Pellet Stove Care 101: Maintenance Matters
Pellet stoves save energy and money – and they are highly durable, with most stoves lasting for many years; however, regular maintenance is essential to keep them working efficiently. In this article, I’ll dissect pellet stoves, explaining the specific areas that owners need to clean and attend to, adding priceless tips on how to keep a pellet stove operating smoothly for a long time.
How Does a Pellet Stove Work?
A pellet stove is similar in appearance to a wood burning stove; however, the components of a pellet stove are slightly more complex. As opposed to using split logs as fuel, a pellet stove relies on wood pellets. The majority of pellet stoves require between 30 to 130 pounds of pellets, which are loaded into a device known as the “hopper.” The larger the pellet stove is, the more pellets it is able to hold and the more pellets it can hold, the longer it will provide heat without having to reload the hopper. Once the pellets have been loaded, they are automatically transferred to a heating chamber at a controlled rate. The stove has an internal thermostat which gauges the level of heat to determine when more pellets should be added. The air from the room is drawn in through a fan built into the stove and then transferred through the heating chamber and hot air is distributed back into the room or through a vent system. The device responsible for carrying the pellets to the combustion chamber is known as an auger. Pellet stoves either have a top feed auger or a bottom feed auger.
Top and Bottom Augers
With a top feed auger, the pellets enter the stove from the top, which reduces the risk of a fire burning back into the hopper, however, ash buildup is common in a top feed, so it is important to keep the grate clean to prevent the fire from being suffocated. A bottom feed auger moves the pellets horizontally through the stove and the ash is shifted to the sides and falls into a pan, so it is easier to clean and maintain.
Cleaning the Burn Pot
The burn pot requires regular cleaning to avoid a buildup of ash and prevent blockage. It is best to clean the burn pot with a pellet stove vacuum, a device designed specifically for removing the ash from your pellet stove. If you do not have a pellet stove vacuum, a small hand broom can also be used to sweep the ash out and into a pan. The burn pot should be swept or vacuumed at least once each week and thoroughly cleaned at least once each year.
Cleaning the T-Vent Pipe
The T-vent is a pipe that connects to the back of a pellet stove and is designed to catch ash with the waste air. The T-vent opens on the bottom to enable easier cleaning. It is recommended that the T-vent be cleaned at least once each month. To clean the T-vent, place a bucket under the pipe to catch the accumulated ash from behind the elbow (the ‘T’ section of the pipe). Remove the small metal screws from the bottom of the plug. With one hand, grasp the top of the T-vent pipe and push up on the bottom of the pipe with the other hand, turn and unscrew the plug on the bottom of the pipe. Allow the ash to fall into the bucket. Use a small hand broom or a pellet stove vacuum to remove any ash that is stuck in the pipe.
Check for soot buildup on the inside surfaces of the pellet stove and clean any soot from the inside with a wire brush. The heat exchanger should also be routinely cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Clean the glass on the door each week so you can if the fuel is effectively burning. Clean the glass using warm water and a drop of dishwashing liquid then rinse well and dry using a soft cloth. Never use Windex or other cleaners on the glass as it may pose a fire hazard.
Always make sure the pellet stove is completely cool before you begin cleaning it. With the proper maintenance, your pellet stove can last for years. Remember to do a yearly cleaning that includes cleaning the flue and all parts of the stove. Always empty the pellets at the end of the season and clean out the hopper with a pellet stove vacuum.
Aaron Trussell is an environmental research scientist. His articles mainly appear on environmental and business blogs where he shares his research and findings. Visit the link to learn more about Environmental Data Resources.