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Hacking a pellet stove via Elk, ISY, Homeseer and Nest

Madcodger

Active Member
We use a Quadrafire Santa Fe pellet stove fireplace insert in my wife's home office, which is part of the the finished, walk-out basement of our home. The stove can be turned on or off via a thermostat, which is just completing or breaking a circuit on the stove. The stove also has a manual switch that allows it to burn at a Hi-Med-Lo setting (just a simple DPDT with off in the middle - that tells the control board which of those three settings to run in based on the position of that manual switch.

I wanted to have automated and wireless control over starting that insert in the morning, which of course any thermostat could do. I also wanted to avoid ugly thermostat wires, which I could have also done with a simple wireless thermostat. But I also wanted to be able to have control over those Hi-Med-Lo settings, as doing that manually meant someone was constantly having to fiddle with that switch to keep the room within a comfortable range. A bit of searching on one of the pellet stove forums (Hearth.com) uncovered a great post by a gentleman that goes by TwoBraids there, who had done exactly this using relays and a Nest thermostat (so a big shout out to TwoBraids, whom I do not know and have never communicated with). Using information he had posted, I rewired the stove to allow me to manually bypass the mode switch on the stove if I wished to do so, sending control to an Insteon four-relay device (cannot remember what they call it - EZ something), which I mounted at the back of the stove.

I then installed a new Nest in the office (we also use one to control our main heat pump for the house) and told that new Nest it was controlling a gas furnace with 3-stage heat. I then connected the output for each of those three heating stages on the Nest to three relays (RIBs)' mounted in the Elk can and connected each of those to a separate zone on the Elk. So when the Nest calls for heat via each of those three stages, it violates a zone in the Elk.

The Elk is connected to my ISY device, so when the Nest calls for any of the three stages and opens the related zone, the ISY sees that. I then used the ISY's programs to tell ISY to open the appropriate combination of relays on the EZ relay device connected to the stove (including turning it on/off and setting the mode), and voila - automated pellet stove insert, but with all onboard safety devices left intact (High temp limits, Proof of fire switches, etc.). All I really did was make the same thermostat connection that the stove is designed to accept, and automate that manual switch, which was so annoying to use in controlling the temperature of the room via stove output.

Now, all of that could be done without Homeseer, and frankly I had reached the point in my system where Homeseer was essentially unnecessary and used for nothing more than reading a few temp/humidity devices as a convenience. But the one problem with the setup described above was that once the pellet stove reached target temp on the Nest, it would just turn off, as that was what it was designed to do even with its regular, hard wired thermostat. What I really wanted it to do was to go into the Lo mode and just "idle", keeping the office within a degree or two of the target temp, avoiding a drop below the target temp in most cases, and also saving the stove from cycling on and off, which chews through ignitors. But I also wanted to have the stove able to go into Med Or Hi mode if the Nest called for additional heat. So, I set up an output in the Elk that could be turned on by Homeseer when the stove was at or near target temp (70 - 72). I then updated my programs in the ISY to enter Lo mode on the stove when that output was turned on, but to allow it to go to a higher mode if the Nest called for stage 2 or 3 heat, or to turn off the stove if the room temp exceeded 72, which can happen on days when it's not so cold outside.

The result is complete control of the pellet stove through the Nest (which my non-techie wife can easily control), and a more even temperature in that office area, with less cycling of the stove on and off. It is working perfectly, and if I want to revert back to manual control of the stove, I just flick a toggle switch I installed that returns mode control to the manual switch on the stove.

Sorry for the long write-up but I thought some might find this mildly interesting after I wrote most of the info above in response to someone's Nest - related question in another thread. I also thought it somewhat amusing that I needed to use three automation devices - an Elk, an ISY, and Homeseer - in addition to the Nest - to automate a simple pellet stove! One could like do much of this with just a single Raspberry Pi or Arduino as an alternative, but I used what I already had.
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
No automation here but I thought that you might find this interesting.
 
My Whitfield pellet stove's electronic control board failed today and I've been researching how I'm going to go about fixing/replacing it. The board is expensive and I found a diagram that was posted at hearth.com to build your own controls while retaining all of the safety features of the stove. See message #6 here:
 
http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/replacing-old-whitfield-advantage-ii.72910/
 
With the schematic here:
 
http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/custom-control-schematic-for-older-pellet-stove.72519/
 
It uses components that are readily available and no IC's. It is a project that I'm not sure that I want to get into but it could be fun.
 
