For many people, one of the most attractive aspects of pellet stoves is the fact that they are relatively clean-burning. But consumers shouldn’t take that statement to mean that pellet stoves are any safer than other means of heating their homes.
In a National Fire Protection Association study, it was reported that heating equipment was involved in 53,600 home structure fires, 400 civilian deaths, and $893 million in direct property damage in 2013. Heating equipment is one of the most common causes of home structure fires and fire damage in the U.S. If you use a pellet stove to heat your home, take the proper precautions to protect yourself from fire damage. Use these five tips to help prevent pellet stove fire damage in your home.
1. Use High Quality Pellets
It can be quite a challenge for today’s pellet stove owners to find the highest quality pellets among the wide range of manufacturers. With little or no standardization in the way pellets are checked for quality, researching the options can seem frustrating. One common recommendation is to use, if possible, the products of a secondary pellet manufacturer. Secondary pellet manufacturers produce pellets as a side business to a larger parent company, such as a furniture, flooring, or lumber business. The benefit of these pellets is that the sawdust typically comes from good quality wood that has been kiln-dried (as opposed to sawdust from primary pellet manufacturers that can be inconsistent because of the variety of raw material sources).
No matter which brand of pellets you use, there are basic quality control tasks you can perform yourself to keep your pellets in the best possible condition for burning. For example, store your pellets in a dry location that is out of the elements (a garage, shed, or basement). If you must store your pellets outside, keep them off the ground and cover them with a tarp to protect them from rain, snow, and ice buildup.
Why are high quality pellets so important? Poor quality and/or damp pellets are slow to ignite, which can cause your burn pot to become overloaded and results in a larger than normal pile of pellets. If this happens, the pile of slowly burning pellets can suddenly ignite, causing a small explosion within the stove.
2. Clean Your Stove Regularly
A lack of maintenance is often the root cause of pellet stove fires. Fly ash can accumulate in the ash traps and the flue, resulting in blockage. Additionally, the burn pot’s air intake holes can become clogged when ash is heated to its melting point, then re-solidifies. If these blockages occur, they can result in pellet stove malfunctions that can cause a fire inside the body of the stove. At its most serious, this fire can spread to the hopper that holds the pellets.
Regular maintenance tasks should include checking the burn pot for buildup and emptying the ash pans (depending on the quantity of ash produced and the temperature to which to which the stove is set). Less frequent tasks should include checking the flue for a buildup of fly ash and creosote, cleaning air filters, and vacuuming sawdust from the hopper.
3. Install an Emergency Battery Backup System
If your pellet stove is operating during a power outage, the result could be a dangerous puff-back that endangers you, your home, and your belongings (learn more in our free downloadable eBook). The lack of electricity means that the fire is still burning, but the stove’s motors are not running. This can cause smoke to pour into the room and leave sticky, odorous soot that needs to be cleaned by fire damage specialists.
The most reliable way to prevent this is to install a pellet stove battery backup. When AC power is present, that power charges the battery and operates your stove as usual. But as soon as the AC power goes out, battery backup system kicks in and your stove continues operating without missing a beat. Click here to learn more about how pellet stove battery backups work.
4. Schedule Regular Inspections
Most insurance agents require pellet stove inspections for coverage purposes, but as a safety precaution you should schedule additional professional check-ups periodically. Pellet stoves produce much less creosote than other stoves, but creosote can build up in the exhaust venting after a while. Pellet stove venting is not designed to handle high temperatures, and if a fire occurs in the exhaust vent, it can easily spread into the home. Regular inspection and professional cleaning are a reliable way to prevent against pellet stove chimney fires.
5. Maintain Proper Clearance From Combustibles
Inadequate clearance from combustibles is the second most common cause of pellet stove fires. Each pellet stove model has a minimum clearance that is defined in the installation manual. Clearances from the flue vent also include internal wood framing within the walls of the house which can occasionally ignite if the stove is improperly installed. Another important consideration is clearance from the exhaust vent. One recommendation is to fit a spark guard at the end of venting in order to prevent surrounding materials, such as piles of leaves, from igniting.