Heating with a pellet stove?
By Cris Carl, Networx
Pellet stoves are a great way to save energy and money, but they must be maintained properly. Unlike a wood stove, pellet stoves are operated electrically and have circuits and moving parts. Ron Bashista, who does pellet stove sales and service in western MA, said the most important thing a pellet stove owner can do is thoroughly read the owner’s manual. “Even if you’ve had your pellet stove for ten years, take it out from time to time and read it again. You’ll see something new each time,” said Bashista, whose business is called Rolling Acres. Bashista also offered advice on routine and seasonal maintenance of pellet stoves.
After initial installation:
“The first thing you want to do is check the hopper (where the pellets are held) for spare or foreign parts. Whether the pellet stove is new or used, you want to be sure you’re not running something through the auger (the part that moves the pellets to the feed pot for burning),” said Bashista. He added that unless you feel you are skilled enough to do the installation yourself, it’s better to hire a professional. Proper installation and really getting to know your “stove to a T” will lay the groundwork for fewer problems down the line. “If you have trouble right out of the gate, it tends to leave a bad taste in your mouth,” said Bashista.
Preparing your pellet stove for the new heating season:
Bashista said that you want to be sure all parts of the pellet stove, pipes, and chimney ware clean and free of debris or rodents. Any pellets that were in the stove should have been removed at the end of the last heating season. Pellets absorb water and break down, so you need to burn off or scoop out any remaining pellets at the end of the season.
Your chimney may require a cap or screen to keep rodents out. I found this out the hard way myself. Capping your chimney also keeps out rain and moisture. Bashista said it’s important to remember to uncap your chimney before trying to start up your pellet stove for the season.
He said next to do a test run without the fire to make sure nothing froze up during the off season. “You want to be sure the basic mechanical parts are all functioning,” said Bashista.
Pellet stove maintenance during the heating season:
“It’s important to pay attention to your stove every day. Just by walking by notice how it sounds and if there is any black smoke where it shouldn’t be for example,” said Bashista.
Bashista said that weekly cleaning is very important as is using quality pellets. “In the end, it’s more economical to spend the extra five bucks. Don’t shop on price alone,” he said.
There are three types of pellets: hardwood, softwood, and a blend of the two. Hardwood burns faster and hotter, and therefore more cleanly. Softwood burns slower and less hot, but leaves more ash behind. Various blends mix the two qualities.
Clean the stove weekly. Bashista said there are special cleaning agents for stoves, but they really aren’t necessary. Primarily, you are cleaning out the firebox and any glass. Bashista recommends an ash vacuum to get out as much ash as possible once the stove has cooled down. Otherwise, scoop out any ash, wipe down the inside, and use any glass cleaning product for stove windows. I have found that steel wool is especially good for getting the burned on grime off of the glass.
Preparing your pellet stove for the end of the season:
Again, make sure your stove is well-cleaned. Bashista said that 99 percent of all mechanical problems can be traced to the stove not being clean enough. You can also unscrew any panels or pipes the stove has and vacuum out the inside. Remove all pellets for the hopper.
If you do encounter problems with your pellet stove, Bashista said to not be afraid to call in a professional. While pellet stoves are not mechanically complicated, it helps to have someone working on your stove that can troubleshoot more easily and have quick access to replacement parts.
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