The good, bad and ugly in biomass stoves

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SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Thought I'd initiate a thread about ALL biomass stoves, what we consider the best value, the worst value, the easiest to maintain, the hardest to maintain and, the ones that break the least, the ones that break the most and the ones with the best documentation versus the ones with the worst documentation. and the cost of replacement parts. Can be new or used, positive or negative draft and multi-fuel or single fuel source, built in hearth models or free standing, the sky is the limit.

I'll start it with the England Stove Works, 25 series in as much as I had one way back when. I would never buy another unit without a separate ash drawer and I don't care for their fuel feed system either. Mine was the old style positive draft and was very prone to hopper fires if you didn't keep the hopper tightly sealed. Got relegated to my workshop and I finally sold it, won't be missed.

My present 'ugly black box' USSC 6039-41 runs like a top on anything I put in it, corn or pellets. I even tried pelletized switch grass one time and all was good. Maintenance is pretty easy but replacement parts are pretty high, especially the stainless burn pot, but I have 2 so when one is in service, the other is soaking in a bucket of water along with a stirrer to loose up any accumulated hard carbon. Mine isn't particularly picky with pellet brands, it roasts anything I put in the hopper pretty well.

Now I do primarily run corn, not pellets because for me corn comes at very minimal cost but corn isn't as widely available as it is here in the midwest.

What say you guys, lets hear the good, the bad and the ugly and come clean. They aren't all perfect units, not by a long shot.... :p
 

DAKSY

Full Time RVer
Staff member
Dec 2, 2008
9,016
Wherever we're parked
I've worked on Whitfields, Quadrifires, Vermont Castings, Breckwells & Harmans, & maybe a couple other brands,
But I'm a Harman fan... Have 2 of them & have been burning pellets for about 14 years...
Each ash pan can hold the ashes of up to a ton of pellets, as all brands & wood types differ
in the amount of fly ash they produce....
Where I work sells Harmans & Quads & I probably fire up 2-3 a week as a test run prior to install.
I very seldom get a Harman in the shop for repair, as they are generally field service friendly...
 

railfanron

Minister of Fire
Nov 2, 2013
561
Perry MI
I'm a Harman fan also. From what stoves I've seen and worked on the Harman p series is the easiest to clean of any stove on the market. Harman says the ash pan holds the ash from up to a ton of pellets. I've never got that much in there. About 3/4 of a ton is all that I get. This isn't a complaint cause cleaning once a month and an hour at the most of my time is a pretty good trade. This is my sixth year and parts wise I put in a new igniter this year that's it. Being a bottom feeder it burns any pellet I throw at it. Because of this I can buy the cheapest pellet I can find and it runs on it fine. I haven't noticed any appreciable difference in heat output or pellet usage. Getting to the combustion fan blade is a 15 second affair so cleaning the stove is no problem at all. Once the fan cover is removed (one slider latch) I can also access the horizontal run of exhaust pipe all the way to the tee for cleaning. I can also clean the ESP with a brass brush on a stick. With an airtight fitting into the horizontal run of pipe and a bolt in the vacuum hose I can do the leaf blower trick from inside the house. No need to get up on the roof to clean the vertical pipe. With the vertical run being one piece and only 3 joints in the whole exhaust pipe assembly I don't have worry much about the positive pressure from the leaf blower.
Ron
 

rich2500

Minister of Fire
Nov 19, 2005
1,385
Berks County PA.
I have owned a englander pdvc , castle serenity , ravelli francesca and now a harman allure, The englander was great the first year then after that it was always something I replaced every part in that stove and some multiple times, Finally got tired of that and decided to try a castle serenity, that was a great stove but I eventually had problems with welds popping loose in the firebox, Ardisam replaced the stove out of warranty but while that was all going on I came across a good deal on the ravelli so I bought that and then sold the replacement serenity when I got it. The ravelli was trouble free but the controller was hard to understand and it was a pain to clean. In 2018 I decided I was going to pellet as my primary heat so I began looking for a stove with a big hopper that would allow a 6" clearance to the sidewall, I had it narrowed down to 3 stoves and ended up with the best deal on the allure. I was never one to buy the harman hype but I gotta admit that so far this stove has been awesome, easy to clean, holds the house at a steady temp, I scrape the burn pot every once in a while and other then adding pellets I don't touch the stove for at least a month at time.
 

