Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Sweeping Magazine
Question: Wood pellet stoves are becoming more and more popular in my service area. I was thinking about adding pellet stove maintenance to the service is my company provides. I've heard a lot of things over the last few years about problems with pellet stove maintenance. Is there anything special I need to know before I start working on pellet stoves?
by Mike Segerstrom
Everything! Depending on our service area, pellet stoves have either been around for a long time, or are becoming more popular in recent years. Pellet stoves work a lot differently than wood stoves and even gas stoves, and have different maintenance requirements too. There are even pellet stoves that burn corn and other fuels too!
The very first thing to consider is getting training! There is training available through CSIA and NFI, some pellet stove manufacturers offer manufacturer training, there are often classes at the NCSG and other trade shows and conventions, and NFI offers wood pellet certification. Get as much training as you can, and try to take it all in!
There are many differences from brand to brand and model to model when it comes to pellet stoves. Pellet feed methods and mechanisms, heat exchangers, combustion fans, control panels, and venting requirements can all vary. On top of these differences, pellet quality and homeowner maintenance (or lack thereof) can greatly affect how well the pellet stove performs.
Pellet stoves can require daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance. It's important that the homeowner understands what their responsibility is, and what they should have us do on an annual basis. If poor quality pellets are used, the homeowner fails to perform the regular maintenance tasks, and/or fails to have it professionally serviced annually; the pellet stove can perform poorly, become damaged, and/or simply not work at all. Professional annual service includes the venting system, whether it is a horizontal vent or a vertical vent.
Once we have received an ample amount of training and are familiar with the maintenance requirements of pellet stoves, and how they operate, having the manufacturer's manual for the unit is also a vital service tool. Each manufacturer can have different requirements, methods and access to service the unit. Requiring the clients to have the manual present at the time of service, or even finding the manual online prior to service, are necessary for certain model pellet stoves until we are very familiar with them.
On top of the maintenance requirements, troubleshooting and repair can be an involved service. Pellet stoves are typically equipped with 2 fans, an auger motor, 2, 3 or 4 safety mechanisms, and a control panel. One or more of these components can fail from lack of maintenance or on their own, and determining which component it is can often be time consuming.
All that said, with the proper training and education, servicing pellet appliances is a good add-on service. In certain service areas, there may be a big lack of qualified technicians to service these appliances. It can generate a lot of work, and many happy regular customers!