Ahh…the crisp aroma of the fresh winter air has arrived. As the chilly months roll in, you’ll likely want to curl up with a good book or cup of hot chocolate beside your cozy fire. Whether your fireplace, stove or insert is fueled by gas, wood or pellets, the goal is to ensure you make the most out of the season without running into any hiccups.
Here are some troubleshooting tips, as well as some insight on how to ignite the perfect blaze.
Why Won’t My Stove or Fireplace Ignite?
Pellet Stoves & Inserts
If you own a pellet stove, regardless of its age, the owner’s manual should be a close friend of yours! Regular operating and maintenance procedures are spelled out in the manual and an essential troubleshooting section will be noted in the contents.
Today’s pellet stoves and inserts have sophisticated control boards that have the capacity to self-diagnose and troubleshoot. Among other things, this board will monitor heat and pressure sensors, temperature devices, fans, combustion air and other electrical components.
Ignition for pellet stoves and inserts is automatic, with a majority of appliances igniting within 5 to 15 minutes of pushing the start button or a call for heat from a thermostat. During the ignition sequence, it’s normal to see a bit of smoke in the firebox – this will clear and be pulled through the exhaust system once the fire has started.
Electrical and mechanical components can and do fail from time to time. Here are some of the more common reasons for pellet stoves not igniting.
- Power Supply: First, ensure the stove is plugged into the wall and the outlet is ‘hot’.
- Pellet Supply: Are there pellets in the hopper? An auger delivers pellets from the hopper to the burn pot or platform. If the stove has been run dry, it will take a few minutes for the auger to move enough pellets to the burn pot for ignition.
- Dirty Burn Pot: Pepper-fine ash can quickly accumulate in the burn pot, causing a buildup of dirt. If it’s not routinely cleaned out, holes in the burn pot will become clogged, and there will not be enough combustion air to ignite the pellets during the start-up sequence.
- Ignitor Issues: If there is no voltage in the ignitor, the culprit could be a bad fuse. Make sure the stove is in start-up mode before attempting to ignite it once more. If it still won’t light, the control board or ignitor may be faulty and will need to be replaced.
- Pressure Sensor: This probe measures the pressure in the exhaust system. Without the right degree of pressure, your stove won’t vent properly – as a safety precaution, this probe prevents the unit from lighting. In this case, check the exhaust ports or venting system to ensure there are no obstructions and the entire pathway is clear. If the vent pipe is blocked, it may need to be cleaned or perhaps it was not installed correctly.
- Jammed Auger: If the auger is jammed or the motor has failed, no fuel will be carried to the burn pot. You will need to free-up the auger or replace the motor to eradicate the issue – which will require the help of a professional.
- Back Draft: This might occur on a very windy day or under unusual weather circumstances. An improper vent profile or termination of the vent pipe may need to be corrected.
Wood Fireplaces, Stoves & Inserts
Most ignition problems with wood-burning appliances can be attributed to one of two factors: a poor wood supply or an inadequate air supply.
- Blocked or Dirty Chimney: It is crucial to get your chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year. Clogged or dirty chimneys are extremely dangerous – they can trigger unwanted chimney fires and hinder the draft velocity from your stove or fireplace by reducing air volume.
- Insufficient Draft: Make sure the damper is fully open and any excess ash that’s present is removed. Certain weather conditions such as strong winds, severe cold or high atmospheric pressure can cause drafting difficulties. In extreme cases like this, it may help to keep the stove door slightly ajar until the fire and coal bed is well established. If you suspect your home may be suffering from negative air pressure, try opening a window to allow more combustion air to the fire. This technique should help get a draft established.
- Cold Chimney Flue: If your chimney is very cold, lighting a fire can be rather difficult. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, a cold chimney may prevent warmer air and smoke from being pulled up the chimney. Sometimes, a paper torch can be held at the top of the firebox to increase warmth and get a draft established. We carry a shaved wood product that can help in these instances.
- Oversized or Damp Logs: If your logs are damp, they aren’t able to adequately catch fire. Firewood should be dried for at least a year before being used. We can measure your wood’s moisture content during a regular sweep if necessary.
- Chimney Is Too Short: If your chimney is too short, it will prevent a proper drafting, causing smoke to back up into your home. To adhere to regulations, your chimney must be 3 feet above your roof and 2 feet higher than any object within a 10-foot radius of its location.