rickwai

Minister of Fire
Nov 1, 2011
1,189
ohio
I have 14+ yrs of ownership and service tech experience of with Harman and St. Croix. A little service experience with Quad Mt Vernon AE and non with the Box store stoves.
Being a service guy all my life ( inground pools summer, stoves in the winter) I have learned that the majority of people just want the output and benefit of a particular item with the least amount of manual input. Most of us on here enjoy tinkering with stuff. generally people dont. I get calls that someones pump is not running right or the pool heater wont start. First question, is the water level low and sucking air? You would not believe how many times I get the "oh Yeah"! Add a couple inches of water and all will be good. And alot of times this is coming from a customer that has had a pool for many years! Or at opening they walk out and ask for a quit lesson on how to backwash filter, A customer that has had this pool and filter for 20 yrs!
So, with that being said, there are a large portion of the population that is willing to spend the extra money on a Harman that you just turn the knob and set the temp. And they can have a live fire and stay warm. They will run for weeks with nearly no attention and last many years.
The other benefit for the owner and me as a service tech is the commonality of parts across the Harman line from 2004 til now. All take the same Comb Blower motor, Circuit board, Auger, A couple aug motor varations, different flame guides. 3 dist. blower variations ect. With that being said I can roll up to a call in a Honda CR-V and have the correct parts in stock on the truck to have the stove back up and running in approx. a hour. Parts availability are good also. The only real dispensable part in the fire box is the flame guide which last many years and are less than $30 to replace, The new TC stoves have there own set of common parts.
The other benefit is parts cost is not bad. If the stove controls are acting up you can replace the board and ESP for $300. All the brains and sensors that control the unit. The motors are not excessive either. Burnpot typically last many many years. The only time you typically run into high dollar repairs is if the auger tube wears thru or you have a burn back and feeder needs replaced.
We have rebuild a few Harmans this year, basically new motors and controls, painted them up and went all thru it. Brings it back to like new for 1/2 the money or less. 15-17 yr old units. I believe the stove body will last a lifetime with a little care.
The PC45 was a turd from the beginning in my opinion. We have brought a couple old ones in this year and converted them to P61A's.
I like the St Croix as a corn burner
 

Dataman

Minister of Fire
Sep 10, 2018
990
Newport, Wa
Replaced BK King in 2018 with Harmon XXV. Harmon had some buzz that was annoying when I got It (Floor Model $3300). Thought it was Distribution Fan. Turned out to be Distribution Fan. 2 Screws were hitting the bracket that holds the fan.

I clean it daily. Wipe down glass if I can shut down with wet paper towel. Scrape the burn pot for 10 seconds. If hot I still do burn pot and wipe down glass with newspaper that is dry. Cleans as well as wet pt.

I heat the house to 74f and burn about 1 bag of pellets typically if it's off during 9am - 4pm. 2 Bags if really cold. Went down to -10f 1st year and went thru 2.5bags of pellets. It's in Living Room and I turn it down to reduce fan noise when required.

When I got it I put on Inverter/Charger (AIMS 1250) with two 100AH Batteries for 12 hours of run time. Longest downtime from PUD is 8 hours in 9 years. I have 7k Generator and Transfer Panel ready to go.

Been Great Stove. I was shopping for CAB50 and ended up with this Harmon. Don't regret it at all.

Averaging on the log I keep about .8 bags of pellets per day because of Heat Pump taking over when it's above 30f. Been very warm Winter. Lots of 40's this January. .10 of Snow, just lots of rain.

