SOS SOS SOS HELP!

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becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
For the first time in about 7 years of pellet burning, I had A Situation this morning. The immediate situation was resolved although I am still shaking my head over it. I hope I understand what happened there.

We do need help with the aftermath of The Situation.

History:

We are burning O'Malley's out of Tappahannock, VA and we have been all season (and last season, and the season before that) without incident. The Napoleon pellet stove is cleaned daily, Big Cleaned after each ton, and I vacuum out our direct vent exhaust every few weeks, i.e. this stove is and stays clean.

I noticed earlier this week that the stove seemed to be burning dirty and was building clinkers more quickly than I thought it should have. Two days ago when I went to check on the stove a bit after waking I was surprised to see a full to the brim burn pot, with ash and clinkers. I clean it every day and we haven't yet burned a ton this season, so I responded by adding an exhaust pathway vacuum out with that day's cleaning.

This seemed to help. Stove returned to burning cleanly, no issues.

Per usual I cleaned the stove yesterday morning. By last night at bedtime I noticed the beginnings of a nice clinker in the burn pot. ??? It wasn't much of a clinker but there it was, a mere 12 hours or so after I last cleaned the stove and emptied the burn pot. I didn't want to lie in bed and worry that we were repeating the same problem, so I turned the stove off and went to bed.

This morning I got up, went into the cold stove, opened it, and examined the burn pot. I probably over-reacted, I thought, to the little bit of ash in the burn pot. Yes it was on its way to being a clinker but it was actually very little ash. ??? So I cleaned the stove, opened the damper, turned up the feed, and started the stove.

I went on about my life and a few minutes later I smelled smoke- strong smoke. I ran into the stove room and I could not believe my eyes.

Please remember that I started this stove this morning from stone cold and completely cleaned- burn pot emptied, fire box vacuumed, ash drawer emptied, etc. And I just vacuumed the exhaust from the outside all the way up into the stove guts two days ago.

The entire fire box of the stove was full, FULL, of smoke. I could not see inside the stove at all. It was FULL of smoke, completely opaque. And smoke was coming out of every crack and crevice in the top of the stove.

I could not see flames but obviously there was fire somewhere- where there's smoke there's fire, right? But there were no flames to be seen- not shooting out of the stove, not in the fire box.

My first thought was a hopper fire- but I could not see any way for that to have happened. I started the stove clean and with an empty burn pot. There literally hadn't been enough minutes since I started the stove for the burn pot to overflow and build up to the point of making a "fire bridge" to the pellet feed chute above. There literally and physically wasn't enough time.

Still the stove was smoking like a smoking stove with all the smoking and more smoking so I couldn't rule a smoldering hopper fire out. The hopper lid felt cool to the touch, the sides of the stove (in fact, the entire stove) felt cool to the touch. ???

I did not even know where to begin with the stove so I took care of the house first, for better or for worse. I opened up the house and turned on all the exhaust fans to try to get the smoke out of the house, then I approached the stove.

I could not see what was going on in the fire box at all- and I kind of needed to know- so I took a deep breath and opened the door. BIG MISTAKE. ALL THE SMOKE IN THE WORLD FELL OUT INTO THE ROOM AND STARTED GETTING SUCKED THROUGH THE HOUSE VIA EXHAUST FANS OMG.

*Closed door quickly and latched it.*

SO THEN.

I noticed that although we had a LOT OF SMOKE OMG THE SMOKE the stove appeared to be totally off- like totally dead. ??? I checked the surge protector and the power was still on. We still had power to the house. So I turned the feed down to zero and I turned the convection fan OFF and I started the stove again.

It started right up. The combustion fan started right up, the smoke got sucked out the exhaust vent, and the pellets in the burn pot burst into flames.

OK, after some observation I determined that we had- wait for it- (can you Old Timers guess?)

AN AUGER JAM.

This is only the second auger jam we've ever had with this stove- and the first one to occur *after* the stove has deposited some pellets in the pot and *after* they've ignited.

The auger was trying to turn but obviously it was "bound up" and it was complaining. No pellets were dropping. Evidently the stove never built up enough heat to indicate that it was in full operation mode. The vacuum switch tripped, told the stove that it was out of pellets/no pellets were dropping, and shut the stove down. But the pellets in the pot were lit and smoldering with the smoldering on top. CUE SMOKE.

I could not clear the jam from below with a screwdriver so I had to empty the hopper (OF COURSE IT WAS FULL, 55 LBS.) and vacuum it thoroughly from above with the Shop Vac. Between attacking it from below with a screwdriver and sucking it out from above with the Shop Vac I definitely cleared the jam.

