Frequently Asked Questions
Many homeowners come into our stores looking to purchase a wood stove or insert. Burning wood has been a part of our “human nature” since the dawn of time. And since that time, humans have known one simple fact about burning wood: dry wood burns better!
However, freshly cut wood can contain as much as 50% – 80% moisture by weight. If you have ever seen wood “spitting” and steaming when thrown into the fire, that’s an indication that the wood is still wet. In fact, when wood is wet (>35% moisture content), over 1/2 the energy content of the wood is lost boiling the water out of the wood itself. This means that you have to burn twice as much wood as necessary to generate the desired heat. In addition, burning wet wood results in a COLD draft in the chimney since the energy lost in boiling the water out of the wood is not available to heat the draft. This results in stoves that are difficult to light, back “puff” into the home, and substantial creosote being generated in the chimney.
Buying Cord Wood to Burn
Whenever you see hardwood or cord wood advertised for sale, it always states that it is “Seasoned”. Unfortunately, that’s frequently not true. Since seasoning cord wood takes approximately 9-18 months, the amount of physical space required to store 500+ cords of wood (typical for a good scale wood sales operation) is simply not economically feasible for most people selling hard wood to access. Simply put, companies selling “seasoned” wood just don’t have the physical space necessary to truly season the wood. So what do they do? They sell wood that is 3 – 6 months old, and call it “seasoned”.
So how do you make sure that your cord wood is seasoned?
The only sure way is to season it yourself. How do you do this? Simple enough – do it yourself!
Cut to length (16″ typically – longer for larger stoves)
Stacked off the ground in the open air, with the top (but not sides) covered with plywood or a tarp
Let sit for 12+ months before burning
From a practical sense, this means that if you burn 2 cords of wood each season, you need to have space to store 4 cords – 2 to burn this season, and 2 that are seasoning for next season.
When purchasing cord wood, I will call in the Spring (when no-one is calling) and ask for green-split wood…and ask for the best price, since I don’t expect it to be seasoned. Then I stack it and let it season for around 18 months.
If you follow this method, you will never have issues with wet wood.
Vented Log Sets
Vented Gas Logs are designed to use right in your traditional wood-burning fireplace. Vented sets are the best way to achieve an experience close to that of burning real wood. Realistic flames surround the edges of logs and ascend high into your firebox, just the way that wood burns naturally. Besides the installation of the gas line, no major modification needs to be done to your existing fireplace, barring unforeseen issues. Vented Gas Logs have been around for over 20 years, and are the tried and true method to achieving a hassle free and beautiful fire on a cold evening.
When Vented Gas Logs are in use, the fireplace damper must be in the open position. This is because Vented Log sets do not burn as efficiently or a cleanly as Ventless of Vent-Free sets do. They still, however, burn much more cleanly than a fireplace that burns wood. This type of burn creates a more natural looking flame, and cuts down on cost per unit.
Ventless Log Sets
The main draw of a Ventless Gas Log installation the amount of heat output it is capable of. Ventless Gas Logs are able to operate with the fireplace damper closed. This way the heat circulates into the room rather than up the chimney. This leads to efficient and low-cost heating of your room. In situations of power loss, a Ventless Gas Log set can even be used as a backup heat source.
Since burning material of any kind creates a certain amount of carbon monoxide, one may wonder how an unvented log set can safely operate. Unvented Log Sets actually burn so hot that nearly 100% of the fuel is combusted. This decreases the amount of soot and carbon monoxide generated down to a negligible level, allowing Ventless Gas Log sets to operate in a safe manner.
Another byproduct of using a Ventless Log Set is a small amount of moisture. In the winter months this moisture can be beneficial in a dry room. If you are also using a humidifier, excess moisture may result in condensation on windows.
For an additional safeguard, Ventless Gas Log Sets are always equipped with an Oxygen Depletion Sensor. An ODS measures the amount of available oxygen in the room and will turn off the burner before the oxygen in the room reaches a dangerous level. The method in which this fuel burns can be thought of as similar to how a natural gas range works in your kitchen. The burner on your range is specifically designed to achieve a clean and smokeless flame. The technology available in Ventless Gas Log Sets on the market today works on similar principles.