Put Stub of Alum Pipe on the the end of the OAK to stop the cover tearing the fragile tube for the OAK. Made life easier. Replaced all the screws with thumbscrews for the panels you have to remove to clean. Again Easier. Couple of bucks at Hardware store for screws and I think $12 for Tube.

20200120_141747.jpg IMG_7006.JPG IMG_7010.JPG IMG_20210119_064818105.jpg IMG_20210119_064841867.jpg
 
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m159267

Burning Hunk
Mar 12, 2009
208
East-Central MO
I'm a Harman owner. I purchased my P38 in 2006. Because of this forum I quickly learned to keep the stove and piping CLEAN! I do not burn full-time (approx. 1.5 tons a season). Below is my list of issues as well as parts I have replaced...
1.
2.
3. .....
Yup, it's still a 2 knob...
 

Ssyko

Minister of Fire
Nov 6, 2017
4,206
Lorraine NY
Been burning wood since 1978 got older, got tired of nights and weekends throughout my summers being tied up cutting, blocking, transporting, splitting, stacking wood so in 2000 i bought a quad cb1200 it went about 15yrs needed a new combustion blower. 2yrs ago got its first thermocouple. Other than those 2 items it has served us well for 19yrs. Kids grew up, the wife and i like it a little warmer, decided to get a lil bigger stove. Got a deal from Jremington i could not pass up so enter the enviro Maxx. Been 2 years and it burns about a 1/4 more on low as the quad on high. But its warm in my office where i play with electronics.
Over the years i have had the opportunity to work on a lot of box store stoves, i think i have been into most except harman. be it service or refurbish. Now thanks to Jremington I get frequent calls for quad repair and others. Just started learning the comfotbuilt lines due to necessity.
 

Lordtimothy200

Burning Hunk
Dec 29, 2018
121
Nebraska
2006 ish (to lazy to go look it up) St Croix Auburn stove for me has been easy to maintain and trouble free. Purchased it used and over the last few years replaced both blowers but that is the extent of replacement parts. Runs 24/7 from early November until April. Bout twice a burn season will do a complete vacuum and clean. Once a week or so vacuum out the burn chamber and empty the ash bin.

Burning straight corn from 12-14 percent moisture content.

Just like any biomass stove, clean it well and it will treat you well.
 

Harman Lover 007

Minister of Fire
It will come as no surprise where I stand.....bought my Invincible RS in 1996. Bulletproof stove. I burned 4 tons a year for 15 years until I got my P61A . Now the RS is in my place up north living out life in semi retirement. I replaced the feeder weldment about 5 years ago due to a crack. Other than that, I did the door gaskets once and one distribution blower. Love my P61A. Burning about a ton a year now since I replaced my heating system with a NG condensing boiler 2 years ago. Schlepping the bags up the cellar stairs was getting old. Harman is truly a get what you pay for stove. Ease of use and quality construction.
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Think if I came into some jack, I'd buy a fancy Harman myself but for the time being, my 6039 does the job and it burns anything which is of paramount importance to me in as much as my corn basically comes at no cost to me. Keeps the old barn at a nice 70 clicks too. My only issue is, I have to keep feeding the humidifier water and I have to use store bought. Our well water is loaded with minerals and destroys elements quick. I like to maintain about 50% RH or it becomes a shocking experience with 8 cats roaming around... (not mine either, wife's cats). I don't like cats, they come with the marriage. :)
 
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railfanron

Minister of Fire
Nov 2, 2013
561
Perry MI
Sidecar with all the free corn you get a Harman wouldn't be the one for you. Harman recomends only 1/3 corn 2/3 pellet maximum ratio on the p series.
Ron
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Guess I could adjust the ratio. Think if I got another unit, I'd have both in the house. Put the Harman upstairs where we sleep and the ugly black box stays where it is. I may repaint it this summer to a more pleasing color. It needs painted. Years of wiping it down on the outside has made the paint thin in spots.

Thinking maybe a dark green if I can fine appropriate high temp enamel.