Fired the stove back up and it's been running like a dream since then. Burning very cleanly, too. Evidently we'd gotten enough sawdust in the bottom of the hopper that it fouled the auger, and our clinkers were from too much sawdust in the burn pot. I'm guessing. The bottom of the hopper didn't look that bad when I emptied it- no sign of a hopper fire, and not as much disintegrated pellet debris/sawdust as I would have expected- but evidently that was the problem. Stove runs fine now, no build up in the burn pot at all.

BUT- the stove STINKS. I MEAN IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN.

I'm currently blasting the house out for the third time today. I suspect that the stove itself is blowing stink into the house. When I open the house and blast it out, the stink dissipates. When I close the house afterwards, I can still smell it a little, but not so bad. When I crank the stove up, it's like it's sending the charred smoke smell all throughout the house. And the stove stinks when you walk up to it.

It smells like smoke and creosote- and the creosote thing has me flummoxed because, believe me, we don't let creosote form in this stove.

Although- I will tell you- today when the fire box was filled with smoke, I saw moisture on the INSIDE of the glass. After I got the situation resolved I noticed that there was a brown residue on the inside of the glass. I tried to clean it off with a wet paper towel and it didn't budge. I figured I'd burn it off with a nice hot fire.

It's still there and after about 6 hours of burning, the stove still stinks to high heaven.

How do we resolve our stove stink?

I've got the stove turned off right now. I'm going to clean it (again) and see about getting that residue off of the inside of the glass- with ceramic stove top cleaner if that's what it takes.

We will probably see about renting some sort of air purifier- because the smell is strong enough that it makes me sick. =(

Any suggestions, Wise Ones?
 
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becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
Addendum- may have found the problem- creosote not only on the interior of the glass (cleaning that off with ceramic stove top cleaner now) but also in the bottom of the ash pan and UNDER the ash pan.

Will report back later.
 

Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
becasunshine, sorry to hear of "The Situation". Sounds like cleaning up the ash pan area should help get rid of the smell - it's cooking when you use the stove :(
 
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SmokeyTheBear

Minister of Fire
Nov 10, 2008
13,363
Standish, ME
Warm soapy water on the 'sote and please do it outdoors as it makes one heck of a mess. Do not do the cleaning with the stove plugged in, keep the liquids away from the control board.

Then when you get that all cleaned up clean the rest of the stove and the vent with every tool in the arsenal making liberal use of high air flow devices.

Once you have everything really clean, check all gaskets.

Make sure your damper hasn't come loose and is where it should be.

Once you get that done reinstall the stove.
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
UPDATE:

We've not yet resorted to pulling the stove out of the house - although that may yet happen, Smokey. We got the nether regions (ash pan, under the ash pan, around the ash pan, have you ever scrubbed your stove's ash pan? Why on earth not?) cleaned up but we could still smell creosote. Hubs is working on the firebox itself. Mebbe it's wishful thinking, mebbe it's just that we are getting used to the smell, but I swear it's getting better. It got a lot better after cleaning up the nether regions but cleaning up the firebox is helping even more.

I would think that the fire box would get hot enough to burn off a little bit of creosote but neither of us wants to live with that smell long enough for the stove to burn it off. We'd like to help it along. :) :)

Hopefully we will NOT have to scrub out the non-fire innards and the exhaust path. I can understand the ash pan and the area around it getting creosoted up- that's on the "fire side" of the equation and cool smoke falls. There wasn't any reason for smoke to get into the convection fan innards and the electrical board innards. The cool smoke didn't stay in the exhaust pathway long enough to deposit anything, I hope. Once the combustion fan started up the smoke went out of the box, out of the stove and out of the house like RIGHT NOW. Also, the pellets lit up immediately when that happened as well.

Hopefully, this takes care of it...

Bless my husband for handling this... :)
 

SmokeyTheBear

Minister of Fire
Nov 10, 2008
13,363
Standish, ME
I've never had to scrub down the stove let alone the ash pan and hope to keep it that way.

Creosote is bad news, it can get lit off and act as a fuse to other stuff if in the right spots. It burns very very hot and there is a lot of stuff in the stove system that just can't take the heat.

You must get it out of there. Check things out really well and no second guessing.
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
I've never had to scrub down the stove let alone the ash pan and hope to keep it that way.

Creosote is bad news, it can get lit off and act as a fuse to other stuff if in the right spots. It burns very very hot and there is a lot of stuff in the stove system that just can't take the heat.

You must get it out of there. Check things out really well and no second guessing.

Will do, Smokey.

