6. JRemington

    JRemington
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    We sell these stoves. Did you get your issue figured out? This is probably one of the easiest stoves there is to clean. Make sure the ash pan is locked tight.
     
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  7. bob bare

    bob bare
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    99% sucking ash out of your pipes,true.But certain stoves,that have angles and corners,LBT may not clean them,they trap moisture and create a hard spot.These types of stoves should be hammered on,and brushes run through,while running the leaf blower.Cleaning the "pipes" is only a part of cleaning.
     
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  8. Chris_F

    Chris_F
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    Dec 10, 2014
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    Thank you all very much for the ideas! Here is what I hope will be helpful information to respond to you all. Pardon me for being a real amateur with my pellet stove, and if I forgot to address one or your questions. I am not particularly handy and don't know much more about the machine than to brush and vacuum out/empty the firebox and ash pan every week, and blindly hope that the person I pay to annually clean gets every nook and cranny thoroughly.

    Last spring, the stove was 'professionally' cleaned by a local chimney sweep company. This was the first time I used their company because they charge about $350, whereas the fellow who had done it every year previously only charged $100. However, I had found out that that guy had been ripping me off for the previous 4 years and not really doing any thorough cleaning (apparently he didn't clean any part of the stove, and only vacuumed out the chimney liner). Since I never used this chimney sweep company before, and I saw that they took a lot of parts off the stove to clean it, and had their vacuum running for like 2 hours, I imagine it's possible they put it back together less airtight than it had been, and so there might be a vacuum leak. Although, for all I know, they did the only good, real cleaning it's ever had. I just don't know.

    The stove is freestanding, and the exhaust runs through several angled segments of stovepipe that travel from the back of the stove to break through the brick wall of an old, previously unused, chimney, and then up through a liner within the chimney. It looks like this:
    upload_2019-1-28_15-14-38.png
    There is no outdoor access point to the exhaust/stovepipe - only one downward-facing access cap in the segment of stovepipe inside the livingroom closest to the stove...which makes me not want to do the leaf blower method. Also, since the liner/chimney and stove interior were cleaned in the spring and the stove was unused from then until the fall/winter, and the problem started as soon as (or almost immediately after) I started using the stove for the season, I would hope it's not a blocked exhaust issue. However, the chimney sweep did tell me when they cleaned the chimney that the installer (the same shady guy who used to also supposedly 'clean' the stove annually) had installed an improperly wide 6" liner, which was the reason why the liner was almost completely clogged with ash after each season's use. Side note: replacing the liner with the right size is on the to-do list for this coming year. This winter with the weather being less cold than usual, I've used the stove less than normal (it runs say 14 hours per day instead of 24/7), so it shouldn't have become clogged since the cleaning.

    My house is very old and drafty (pine planks with gaps, no subfloor, over a stone basement; and old wood windows), so the stove draws air directly from inside the living room - no exterior air intake.

    I do make sure the ash tray is closed and locked tightly, though it's hard to do. When I first got the stove, it latched smoothly. After a year or two of use, the latch knob became extremely difficult to turn through 90 degrees to securely latch against the stove frame.

    One aspect that seems important to me is that the problem started as soon as I started using the stove this season, and the only thing that's happened since last heating season (when it apparently worked fine) was the paid annual cleaning. I can imagine it's more likely damp pellets or something caused by the chimney sweep (either a vacuum leak or an exhaust clog), than a sensor or part failing.

    Did I forget anything that someone wanted to know?
     
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  9. biketony

    biketony
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    Oct 3, 2015
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    It really sounds like blocked exhaust to me. If the drawing you posted is correct, then the bottom of the exhaust pipe behind your stove is a clean out. Open that up and vacuume that out. I would use pipe cleaners and clean the whole exhaust pipe.
     
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  10. JRemington

    JRemington
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    What I’d like you to do is pull your draft lever out all the way and start the stove. After the mode light goes solid yellow turn the stove up to the top heat setting. Then push the draft lever in and tell me if there is a difference in the way the fire looks. Make sure the burn pot is empty when you do this?
     
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  11. JRemington

    JRemington
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    Are you anywhere near Syracuse?
     
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  12. Ssyko

    Ssyko
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    Nov 6, 2017
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    No he’s in fishkill south of albany
     
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  13. Chris_F

    Chris_F
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    Dec 10, 2014
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    Thank you all. Biketony and JRemington - I will brush/vacuum out the exhaust from the cleanout, and I will follow the test steps you suggested, and I will post back within 2 days to let you know what happens. Cheers!
     