Right now, we keep the door to the upstairs open and the heat gets up there quite well but the bedroom is always cold because we keep the door closed to keep the cats out. I don't like cats sleeping with me in bed. They never lay still and they like to 'make bread' usually on my chest. Not pleasant.
 
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SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
I have a bad feeling that propane is going to go way up here in Michigan so the free corn looks to be even better. Next year will tell for sure I guess. I'm full on 2 bottles right now.
 
Sep 23, 2016
47
minneapolis mn
Bixby stove from 2006 all original parts still that heats my garage. Has gotten a few quirks over the years but consistently burned at least 2 tons a year. Huge draw back on this stove is being able to clean it. You have to remove heat exchanger shield, fuel deflector, burn pot plates, and the burn pot itself. No radiant heat either but dependable as heck. I also have a P61 which is in the house. I'm a Harman snob.
 

rickwai

Minister of Fire
Nov 1, 2011
1,189
ohio
Guess I could adjust the ratio. Think if I got another unit, I'd have both in the house. Put the Harman upstairs where we sleep and the ugly black box stays where it is. I may repaint it this summer to a more pleasing color. It needs painted. Years of wiping it down on the outside has made the paint thin in spots.

Thinking maybe a dark green if I can fine appropriate high temp enamel.

Right now, we keep the door to the upstairs open and the heat gets up there quite well but the bedroom is always cold because we keep the door closed to keep the cats out. I don't like cats sleeping with me in bed. They never lay still and they like to 'make bread' usually on my chest. Not pleasant.
I just painted that stove I sold with StoveBright Satin Black. It looks like the factory type finish. The flat black high heat is what I tried first but it almost looks dark grey when it dried.
 

rickwai

Minister of Fire
Nov 1, 2011
1,189
ohio
The St Croix stoves are great stoves also. You can pick them up cheap used. The Multifuel version burns corn great and is easy to clean if you know the tricks.
-Cons
Manual start
-burns 100%corn great, burns pellets marginal
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
I'm quite happy with a manual start unit. One less expendable / consumable part to replace. Never had one, don't believe I need one....and I don't know how well one would work with corn anyway. Corn is much more difficult to start than pellets. I remember back in the day using my propane torch to start the corn because gelled firestarter won't do it either. Why I mix in some pellets and start the pot with straight pellets, got to get it cooking before the corn gets augered into the pot.
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Bixby stove from 2006 all original parts still that heats my garage. Has gotten a few quirks over the years but consistently burned at least 2 tons a year. Huge draw back on this stove is being able to clean it. You have to remove heat exchanger shield, fuel deflector, burn pot plates, and the burn pot itself. No radiant heat either but dependable as heck. I also have a P61 which is in the house. I'm a Harman snob.
Nothing wrong with being a Harman snob that I know of. Myself, I'm a cheap stove snob....
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Nothing beats a good deal anytime. I never seem to get a deal on anything but cats....lol
 

rickwai

Minister of Fire
Nov 1, 2011
1,189
ohio
Yeah I paid $500 for that stove I just flipped. My wife was appalled when I pulled in with it and said I paid $500. :) :) I put a healthy dose of parts into it and made a few bucks.
 

SidecarFlip

Minister of Fire
Yeah I paid $500 for that stove I just flipped. My wife was appalled when I pulled in with it and said I paid $500. :) :) I put a healthy dose of parts into it and made a few bucks.
Candidly speaking, what was your realized profit after parts and grunt work? I realize personal labor isn't worth much, if anything but I gage my farming on everything including my labor (which ain't worth much) either....lol
 
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rickwai

Minister of Fire
Nov 1, 2011
1,189
ohio
Candidly speaking, what was your realized profit after parts and grunt work? I realize personal labor isn't worth much, if anything but I gage my farming on everything including my labor (which ain't worth much) either....lol
$550.00 For a few hours of work. And it is fun stuff for me. Not much else going on this time of year.