We've been blasting out the house again (third time today) because I just can't take the creosote smell. I'm not being a princess, it really makes me ill. It's a lot better now that we've gotten the ash pan, the area surrounding the ash pan and the fire box cleaned up. I'll post pictures of those in a minute. (Hubs does good work.) He's going to take a dinner break (I cannot eat right now- no appetite, creosote really messes with me) and then we'll pull the sides off of the stove, pull the combustion motor and check the exhaust path. We can shine a flashlight up the exhaust path from outside too to look for creosote as well.
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
Stove Innards, for your inspection:

002.JPG
Close up of cleaned fire box


003.JPG
Far away of cleaned fire box

001.JPG
Ash pan compartment (there was a layer of creosote on the bottom, gone now, thanks Hubs!)

005.JPG
Cleaned ash pan, ditto layer of creosote, gone now

004.JPG
Heat exchange tubes

This is a vintage 2008 stove. I think you can see that we keep it clean. We could not have cleaned it up tonight with warm water and soap if we'd let it get creosoted up before now.

We still have a bit of residual odor but it is much better. Hubs is eating. (Thank GOD, sincerely, we had a variety of wonderful leftovers from three previous nights of home cooked meals. A good hot meal in the middle of a "situation" is a blessing!)

After he eats, we'll pull the sides off of the stove, examine the mechanical innards, and examine the exhaust pathway and vacuum it out while we are in there.

Nothing like a 9pm unscheduled Big Clean, we always say! =/ =/
 

WNCBear

Member
Jan 10, 2013
38
Asheville, NC
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mystove

Member
Nov 28, 2012
78
Sorry to hear that happened. Last year we had a fire that went up to the gasket in the bottom auger in our stove. Melted the gasket, bearing and gasket replaced. Scary stuff! Glad it wasn't worse and hope you get that smell out soon!
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
Wow, mystove, that *is* scary. Do you know how it happened? (I'd like to avoid that...)
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
006.JPG
Exhaust pathway prior to cleaning.

009.JPG
Exhaust pathway prior to cleaning.

There was a little bit of soot but no creosote, none at all. Hubs vacuumed it out and did a "Big Clean." He's going to send the vacuum hose up the exhaust pathway from outside before he puts the Shop Vac away, just to be sure.

It still smells a little right at and around the stove, but not like it did before. Hopefully burning the stove will help dissipate some of the remaining smell.

Otherwise, I swear, I don't know what else to do. =/

I keep wanting to kick myself for "letting" this happen- but it's not like we don't maintain the stove (daily, weekly, after every ton.) How would one prevent a random auger jam??? The bottom of the hopper wasn't all that bad!
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
All cleaned up, running like a top, purring like a kitten, and I do believe that burning it is helping to dissipate the rest of the smell. That or my nose is broken. =/ Thank you for your help, suggestions, guidance, patience and prayers, Wise Ones! :) :) <:3~
 

SmokeyTheBear

Minister of Fire
Nov 10, 2008
13,363
Standish, ME
You might want to take a good look up that drop chute.

ETA: I just dropped in to see how you were doing beca, going to call it an evening.
 

becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
You might want to take a good look up that drop chute.

ETA: I just dropped in to see how you were doing beca, going to call it an evening.

I will do that, Smokey- bright and early tomorrow morning. (Famous last words, right?) I think it will be OK. I was up that pellet drop chute with a long screw driver several times today trying to loosen the auger jam. The screw driver came out clean.

If there is creosote up the drop chute it cannot be much at all. The smoke that produced the creosote wasn't hanging around in the stove for days or weeks or even for hours. it cooled and dropped a light (stinky) layer of creosote mostly on horizontal surfaces. Cleaning up those surfaces has helped a lot.

I will clean it out with a warm soapy rag tomorrow when I clean the stove. Why not? It's easy and it will make all of us feel better. :)
 

chken

Minister of Fire
Dec 7, 2013
1,136
Maine
Sorry to hear of your trials and tribulations, but it's a good lesson for all of us.
 
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Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
becasunshine, not knowing your pellet loading routine, is it possible you had some damp pellets or previously wet pellets got in the hopper? The puffed up dried pellets crumble so bad that the fines that collect could cause you some issues. Did you pull the auger to make sure that there are no foreign objects lurking?
 
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becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
becasunshine, not knowing your pellet loading routine, is it possible you had some damp pellets or previously wet pellets got in the hopper? The puffed up dried pellets crumble so bad that the fines that collect could cause you some issues. Did you pull the auger to make sure that there are no foreign objects lurking?

Hi, Lake Girl!

Pellet stove is running like a dream. I'm sitting up a bit with it, though, just to make sure. I do not, at this point, see any reason not to trust it but I'm still wide awake (FOR SOME REASON WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?) so it's a good opportunity to keep an eye on things.