Possibly the most potentially problematic issue with Ventless Gas Log is the potential for sooting. Ventless gas logs must be burned exactly as the manufacture specified. If the logs are mis-aligned or some foreign object falls into the log set, it can and will produce soot, which, over time, will deposit over the living area.
Another disadvantage of Ventless Logs are that the flame is generally smaller. A realistic flame is still possible, but it may not be as large as a flame from a Vented set of comparable size.
In general, if you can use Vented Gas Logs, that is our recommendation. However, there are certain installations where only a Ventless Gas Log set makes sense, and we can help you with that selection.
Here is a link to a great video from Heatilator on how to light your pilot.
As fall approaches, we begin to say goodbye to scorching days and nights and prepare to say hello to the colder ones. As that transition gets underway, we become more concerned with heating and begin to evaluate our options for the cool months ahead. There’s always the option of more expensive home heating via gas, but what about a good old fire? Any home can be equipped with a stove. But which type should you choose? Here the decision comes down to wood vs. pellet stoves, and each has its own ups and downs. Let’s take a look.
Buying Your Stove
You want a new stove, so the first consideration will likely be price. There’s a lot to love about wood and pellet stoves, but the price tag will undoubtedly stand out. So how do the options stack up?
Wood stoves average around $3,000 – $4,200 when you factor in the cost of bringing in a pro installer. For a premium model with all the bells and whistles, you may be looking at about $5,000. If your home has a chimney and a preexisting fireplace unit, installation may be simplified and you may be able to save money and opt for a fireplace insert, which sits directly inside the fireplace’s firebox. If not, you’re looking at lofty fees to fashion a ventilation system.
On the other hand, pellet stoves come in anywhere from $1,700 – $3,000 prior to installation fees, and could total $3,500 – $4,000 when all is said and done. That’s already lower than the higher price points of wood stoves, plus pellet stoves are able to be ventilated through a small hole in the wall, making them able to be installed anywhere in the room and saving on chimney costs.
With cost and installation flexibility, the better bet has to be a pellet stove.
The Cost of Fueling Your Stove
The primary difference between pellet and wood stoves is their fuel source.
Wood stoves operate much like fireplaces in that they burn logs. This is generally convenient and cost-effective, as firewood can at times be harvested and seasoned on your own property (free wood!) or bought by the cord from stores for low sums.
Pellet stoves utilize wood pellets for fuel, composed of sawdust or small wood chips. These chips are added to a reservoir to be burned. Pellets are harder to come by as they are specially manufactured (not available in your own backyard) and not everyone sells them. This fuel must be purchased from other areas in the US, making them somewhat less common, though plenty of regions carry them. Using pellets means planning to buy and ship the item to use.
In either case, according to the Department of Energy, you should expect to pay about $190 for a cord of wood or ton of pellets (at 6.5 cords or 7.3 tons of pellets per season, factoring in that a ton equals 1.5 cords). Pellets are slightly higher in price per year, though they burn longer than wood. So, given both the abundance of and cost per season for natural wood, wood is a winner over pellets, as it’s both affordable and accessible
Powering Your Stove
Pellet Stove Hopper
Another aspect that distinguishes wood and pellet stoves is power.
Wood stoves work essentially like fireplaces—add wood, light it, stoke as needed, etc. They operate completely free of power such as electricity, making them usable anytime as long as timber is available.
Pellet stoves rely on power no matter what. Electricity is a cornerstone in their operation, so when the power goes out, so does your fire. The electricity powers a motorized hopper that feeds the pellets into the stove. It is possible, however, to run your stove on a UPS backup battery or generator during power outages.
So what wins on power? In this instance, wood does. Got dry wood and a match? You’ll have fire. Pellet stoves require extra resources and expenses. With the electricity used for such a unit, you may be left in the cold during a power outage, all the while paying for 100 kilowatt-hours each month (about $9).