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  14. Connecticut Yankee

    Connecticut Yankee
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    Nov 20, 2018
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    Check your damper control, which is on the left side of the stove as you face the front. It may have gotten knocked shut by accident. Mine sometimes gets moved when I clean. We got our Chatham last September, and either the installer forgot to adjust the damper or I bumped it, because I was getting rapid soot buildup at first, until I opened it up. I get a good flame, good burning, and minimal ash with the damper control pulled out between one-third and halfway. Check the manual for other troubleshooting options, and for instructions on ajusting the pellet feed rate and the combustion blower voltage.

    P.S.--I have also found it helpful to make sure the burn pot is properly seated when I put it back in, with the two front tabs pushed into the holes designed to receive them.
     
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  15. Chris_F

    Chris_F
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    Dec 10, 2014
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    Good (cold) morning all,

    Biketony: I brushed and vacuumed as far up the exhaust pipe as the shopvac could reach (about as far as the horizontal part of the pipe between the 2 bends), and also aimed it into the pellet stove from the cleanout opening. I got hardly any ash as far as I can tell; there was only a wisp of ash in the cleanout cap initially, and the shopvac made no sounds or vibrations from sucking ash as I vacuumed. I don't have proper brushes for reaching in to clean out the stovepipe, but reached in as far as I could with a small brush and didn't feel anything caked against the walls of the pipe.

    JRemington: Yesterday I did a weekly cleaning, also making sure the burnpot was empty, pulled the draft lever all the way out, started the stove, and when the Mode light stayed solid yellow I turned the stove up (from level 2) to level 5. I pushed the draft lever in and found no difference in the way the fire looks. I tried the draft lever at different settings (all in, all out, half out) and found no difference. All the time, the flame had the nice jet-fired appearance as if the draft lever was all the way out - it never got lazy. I then turned the stove down to heat level 2 (I habitually keep it at 2 or 3) and did the same, and was surprised to see the pushing/pulling the draft lever had no effect on the laziness/jet-like-ness of the flame. This surprises me because a couple weeks ago I adjusted the draft lever and at that time it had the expected effect of making the flame faster or lazier, and this was done while I had the problem which I still have now, so now I'm wondering if this is a second coincidental problem, or a compounding/worsening of the original problem...same cause or another issue? Of course, as has been happening this season, after several hours of burning, the flame got more and more lazy, a thick black sootcake grew in the burnpot, soot built up on the firebox walls/window, and the firebox floor and ashtray built up a collection of half-burnt and unburnt pellets and 'fossil pellets' (where it's just a clump of ash perfectly preserved in the original shape of the individual pellets, as if it was excavated from Pompeii).

    Connecticut Yankee: thank you very much for the tips! These are helpful items that I have checked this time, but I'm glad you mention them because when I first got the stove I did not know to check these things (our installer also never mentioned the damper and left it all the way in!). In past years when the stove worked well, I found that setting the pellet feed to 1 and the combustion blower trim to 3, with the air lever pulled about halfway out, made a nice flame that stayed consistent and didn't produce sticky black soot or pellet piles or creosote.

    I thank you all for being kind to spend your time considering my problem and making suggestions! I hope I can return the favors as I learn more with time.

    Also, if anyone can recommend a repair person who works in southern Dutchess County, New York (not far from Poughkeepsie, say halfway between Albany and New York City), I'd be very happy to contact them. The stove is making more creosote more and more quickly (in the exhaust pipe, in the burnpot, in the firebox, and in the ash tray) as time goes on. As I mentioned previously, I've had trouble finding anyone in my area who repairs this brand. I've called a half dozen or more shops and individuals but they all say they either never worked with these or no longer work with these.
     
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  16. Connecticut Yankee

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    Have you tried Ashleigh's on 9W in Poughkeepsie, north of Marist and south of the Stop 'n' Shop, right across from Stewart's if memory serves? Their Web site is https://www.enjoywarmth.com/. I don't know anything about them, because I had no fireplace when I lived in the area, but they might be a place to start.
     
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  17. Chris_F

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    Thank you - Yes, though Ashleigh's recently went out of business, the company they were twinned with in the same building, "Hudson Valley Chimney" is the company who did the annual cleaning for me this past spring. I hope they did a good a job as people around here tell me they do. If no one else knows of anyone that repairs my brand of stove, I'll probably end up calling them. I hadn't called them yet because they are more expensive for cleaning services than other companies (so I assume their repairs cost more, too), and they have a very long waiting list for non-urgent issues. Thank you!
     