The guy who designed and drew this wiring diagram basically used components that the original manufacturers used in the very early stoves. I've studied it and it looks like it performs all of the functions of the original digital control.
 
Mike.
 
 
 
 

BraveSirRobbin

Moderator
FYI, if uncomfortable with the timer and one shot, you could always use two Elk-960's in their place.  One would just have to figure out how he meant to wire the C, NC, and NO terminals of the relay (just took a quick glance at the schematic, may be wrong).
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
BraveSirRobbin said:
FYI, if uncomfortable with the timer and one shot, you could always use two Elk-960's in their place.  One would just have to figure out how he meant to wire the C, NC, and NO terminals of the relay (just took a quick glance at the schematic, may be wrong).
 
I think that I fully understand the timers and how they are used. The one shot is simply to power the stove in the first ten minutes or so of burning. Once the stove warms up a NO Low-limit snap switch will close and supply power to the machine in parallel to the one-shot power supply. The trick is to make sure that the low limit snap switch warms and closes before the one-shot timer opens. Then when you turn the stove off the fans will continue blowing powered by the low-limit snap switch until the low-limit snap cools off and opens to shut power down completely.
 
Before attempting to build a control I am going to try to fix the OEM board. There is a mechanical power relay that controls the auger and blowers that I think may have failed. It is noisy and I have been able to make the blowers run on and off by tapping the board. It will only cost me a couple of dollars to change it so I'll give it a shot as soon as it arrives in the mail.
 
The second (auger) timer in the wiring diagram has both "on" time and "off" time adjustment pots. The on time has a pot mounted on the relay and would be set just once to about 2 seconds. The off time will have a second pot that will be mounted on the control face where you (the user) can easily turn it up or down to adjust the pellet feed rate by lengthening and shortening the off time.
 
Check out message #2 for pics of the timer:
 
http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/time-for-a-new-controller.127545/
 
Mike.
 

Madcodger

Active Member
Sorry to hear about the board, but you will find two very smart Whitfield owners over at that forum: Snowy, whose diagram you are looking at (incredibly resourceful) and Stovenson, who has many manuals on Whits if needed. I am there under a different name. Both those folks are EXCELLENT resources and very helpful if you PM them.

Please let me know if you decide to go a different route and not rebuild the board, as I am moving my Whit out to the shed and if the board ever goes may create my own as well. Good luck with the project!
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
Madcodger said:
Sorry to hear about the board, but you will find two very smart Whitfield owners over at that forum: Snowy, whose diagram you are looking at (incredibly resourceful) and Stovenson, who has many manuals on Whits if needed. I am there under a different name. Both those folks are EXCELLENT resources and very helpful if you PM them. Please let me know if you decide to go a different route and not rebuild the board, as I am moving my Whit out to the shed and if the board ever goes may create my own as well. Good luck with the project!
I've been reading Snowy's posts and learned a few things from them but haven't come across Stovenson yet.
 
I have two Whitfield Advantage stoves here and have had very good luck with them both, one in the basement and one in the family room which I am sitting in front of right now. I bought the family room stove new in ~2004 and the basement stove used a couple of seasons later. The older basement stove is the one that failed and not used that often so there is no hurry to fix it.
 
The plan is to try to repair the OEM board by replacing the mechanical relay on it but I have also ordered a new replacement control unit for a fair price on ebay. Both stoves are aging and they both use the same control board with the exception that the newer one has an igniter. I'll install the new board and keep the repaired board as a spare if it works out.
 
As for building a control I may just like to attempt it for fun but don't want to depend on that to get the stove running again.
 
Mike.
 

Madcodger

Active Member
Good thinking. I have a Whitfield Quest from 1994 that has been terrific and still runs great. I just needed something with an ignitor (and an OAK connection), so purchased a two year old Quad Santa Fe insert as a replacement this past year, and will move the Whit to the shed. Also have a Quad Mt Vernon AE which is a good stove but a poor application of technology (half the brains in the proprietary stat, and some other quirks that they should have fixed).

