What Would Cause A Pellet Stove to Smoke?


When you are lighting up your pellet stove you will be surprised how much smoke it makes, however, this smoke usually disappears after a few hours of the pellet stove burning. There are times when this does not happen, and as the pellet stove keeps working the smoke seems to become more and more intense. 

Pellet stoves can smoke for three main reasons, a full burn pot, creosote build-up inside the vents, or pellets that are not meant to be in a pellet stove. Fixing all three of these can be done with a simple bit of maintenance, with pellets usually being left to continue to burn and replaced with softwood pellets that naturally have almost no smoke. 

As time continues your pellet stove will naturally start to become dirtier and dirtier, with most people have made the mistake of installing their vents to close to the outside wall. This causes massive build-ups of creosote and will cause a build-up of soot to appear, understanding how to prevent this, how to ensure constant clean burns, and a consistent heat level will ensure your pellet stove never burns dirty.

How do you fix a smoking pellet stove?

Fixing a smoking pellet stove is one of the easiest things you can do, but also the most complicated thing you may have to do. This is because most stoves will burn rather clean, especially if they have been freshly cleaned or just now installed. Figuring out what is causing the smoke is the first and most important part of fixing the issue.

This is why you will regularly see pellet stove owners giving everything a good once over when they are cleaning the stove at least once a month. Having a stove that never needs to have a major replacement done is much easier than having a stove that suddenly starts to smoke worse than a chimney. Always remember that pellet stoves are not supposed to have any smoke coming out of their chimneys and should only ever look like there is a small amount of soot build-up. 

  • Clear debris: When your pellet stove is starting to smoke it is most likely to be caused by some debris that has not burnt up as it should. Usually, some pellets that fell out or got lodged somewhere the fire isn’t burning. To solve this simply shut the pellet stove down, wait for it to cool, and make sure that there are no pellets where they shouldn’t be.
  • Check the fire: The third most likely culprit for your pellet stove smoking an excessive amount is the fire is not burning nearly hot enough. When this happens, you will need to check on the fire, making sure it has enough oxygen to burn, a fire that is too cold will cause the pellets being fed to it to smolder instead of burn. 
  • Burn Pot: The main reason that your pellet stove will be smoking is that the burn pot has been left to its own. This little catch hole is where all the ash from your pellet stove is gathered, which is where you will need to clean out everything as time goes on. If the ash becomes too much or there are unburnt pellets in the burn pot then it will start smoking excessively. 
  • Creosote build-up: Creosote is the blackish, dust-like substance that you can find all over your pellet stove, it is not soot-like many believe. This creosote is only present in pellet stoves because they do not smoke, so the carbon build-up that would normally happen is different. As this becomes too excessive the pellet stove will naturally become smoky, unable to get proper air because the creosote is clogging up vents and the funnel. 
  • Safety Sensors: All pellet stoves have safety sensors that are used to measure the temperatures of the fire, the auger feed, and every other part of the process. If these sensors have become damaged or unable to take proper readings the pellet stove might start to burn too hot. Or in the worst-case scenarios burn too cold, causing the pellets to smolder instead of burn, eventually piling up to cause expensive damage to your pellet stove. 

Is it dangerous when the pellet stove starts smoking?

Pellet stoves are used in closed environments, which makes it extremely dangerous if it starts to smoke, as the smoke won’t always be able to escape. This can be negligible if you are awake and can open a window to let the smoky air escape, however, if you are in bed and your family is also asleep then the CO2 build-up from the smoke can cause death. 

When pellet stoves start to smoke excessively it rarely only exits through the vent to the outside, preferring to release smoke through every seam that isn’t under pressure. This can cause a lot of problems as a home can quickly fill up with smoke, which can be more deadly than any other gas naturally occurring in your home. 

This is why you need to observe proper maintenance with your pellet stove and ensure that everything is always working at its best. Some of the best pellet stoves will have an extra fan system to prevent smoke from escaping into your house, however, these are more expensive and require more maintenance. 

What to do when a pellet stove starts smoking excessively?

Shut off the pellet stove and open up windows to cycle in fresh air until the pellet stove is no longer emitting any smoke at all. Once the pellet stove is cold to the touch, start cleaning everything, including the vents, and check on the fan and pellets. If you are sure everything is working properly, start the stove again while keeping a few windows open for fresh air. 

It might be extremely cold while diagnosing your pellet stove, but it is much better to suffer through some discomfort than leaving the stove or doing the bare minimum. There are over 500 people that die each year in the US alone because of CO2 poisoning, which is always preventable. There are over 20 000 cases of it reported each year, with many more going unreported. 

Even a slightly smoking pellet stove can be a long-term problem, and while you as an adult have lungs that might be able to handle the issues of smoke, children cannot. Usually, the people that die from CO2 poisoning are children that sleep close to the ground and might already be sick with a cold because it is winter. Smoke inside a house should never be considered a laughing or trivial matter. 

Why do some pellets cause the stove to smoke?

There are many different types of pellets that you can find for your pellet stove, each one burning in different ways and causing weirder kinds of smoke to appear. Knowing and understanding what each type of pellet does when lit up will save your hours of headaches. We will be looking at the four main culprits of your pellets causing smoke in a pellet stove. 

Each of these can be bought online or at your local hardware store, however, they all have different reasons for smoking. If you are living in a smaller apartment it might always be worth buying more expensive, softwood pellets than cheeping out and getting the pellets that are cheaper by the pound. 

  • Hardwood: Hardwood like to smoke at low temperatures, if you are using hardwood and the pellet stove constantly emits more smoke than you expect, making the fire more intense should help. 
  • Softwood: The golden prize for all pellet stove owners are softwood pellets, these barely emit any smoke at most temperatures and will happily burn for hours at lower temperatures. However, if they are moist or wet they will start smoking just as much if not more than hardwood pellets.
  • Organic: Organic pellets are made out of anything that can burn, from garden waste to trash can waste. This is why they tend to emit more smoke than any other type of pellet, even the driest, safest pellets in the world will not burn as clean as pure wood pellets
  • Wrong pellets: When you are shopping you might find random bags of pellets in locations that you least expect it, including the BBQ area. This is why most people buy cooking pellets for their pellet stoves at least once. Cooking pellets are meant to release as much smoke, for as long a time as possible, and when placed in your pellets stove will do the same thing. 

Conclusion 

Pellet stoves should release some smoke on the first startup for a season, but if it is constant then you must take a look at each part of the stove, ensuring that it is all clean and safe. Most of the problems with smoking and a pellet stove can be found with improper maintenance, which you can easily learn to understand and do as part of a routine. 

Whatever you do, always ensure that your pellet stove has dry and safe to burn pellets, no one likes the smell of wood and mold burning away all day!

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