Gas Fireplaces, Stoves or Inserts
Today’s direct vented gas fireplaces are designed to be more reliable, safe and aesthetically pleasing than ever before. Gas can be dangerous, and if there’s an issue you don’t feel comfortable correctly yourself, just give us a call and we’ll send an expert out to assist you. Here are a few reasons why a gas fireplace may not start.
- Pilot: If the pilot knob on the gas valve is in the ‘off’ position, relight it (see our blog on lighting a pilot). If your fireplace has an Intermittent Pilot Ignition (IPI) system, make sure the batteries are working properly and your switch is in the IPI position. Occasionally, a wind gust can extinguish the pilot light. With an IPI system, if the pilot flame does not make the correct contact with the flame rectification sensor on the pilot assembly, the burner will not ignite.
- Thermopile/thermocouple: A small amount of soot, dust, or cotton-like spider webs can prevent the these devices from generating enough voltage to keep gas flowing to the pilot assembly. If you cannot get it lit or it will not maintain a blue flame, it may need to be replaced.
- Gas Supply: If applicable, ensure your propane tank has enough gas. Check that valves in the supply line to the appliance are open. Valves are open when the handle is parallel to the gas line.
- Gas Pressure: If your supply line is too small, bent or kinked, it can prevent an adequate volume of gas to reach the appliance.
- Thermostat Setting: If your fireplace, stove or insert uses a remote or a wall thermostat, make sure the thermostat setting is higher than room temperature before trying to light your fire.
- Batteries: Always check to make sure your batteries aren’t dead. If you find yourself changing out batteries on a frequent basis, consult your owner’s manual. Some manufacturers specify certain types of batteries for optimal performance. If you have a standing pilot appliance and a remote control, there will be batteries in two locations.
- Burner Orifice: If the main burner orifice is clogged, fuel will be unable to pass through, and a fire won’t ignite. Call us to help!
- Glass: If the glass is off or incorrectly installed, your fireplace, stove or insert may not ignite. Avoid using a gas fireplace where the glass isn’t positioned properly.
- Wiring: If you’re cleaning dust, dirt, or pet dander underneath your fireplace or insert, be careful not to damage or detach wires.
Properly maintaining your equipment and recognizing when something isn’t quite right will keep it operating correctly and safely. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and let an expert diagnose and eradicate the issue. By doing so, you will enjoy many memorable moments next to a warm, comforting fire in the days and weeks ahead.
What’s the Best Type of Wood to Burn?
Hardwood Vs. Softwood
A key distinction between the two lies in the density of the wood. Hardwoods are higher in density than their softwood counterpart – and as a result, will burn for a longer duration. Softwoods, on the other hand, ignite quicker. Oak, maple, hickory, walnut and ash are all popular species of hardwoods, while common softwoods include cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, aspen, and red and white pine.
While hard and soft woods have roughly the same BTU head content (from a pound for pound perspective), because softwood is less dense, it requires a sizable pile to equal the same amount of weight as hardwood.
What Does the Wood Drying Process Look Like?
Wood is essentially defined by a series of long cell cavities that run the entire length of a tree.
Within these cell cavities is water, which nourishes the tree with nutrients, allowing it to grow. Once a tree is cut down, a very slow process of drying begins as the water starts evaporating. It’s easier for this moisture to evaporate when the wood is not only cut, but split as well. Wood dries quicker through the side grain being exposed than just through end grain cuts.
A dry log will be noticeably lighter than a wet or “green” log of the same size and species. The wood should be left to season in the sun and wind until the moisture content is below 25% – which can be measured with a moisture meter. Where you’re located geographically will ultimately impact how long the drying process takes. Generally speaking, however, we recommend leaving it to dry for about a year then covering it or storing where moisture cannot impact it once it has cured.
Today’s EPA-certified stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and inserts will not perform as designed if the wood used is not properly seasoned. Sure, the log will eventually burn, but a vast amount of energy will be consumed and wasted on drying out the wood before it truly ignites into a cozy blaze.
There are other factors to be concerned about when burning wood that’s too green. The glass on your insert or stove will blacken. More importantly, smoke from the chimney means that tars and other by-products from combustion will cause creosote to form in the chimney.
Bringing It All Together
So, with that being said, what’s the best type of wood to burn? The answer is simple: DRY wood is always best. DO NOT cut wood and burn it today, or tomorrow or next month. Cut it, split it, stack it, cover it from the rain and snow and leave it for one year. Try to get a year ahead with your wood supply. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s critically important to burn dry wood.
With chilly months ahead of us, we hope these tips will help you stay warm and snug throughout the season!