Lean, Mean and Green
a wood stove chimney
Pellet and wood stoves vary in their degrees of “greenness.”
EPA-certified wood-burning stoves are tightly regulated, releasing between 2 – 7.5 grams of smoke into the air every hour— an improvement over those of the olden days that emitted 40+ grams. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, wood releases 0.00612 pounds per kilowatt-hour of CO2.
Pellet stoves, however, emit almost no smoke—less than 1 gram per hour. With such a small footprint left behind, the EPA doesn’t monitor them. Additionally, as pellets are essentially wood waste, using them is a form of recycling, keeping wood particles out of landfills. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, pellets release 0.035 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.
So for greenness, which stove comes out on top? Pellets stoves. While both wood and pellet stoves have come a long way toward operating cleaner and greener, pellet stoves have minimal smoke and CO2 impacts and also promote recycling. Both fuels are “carbon-neutral” and are not considerable hazards.
wood stove fire
“Playing with fire” is risky business all around and one must take necessary safety precautions when tending to a fire. Everything from using appropriate kindling to wearing gloves may be essential. Beyond this, however, are the safety factors of the stoves themselves.
Wood stoves give off flame sparks, which may lead to burns, and these units could accumulate creosote deposits resulting in dangerous house fires down the road. Additionally, firewood has the potential to bring mold or pests into the home from outside.
Pellet stoves burn cleaner and safer, without the risk of harming you or your home. The contained flames keep your family safe from flying embers and sparks, however the pellet stove will become hot to the touch. All members of your household should be made aware that the stove will become very hot, and efforts should be made to keep pets away from the device.
In terms of immediate safety, wood stoves get a big thumbs-down here, leaving pellet stoves to take center stage. Sparks, creosote buildup and house fires from wood stoves are great risks associated with wood stoves. Pellet stoves contain flames and prevent users from getting unexpected burns from flying burning debris.
Your stove is there to keep you warm, so which type does that better? This all depends on the units of heat measure, or BTUs and how effectively they’re used between the fuel sources and getting heat to your space. Each stove uses great amounts of BTUs to burn logs or pellets throughout the season. However, not all of this energy is converted into usable heat.
Firewood is used by the cord (stacked wood equaling 4 feet high x 8 feet long x 4 feet deep). According to the Department of Agriculture, every cord utilizes 15.3 million BTUs. In heating your home, you benefit from 10.7 million BTUs out of that total, enjoying a stove efficiency level of 70%.
On the other hand, pellets come in 40-lb bags and the stoves have a BTU output of 13.6 million per ton of pellets. From this, you soak up 11.3 million BTUs of heat. The result is greatly improved efficiency over wood stoves, coming in at about 83%.
Pellet stoves come out on top.
Some maintenance is required no matter what type of stove you opt for. Cleanings, component checks and more all must factor in.
Wood stoves are maintained like chimneys, requiring that a certified chimney sweep be brought in annually to do an inspection of the system, including the flue and other components, and need to have residue and soot cleaned out periodically. A major maintenance consideration for wood stoves is inspecting the catalytic combustor, and that must be done 3 times per season alone.
Pellet stoves, however, are simple to maintain, so long as you follow manufacturer recommendations. It may be as simple as checking the working order of motors and fans or removing excess debris. Maintaining a pellet stove is a straightforward and potentially less-costly process. You can do much of the checks yourself by following guidelines and don’t need to pay for as many inspections. However, if your pellet stove needs serviced, finding repairmen with the necessary skills can be difficult and repairing one of the three motors or electronic circuit board can become costly.
Pellet stoves win here, too.
Ok, admit it. After all of this talk about wood and pellet stoves, you’re wondering, which is prettier? Well, each option comes in a variety of shapes and models designed to fit well with your home décor, many fit into preexisting fireplaces and still others are freestanding models that may be moved if necessary. Both wood-burning and pellet stoves are made to be attractive whilst being functional. Therefore, the deciding factor here has to be the burn itself.