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  18. Connecticut Yankee

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    Sorry to hear they went out of business. I hope you can find somebody.
     
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  19. JRemington

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    I believe you have an air leak somewhere. When it’s dark take your ashpan out, put a flashlight in there, close the ashpan door and look for light around the seal. Also, take a 5/16 wrench and loosen the 2 round circular clean outs on the back of the firebox. Spin them upward and look and see how much ash is in them.
     
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  20. JRemington

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  21. COMike

    COMike
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    I have an older Whitfield Renaissance that is doing the same thing. Have cleaned and scrubbed everything that I can find and still runs poorly. Most people I ask about it tell me to get rid of this stove and buy a better one. Not the answer I want to hear
     
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  22. Atomicskr

    Atomicskr
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    Nov 20, 2018
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    Just figured out a similar issue on my Englander 10-CPM..... culprit was a cheapo combustion blower motor.... Fire looked fine but pellets would fill the burnpot on medium or higher heat settings.....


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  23. johneh

    johneh
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    95 % of poor running stove pellets not burning completely ,black soot on glass ,black ash
    burn pot overflowing with part burnt pellets and poor flame is a dirty exhaust passages and venting
    plunged with ash or a combustion motor weak or very dirty also plunged air holes in fire pot
    A clean stove is a happy stove
     
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  24. MButkus

    MButkus
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    This goes for OMike too.

    I was having trouble with my pellet stove (Whitfield) on low and medium. I was not getting the "dancing fire" as much. I figured the 20 year old blowers (room and exhaust) were just weary after 24/7 for 5 months a year. So I replaced them this Oct. What I found is the exhaust fan area was choked with soot. So much it was 90% blocking the exhaust area. The short exhaust pipe was fine as well as all the hidden places behind the fake brick in the stove. I cleaned that out and replaced the fan, keeping the old ones as spares. The stove now works like it's 1996 again !
    I don't know how you stove works, but I would try removing the exhaust fan and see if it's choked with soot !
    When you pull them, unplug the stove from the wall, of course.
     
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  25. Chris_F

    Chris_F
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    Dec 10, 2014
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    Thank you everyone. I'm sorry to take a long time to respond. Here's the short answer: all your advice was great and is really appreciated. The issue was in fact that the exhaust passages (and venting) were filthy and essentially totally plugged.

    I didn't believe that would turn out to be the problem, because a well-known and supposedly reputable local company did the most recent cleaning of the stove. Looks like I got ripped off for the $400 I paid them as apparently they only vacuumed out the fire chamber and the chimney liner, but nothing else. No brushing inside the pellet stove or the chimney, no cleaning of the works of the stove, nuttin'.

    I finally got a good referral to a pellet stove servicer and he came two days in a row. He spent a total of about nine hours disassembling and thoroughly cleaning out the stove, and brushing the chimney liner. He let me watch everything he was doing and explained it as he worked through it. In his opinion, the dirtiness and soot in the stove was not the result of the 1 ton of pellets I've burnt so far this winter, but clearly was many years of accumulation. [Short aside: the stove was installed in the fall of 2014; the installer did the 'annual cleaning' 2015, 2016, and 2017; I found out the installer was a scam artist and had never opened up the stove to clean it; in 2018 I switched to the supposedly reputable local company and told them it had never been cleaned and needed a particularly good annual cleaning; since that company also scammed me, it appears that yesterday's thorough cleaning was the first my stove received in its 4.5 years of service.]

    I don't want anyone to think that I have any ulterior motive to promote one business or hurt another, so I won't mention the names of the bad company from Poughkeepsie or the good servicer from Hyde Park. However, if you are in my area (Dutchess County, NY) and you want my opinion of who to stay away or who to hire for pellet stove cleaning and maintenance, please feel free to send me a private message and I'll send you the contact information.

    Here are four photos of the stove works, the firebox - note the blocked dual exhaust chambers (the round holes on the left and right sides), the stovepipe connection, and the chimney liner. Please let me know if you think the dust accumulated only since July 2018, or the soot build-up was caused by burning 1 ton of Barefoot pellets.
    20190221_165414.jpg 20190221_165400.jpg 20190220_144554.jpg 20190220_144454.jpg
     
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