You know, it surprised me to see the moisture on the inside of the stove's door glass today during THE ALMIGHTY PELLET STOVE SMOKE-A-THON. I saw it, I noted it, I tried to process it while reacting to everything else the stove was throwing in my direction. I thought "wet pellets?" too, but I quickly dismissed that. Barring things I/we just cannot control, I don't know why these pellets would have any more moisture content than any other pellet.

These pellets were delivered to our door from a local supplier who, to the best of my knowledge, keeps them indoors at his facility. I distinctly recall speaking to his wife early in the process and noting that she referred to the pellets sitting in the warehouse right behind her.

The bags of pellets come off of the trailer on which they are delivered and go straight into our garage. They are stored on pallets which are covered with tarps to keep the pallets from tearing the bags that sit directly on them.

We bring a bag into the house daily, as we need it.

The only other auger jam we've had with this stove was on the initial start up on our second season. Our stove is free-standing with a short run direct vent. We don't have a vertical rise up a chimney (or any vertical rise at all) so moisture will not condense and fall into the stove. Nevertheless we did have a slight auger jam at start up that year. I was able to un-jam it with a long screwdriver up the drop feed chute.

Depending on the relative humidity over the summer, we will get a bit of rust on the rear wall of the fire box during the non-burn season. So we do get moisture inside the stove through the direct vent, and, I'm guessing, through the OAK. My best guess is that this humidity contributed to the start up auger jam that one year. NO pellets dropped into the pot, the auger was complaining mightily and I was standing right there listening to it. Since no pellets dropped into the pot, there was nothing in the pot to smolder or to cause a problem.

How or why we got an auger jam today, I have no idea. It's been a moist winter here so could there be humidity getting inside the stove and affecting the pellets in the hopper? I guess so... but we burn the stove just about 24/7 when we are here (which is most of the time still.) The pellets don't sit in the stove long enough, IMHO, to completely disintegrate due to the little bit of moisture that gets into the stove during non-burns.

I did not pull the auger today. That may be the one (1) thing I/we have not done to this stove. I am sure it can be done and I'd put even money that we'll end up doing it at some point in this stove ownership. It did cross my mind today, along with the possibility of an auger motor failure. In the end, I was able to successfully un-jam the auger with a screwdriver up the drop chute (that just sounds ALL KINDS OF WRONG) and with the Shop Vac sucking out the other side in the empty hopper.

I emptied all 55 lbs. of pellets (OF COURSE THE HOPPER WAS FULL WHEN THIS HAPPENED) by hand, sucked everything, pellets, sawdust and all, out of the auger with the Shop Vac, and that cleared the jam. I mean, that hopper was just about as empty as the day it left the factory by the time I was finished with it.

Honestly, the bottom of the hopper wasn't all that bad. I've seen worse in terms of sawdust and debris. I guess the moon, the stars and the sawdust lined up just right to make an issue out of it. ???

The thought of a foreign object in the pellets that we didn't see when we dumped the bag into the hopper did cross my mind, but I didn't find anything.

The smell in the house is much reduced since Hubs cleaned the stove so well. There's still a little bit in here but running the stove seems to be helping. I have a couple of bowls of white vinegar out- one sitting near the stove and one in our bedroom, which seems to be holding on to a bit of this odor (of course.)

Right now I'm going to chalk this up to "random," as in, if you burn a pellet stove often enough for enough years some weird stuff will happen to you eventually.

This situation turned out OK except for the odor, and it didn't take us that long to figure out what smelled. Overall this was an inexpensive lesson (so far, unless I have to get the whole house fumigated, or if the pellet stove never stops stinking) so I'll call it a learning experience win and move on. I hope. :)
 

Bkins

Minister of Fire
Mar 16, 2009
623
Jersey Shore
I had really, really bad pellets from O'Mally a few years back. They were bought and stored inside and were inside from our supplier, Agway. They didn't burn right, fell apart, and a mess of fines, not to mention that about 40 percent of the bags were not closed. They were bad enough that I called O'Mallys and as I remember talked to Matt. I wanted them taken back because of the bags not being closed as at the time I didn't know how crappy they ended up being. Ended up only getting lip service from him. I will never use his product again.

Not saying this pertains to what happened to you but one of the main components of a pellet stove and it's running is the pellets. Maybe someone else can comment on what contributes to creosote. Never ever seen any hint of it burning my stoves. Now with burning wood stoves for around 40 years I will not make the same statement.

Glad your on your way to getting back. To everything's great. By the way everybody should take note of how clean you keep the stove.
 