Nice to meet another pellet head with an interest in automation!
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
Madcodger said:
Sorry to hear about the board, but you will find two very smart Whitfield owners over at that forum: Snowy, whose diagram you are looking at (incredibly resourceful) and Stovenson, who has many manuals on Whits if needed. I am there under a different name. Both those folks are EXCELLENT resources and very helpful if you PM them. Please let me know if you decide to go a different route and not rebuild the board, as I am moving my Whit out to the shed and if the board ever goes may create my own as well. Good luck with the project!
I received the new replacement board and it did repair the stove. Now I'm still waiting for the mailman to bring my relays and will try to repair the old board when they get here. If the relay does make the old control work preperly then I am going to see if I can find the little tactile feedback buttons so that I can replace them when they fail. It is only a matter of tim euntil they wear out.
 
I'll keep you up to date, Mike.
 

Madcodger

Active Member
I think I saw your questions about the board on that forum, posted a few days ago, just this morning. I often find that you have to PM the two members there that I referenced earlier if you have a question for them. They are always helpful, but may not see regular posts.

Those old Whits are simple animals, so I am betting you create a successful outcome here. Will enjoy hearing about it. Pellet stoves are little beasts just screaming for better control via automation.

I had planned to install my Quest into the shed today, but have some work for clients to complete before tomorrow, and I think we're doing a little field trip to a local tavern with friends. It's not essential that I do it now, so the field trip wins. Going to be in mid 60s here today, but raining, so I don't much want to work on the vent outside, anyway.
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
Madcodger said:
I think I saw your questions about the board on that forum, posted a few days ago, just this morning. I often find that you have to PM the two members there that I referenced earlier if you have a question for them. They are always helpful, but may not see regular posts. Those old Whits are simple animals, so I am betting you create a successful outcome here. Will enjoy hearing about it. Pellet stoves are little beasts just screaming for better control via automation. I had planned to install my Quest into the shed today, but have some work for clients to complete before tomorrow, and I think we're doing a little field trip to a local tavern with friends. It's not essential that I do it now, so the field trip wins. Going to be in mid 60s here today, but raining, so I don't much want to work on the vent outside, anyway.
 
I did contact snowy rivers about identifying the control boards and their inter-changeability and she couldn't help with it. I also PM'ed a second user that she referred me to but he never replied to me. I find that the online forums each have their own personality and many are a little cliquey in that they don't reply to new users. As an example, I posted a question on how frequently Whitfield Advantage users clean their stoves and nobody replied to that either. I just bumped it up this morning.
 
I have frequented forums for photography, motorcycles, garden tractors, vintage autos, home automation, etc. and this seems like a good time to mention  that  cocoontech is the most helpful, "to the point", on topic and friendliest group I've joined. I recently disagreed with a member at a forum that I won't name and was run out of town by the villagers carrying flaming torches. We disagreed on a technical point but he and the group took it very personal that I would stand my ground and disagree with them.
 
Mike.
 

mikefamig

Senior Member
Madcodger said:
 Those old Whits are simple animals, so I am betting you create a successful outcome here. Will enjoy hearing about it.
 
 I did my best identifying the control board on my own and it turns out that got it right this time. I received a new control and installed it and the stove is running fine again. I'm waiting for a relay to come in the mail to repair the old control board but it is lost in the mail. Tracking shows the part in Atlanta since 1/6 and I should have received it by now.
 
Madcodger said:
Pellet stoves are little beasts just screaming for better control via automation. I had planned to install my Quest into the shed today, but have some work for clients to complete before tomorrow, and I think we're doing a little field trip to a local tavern with friends. It's not essential that I do it now, so the field trip wins. Going to be in mid 60s here today, but raining, so I don't much want to work on the vent outside, anyway.
 
The controls and thermostat on the Advantage stove are all that I need from it. I run our forced air blower system 7x24 on low to circulate air and have found settings on the stove that are very comfortable for  us.
 
Mike.
 

Madcodger

Active Member
Must agree re: Cocoontech. By far my favorite forum. I am almost always the slow one here, but others are kind - and appreciated.

Have also taken to running main HVAC fan for extended periods. Had to do much sealing of ductwork to make that effective, but seems to have worked so can now circulate pellet stove heat more effectively. Darn hard to test this year, though. We've had maybe 5 - 7 days of actual cold, at most. I have worn a topcoat maybe two days this year. Then again, it sure as heck beats having to pull out the snowblower so I think I'll pipe down about it.
 
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