February 02, 2020

4 Electrical Outlet Problems that Can Cause Pellet Stove Failure & How to Fix Them

It can be a bad AC electrical outlet that causes your stoves motors, blowers, and control boards to fail prematurely.  Either it may be wired incorrectly or the voltage may be too high or too low. There are two ways it may not be wired correctly, not grounded or a phase reversal. Not grounded means you don't have a complete circuit back to the circuit box to the ground stake 5 ft in the ground.  To be grounded it also must be separate from the neutral wire. A phase reversal is when the black hot and white neutral wires are on the wrong connectors on the back of the outlet. Here's how to check for these issues and how to fix them. Make sure your stove is unplugged before proceeding.

1. Black outlet hot and white neutral wires are switched causing reverse phase.

    This can easily be detected with an electrical outlet tester. A light will appear right next to the words "phase reversal," then simply switch the wires. If the wires are left this way too long, it can cause a problem in the control board where it switches AC to turn on the motors in your stove. In one stove I serviced, after approximately 3 years of use, the triac that switches the AC power to turn on the exhaust blower failed and the exhaust blower did not turn on when the ON button was pressed. The wires in the outlet had to be fixed and the whole control board had to be replaced as well to fix the bad triac.

2. Bad ground or no ground.

    This happens more frequently in older 2 prong outlets in an older homes, but even newer 3 prong outlets may not have a ground. This problem can easily be detected with an electrical outlet tester. The light will appear next to "bad ground" or "no ground." You'll need an electrician to fix the outlet ground or wire in a new 3 prong outlet. This can also cause voltage fluctuations and if a surge occurs, even a surge protector cannot properly channel the excessive voltage to ground. It renders the surge protector ineffective. This can cause the control board to fail and not work properly and need replacement.

Picture below shows Hot / Neutral reversal, which causes damage to control panel over time.

3. Outlet voltage is too high.

    This is commonly known as a power surge. Testing requires continuously monitoring the outlet and using a data logger, so prevention is the best solution. Make sure you purchase a high quality surge protector for your stove. A good surge protector can help prevent many overload conditions but may not prevent damage from direct lightning strikes to the power lines or poles. During a lightning storm it is best to unplug your stove.  Too high a voltage can cause control board component failures such as blown capacitors and chips, which lose their program instructions. This can cause the control panel not to light up, buttons not to work, and stove motors not to work. If that happens, the control board will need to be replaced.

4. The outlet voltage is too low.

     Testing requires continuously monitoring the outlet and using a data logger, so prevention is the best solution. A line conditioner can be plugged in to help prevent low and high current. Low voltage can cause the exhaust blower or auger motor to fail prematurely. It does so by causing an overload condition in which the motors draw excessive current to run to make up for the low voltage from the outlet. This melts the lamination on the windings, causing them to short out. If this happens you may hear a humming sound and the blades won't turn when the AC power is applied and you'll need to replace the motor.

    On newer stoves it can be a good idea to install a A Ground Fault Circuit Interupter type outlet (GFI or GFCI) because if the igniter dies and shorts out, it may trip the the GFI circuit instead of blowing a fuse in the panel. If the stove does not have a separate igniter fuse, I recommend a 4 amp AGC fast blow fuse installed in an inline fuse holder on one of the igniter wires. GFI/GFCI may not work on a few older pellet stoves where the wiring is not up to the latest standards.

Checking these four issues will help diagnose pellet stove failures caused by a faulty outlet . Preventing these issues can be helpful and the fixes are simple.

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