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SmokeyTheBear

Minister of Fire
Nov 10, 2008
13,363
Standish, ME
Beca,

One of the byproducts of burning wood is water even if the pellets are 100% devoid of moisture, the combustion process creates the water by combining the hydrogen in the wood (it is after all a carbohydrate) with the oxygen in the burn air and out the other end comes hydrogen oxides (water) , carbon oxides, and various other things.
 
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becasunshine

Minister of Fire
Dec 10, 2009
711
Coastal Virginia
I had really, really bad pellets from O'Mally a few years back. They were bought and stored inside and were inside from our supplier, Agway. They didn't burn right, fell apart, and a mess of fines, not to mention that about 40 percent of the bags were not closed. They were bad enough that I called O'Mallys and as I remember talked to Matt. I wanted them taken back because of the bags not being closed as at the time I didn't know how crappy they ended up being. Ended up only getting lip service from him. I will never use his product again.

Not saying this pertains to what happened to you but one of the main components of a pellet stove and it's running is the pellets. Maybe someone else can comment on what contributes to creosote. Never ever seen any hint of it burning my stoves. Now with burning wood stoves for around 40 years I will not make the same statement.

Glad your on your way to getting back. To everything's great. By the way everybody should take note of how clean you keep the stove.

We had a bad batch of Hamers a few years back as well. They would NOT burn in our stove. FINES, thank you, that was the word that had somehow escaped my vocabulary! Yes, lots of fines, and the intact pellets broke down if you looked at them hard. Our stove store at that time, from whom we bought the Hamers, had it out evidently with the factory and the last I heard, no longer deals with Hamers at all. (Things may have changed, I don't know, it's been a while.) Our stove store gave us credit for the bags we could not burn.

With that bad batch of Hamers, the fines would clog the burn pot in a matter of hours. This too crossed my mind when it looked like we were getting another clinker mere hours after I'd cleaned the stove. I wondered if we'd gotten into a bad "run" of bags in the middle of a ton. I thought, "Oh no, not *this* again."

Per above, there wasn't some remarkable amount of fines in the bottom of the hopper. Apparently there was enough, and of the right consistency, that it was starting to foul the burn pot and then caused an auger jam. OR, perhaps, a couple of longish pellets jammed the auger and were in the process of being ground up and sent to the burn pot as fines. I dunno.

We've never seen creosote in our pellet stove either. Boy was that a science lesson. Just. that. fast. Smoke was generated, smoke cooled down, smoke made creosote. Cooled smoke and creosote fell to the lower portions of the stove. I couldn't have generated a more accurate demonstration of the process if I had tried.

The frustrating thing at the moment was that I watched it happen, I literally watched it happen. My brain was processing this information and trying to make sense of it as fast as my brain could go. It took me precious minutes to figure out what had happened and what to do with the stove, and while I was trying to figure out what to do- CREOSOTE.

Anyway, Hubs did a fine job with the stove last night. We went to bed with the slight aroma of creosote still in the house, but we both felt like running the stove was now making it better, not worse, with the creosote removed from all the surfaces we could realistically reach and touch. There may have been a little bit in nooks and crannies in the fire box and around the exchange tubes. We hoped that burning the stove with the exhaust/combustion fan running would take care of that.

It did. Stove is running like a dream and when we awoke today, the aroma of creosote is all but a memory. I will probably keep a few dishes of white vinegar sitting around for another day or so (white vinegar absorbs odors like nobody's business) but I think we are over the worst part.

Bonus round the stove got an early mid-season cleaning (I'm pretty sure we've not yet burned a ton) and the hopper and the auger were vacuumed out. :) :)

"By the way everybody should take note of how clean you keep the stove"

Thank you, Bkins! I wish I could tell you that it's because we are so virtuous, and cleanliness is next to Godliness, or something. The truth is, the Napoleon has been a good, basic pellet stove for us although, if I had it to do over again, I'd get one that puts out more BTU's, that's another story. But here's the thing with Napoleon stoves- they will treat you well if you keep them clean clean clean. And by clean I do mean an everyday cleaning. Buying a PowerSmith ash vacuum changed my life. Now I merely need to wait for the stove to cool down to the point where I can handle it with bare hands- as opposed to waiting hours to safely vacuum it with a standard Shop Vac. But because of that deep, round burn pot and the pellets delivered via drop chute, that burn pot needs to be emptied every day, and the area under the burn pot cleaned regularly. If I have to turn the stove off and cool it to empty the burn pot and vacuum under it, I'm going to clean it while I'm in there. It takes a couple of minutes at most- so why not? And the stove runs all the better for it. Not virtuous at all- purely in self-interest. :)
 
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