When you look into a wood burning unit, you see orange flames licking at dried, aged logs. Still more, you take in the smoky aroma of the burning timber.
Pellet stoves have the same bright flames, however, that “wow” factor may be diminished for some, as the logs you’d expect to see are replaced by minuscule fragments.
Aesthetically-speaking, then, wood’s got it won.
In the war of wood vs. pellet stoves, you may still wonder which stove is the better option. Strictly speaking, pellet stoves may be a better investment due to such factors as maintenance, efficiency, safety and more. But ultimately, the decision lies with you. What things are most important? If it’s the crackle of logs burning, wood may be good too! YOU decide!
Harman Pellet Stoves
Regular cleaning of your Harman Pellet stove or insert is necessary to keep your stove running properly. The frequency can vary from just a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on usage, quality of the pellets, and the stove capacity for ash collection. The following steps are necessary:
Using a vacuum that is designed for Ash (steel hose, steel body), vacuum the firebox completely clean.
Scrape Heat Exchanger
Using the Harman Arrow tool, scrape the heat exchangers (either along the back wall or roof of the firebox). Then vacuum the ash that falls.
Scrape Burn Pot
Using the flat end of Harman Arrow tool, or a large flat head screwdriver, vigorously scrape the burn pot until you are SURE there is no residual carbon built up. If the carbon builds up, it will INSULATE the ignitor, and prevent the stove from automatically lighting.
Vacuum Ignitor Compartment
On the bottom of the fire pot, there are two wing nuts holding a cover in place. Remove the cover plate, and using a tooth pick, from the top of the fire pot, poke thru all the holes to clean out any ash in the holes. Then, from the bottom cover plate, vacuum the compartment clean. If there is ash built up in this compartment, the automatic ignitor will not function.
Using a non-ammonia based glass cleaner, or a wood stove glass cleaner, clean the glass with paper towels.
If you follow these directions regularly, your Harman stove will give you years of energy efficient enjoyment and savings.
All Harman pellet units can utilize a setback thermostat. The thermostat must be:
- Millivolt compatible
- Have gold contacts
- be low voltage
- be low current
Harman reccommends the following Honeywell units for this use:
If there is a jumper between Rh and Rc, it must be removed from the terminal block of the thermostat. The thermostat must be connected in series with the room sensing probe using the Rh and W terminals of the thermostat. Except with the P38, which has no room sensing probe, the set-back thermostat MUST be used in conjunction with the room sensing probe.
There are two modes of operation as well:
Occupied Mode: (someones home)
Set the thermostat to its max temp setting. The stove room-sensing probe will control room temperature, so set the desired room temp on the stoves temp dial.
Unoccupied Mode: (no one home)
Program the thermostat to the desired set-back temp. When the thermostat opens (is satisfied) the stove will go into a 4-blink status. If the stove is a auto-ignite model and the auto/manual switch is in auto, the stove will shut down. When the thermostat closes (calls for heat) the 4-blink status will reset and the stove will ignite.
If the stove is a manual ignition model, or an auto-igniting unit with the selector switch set to manual, the stove will go into the 4-blink status when the thermostat opens (is satisfied) and the stove will go to a minimum burn and stay there until the thermostat closes (calls for heat). When the thermostat closes, the 4 blink status will reset automatically.
Consult your owners’ manual for a description of the 4-blink status. This error occurs when the contril board senses the room sensing probe isnt connected or has failed. This happens with the thermostat in series, since when the thermostat opens (is satisfied), there is a loss of continuity in the room-sensing circuit. The 4 blink status automatically resets when the board recognizes the room-sensing probe has been reconnected (ie: when the thermostat closes and calls for heat).
- 1 Blink: Indicates control board self diagnostic failure. This requires a manual reset*.
- 3 Blinks: Indicates ESP (Exhaust Sensing Probe) failure. This requires a manual reset*.
- 4 Blinks: Can occur only in Room Temp Mode and indicates Room Sensing Probe failed or not installed. If a Room Sensing Probe is then installed, the status light will automatically reset. The Room Sensing Probe is the thick black wire coming out of the pellet stove/insert. NOTE: Unit will not start in “AUTO” with this status error.
- 5 Blinks (In Igniter Auto. Mode Only): Indicates that the unit has failed to light after 4 consecutive igniter cycles, 32 minutes total. To reset – Turn Mode Selector to “OFF”, then turn to either mode again.
- 6 Blinks : Indicates that the control has calculated poor or incomplete combustion occurring for more than 50 minutes. See Troubleshooting section for more details. A six blink status may be set if the stove is allowed to run out of pellets. To reset, turn mode selector to “OFF” then back on to the desired mode. If the unit was not out of pellets, see Troubleshooting section of owners manual for more details.
Water Chemistry Guidelines
The following step-by-step instructions are a recommended guideline for balancing water chemistry. If unsure about any step in the process, please contact a Customer Care Associate at (888) 961-7727 Ext. 8440 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Initially, it is advisable to identify what minerals (e.g. iron) are present in the local source water. This will provide a better understanding of how to treat the water. Please follow the four steps below and be sure to achieve the correct levels in each area before moving onto the next step.
Step #1: Establish Proper Ph level:
The recommended range for pH is between 7.2 and 7.8. If the reading is too high, lower the pH by using a pH Down/Decreaser (sodium bisulfate). If the pH level needs to be increased, do so with a pH Up/Increaser (sodium hydrogen carbonate). Any pH Up or Down should be added one teaspoon at a time, waiting one-half hour between application and re-measuring.
Step #2: Measure Total Alkalinity:
The ideal range is between 80-120 parts per million (PPM). If the total alkalinity is too high, it should be reduced by using an Alkalinity Down/Decreaser (sodium bisulfate). If the total alkalinity is too low, it can be increased by adding an Alkalinity UP/Increaser (sodium bicarbonate or sodium hydrogen carbonate). These products should be added in small amounts – a teaspoon at a time. After adding one teaspoon, wait one half hour before re-measuring. Once the safe range of total alkalinity is established, proceed to the next step.
Step #3: Determine Calcium Hardness:
It is important to bring the calcium reading to between 100-250 PPM. If the reading requires adjustment, it should now be corrected. If the water is too soft (a low reading) calcium hardness should be added to the water to increase the PPM reading. If the water is too hard (a high reading), it can be corrected by either: (A) a mixture of hard and soft water added to attain a reading in the safe range, or (B) addition of stain and scale control. If calcium hardness is a problem with the local source water (either too hard or too soft) a test kit, which measures calcium hardness, is essential.
Step #4: Sanitizing:
After steps 1-3 are complete, the spa must be sanitized using Chlorine (sodium dichlor). Add 2 teaspoons of Chlorine, and increase as necessary to reach a level of 3-5 ppm. Check and maintain this level weekly, and before and after using the spa. IMPORTANT NOTE: A granulated sodium dichlor is highly recommended for sanitizing spa water. never use a sodium trichlor or bromine tablet in any form even with a floater. As with any other chemicals, the sanitizer should be introduced to the spa with the jets running for 15 minutes.
Using a potassium monopersulfate (MPS) shock, add approximately 2 oz. spreading it over the water while the jets are running. Shocking is achieved by adding the MPS to turbulent water. Leave the cover up until the jets automatically turn off. The spas are equipped with an automatic time out feature that will shut the jets off after 15 minutes. Then return the cover to the closed position to maintain heat.
Each step in your water maintenance program is dependent on the completion of the previous steps. Omitting a step or failing to reach the recommended range may cause an imbalance in your water’s chemistry. Unbalanced water chemistry can damage the spa and its components, as well as cause discomfort for the user.
1. BALANCING THE TOTAL ALKALINITY (TA)
The recommended Total Alkalinity (TA) for your spa water is 40-120 ppm.
Total Alkalinity is a measure of the total levels of carbonates, bicarbonates, hydroxides, and other alkaline substances in the water. TA is referred to as the water’s “pH buffer”. In other words, it’s a measure of the ability of the water to resist changes in pH level.
If the TA is too low, the pH level will fluctuate widely from high to low. Fluctuations in pH can cause corrosion or scaling of the spa components. Low TA can be corrected by adding sodium hydrogen carbonate (pH/Alkalinity Up).
If the Total Alkalinity is too high, the pH level will tend to be high and may be difficult to bring down. It can be lowered by using sodium bisulfate(pH/Alkalinity Down). Once the TA is balanced, it normally remains stable, although the addition of more water with a high or low alkalinity will raise or lower the TA reading of the water.
When the Total Alkalinity is within the recommended range, proceed to the next step.
2. BALANCING THE CALCIUM HARDNESS (CH)
The recommended Calcium Hardness (CH) level for your spa is 50-150 ppm.
Calcium Hardness is a measure of the total amount of dissolved calcium in the water. Calcium helps control the corrosive nature of the spa’s water. That’s why calcium- low water (commonly known as “soft” water) is not recommended. It is very corrosive to the equipment, and can cause staining of the spa shell.
If the CH is too high (commonly known as “hard water”), formation of scale on the spa’s shell surface and equipment can result. Watkins Manufacturing Corporation recommends using the Vanishing ActTM Calcium Remover to remove hardness from waterd. CH can also be decreased by dilution–a mixture of 75% hard and 25% soft water will usually yield a reading within the correct range. If soft water is not available or practical for you, a stain and scale inhibitor should be added to the spa water, according to label instructions.
If the CH is too low add CH Increaser.
Once the CH is balanced, it normally remains stable, although the addition of more water with a high or low calcium content will raise or lower the CH reading of the water. When the CH is within the recommended range, proceed to the next step.
3. BALANCING THE pH
The recommended pH level for your spa water is 7.2-7.6.
The pH level is the measure of acidity and alkalinity. Values above 7.8 are alkaline; those below 7.2 are acidic. Maintaining the proper pH level is extremely important for:
Optimizing the effectiveness of the sanitizer.
Maintaining water that is comfortable for the user.
Preventing equipment deterioration.
If the spa water’s pH level is too low, the following may result:
The sanitizer will dissipate rapidly.
The water may become irritating to spa users.
The spa’s equipment may corrode.
If the pH is too low, it can be increased by adding sodium hydrogen carbonate (pH/Alkalinity Up) to the spa water.
If the pH level is too high, the following may result:
The sanitizer is less effective.
Scale will form on the spa shell surface and the equipment.
The water may become cloudy.
The filter cartridge pores may become obstructed.
If the pH is too high, it can be decreased by adding sodium bisulfate (pH/Alkalinity Down) to the spa water.
NOTE: After adding sodium hydrogen carbonate or sodium bisulfate, wait two hours before testing the water for pH. Measurements taken too soon may not be accurate.
It is important to check the pH on a regular (weekly) basis. The pH will be affected by the bather load, the addition of new water, the addition of various chemicals, and the type of sanitizer used.
When the pH is within the recommended range, proceed to the final step.
4. MAINTAINING THE SANITIZER LEVEL
Sanitizer is extremely important for killing algae, bacteria and viruses, and preventing unwanted organisms from growing in the spa. At the same time, you don’t want too high a sanitizer level, or it can irritate your skin, lungs, and eyes.
Always maintain the sanitizer level in your spa at the recommended level for each type of sanitizer. Watkins recommends the following sanitizer:
SPA FROG® sanitizing system (mineral and bromine)
Caldera also approves the following sanitizers:
Sodium Dichloro-s-Triazinetrione (sodium dichlor or chlorine)
Maintaining your Free Flow Spa water…step by step
Hearth, Patio, & Hot Tubs - Family owned and operated for 30+ years!