Review: Quadra-fire Santa Fe Insert

mauthedogMarch 2, 2009

Summary: Not recommended

Pros: Looks nice; good heat on high setting (when it works); easy to use; three fan settings.

Cons: Only high fan setting produces appreciable heat; tempermental/high maintenance; feeder system constantly jams; doesn't start---why? Must be vacuumed/swept/cleaned every couple of days, even with premium pellets.

My name is Ed. I live in Natick, MA. My wife and I bought the Quadra-fire Santa Fe insert from Natick Fireplace in April 2008. I was not there when they installed it; my wife took the day off from work for the install.

She wasn't pleased with the attitude of the installers. She said they didn't take any time to educate her, but installed it, gave her a CD and user manual and left. Later, when I contacted the dealer with questions, they would ask me (more than once) "Well, did you watch the video?"

In New England, April is still cold, so we used the stove almost immediately. Instead of using the wall thermostat that is provided, we paid extra for the semi-programmable portable thermostat with power-on/off functionality. We noticed with a couple of days that the temperature wasn't consistent. One day it differed from the house thermostat by one degree, another day by two degrees, and still on other days by as much as three degrees. I contacted the dealer and asked them to swap out the thermostat. The dealer said come to the store and pick it up. We had the unit for less than a week and Natick Fireplace's attitude was "Do it yourself."

Through April, May, and early June, we noted how the unit was quirky. Some days it started; other days it wouldn't start for who knows why.

I want to make it clear that I have been relentless at keeping the unit clean. I clean the fire pot daily. Every couple of days I clean the ash try, remove the bricks and clean behind them and clean around the air tubes. I use Barefoot premium pellets.

We stopped using it in early June, once the days turned warm. We started using it in October. We noted the same minor quirks/issues as we did in the spring.

As the days grew colder we noted how the unit couldn't heat the main part of the house unless it was on high fan. In the spring as the days grew longer and warmer, we hadn't noticed this.

I finally called Quadra-fire in December and had an interesting conversation with a support rep who knew nothing about baselines, BTU's, or anything that wasn't in his own user manual. He wound up sending me tech specs that were just the same thing in the user manual. In short, it appears the unit doesn't put out the BTU's claimed.

The patterns continued until January 2009 when the stove finally wouldn't start at all. The pellets weren't feeding. We could hear some mechanical clicking. I called Quadra-fire and got a ticket number. I tried calling my dealer who replied a few DAYS later. BTW, both diagnosed the problem as "bad fuel." I told the Quadra rep that we used Barefoot, and she asked, "Is it Pellet Association of America approved?" What!?

Well, we made an appt with a service rep from Natick Fireplace

,and once again my wife had the unfortunate duty of being there in my place.

BTW, the Quadra support person [like the dealer] kept asking if I had read them manual or watched the video. Didn't matter that I had, they would keep asking. I also told them how the black & white pictures in the manual didn't seem to match my insert. For example, I couldn't locate the snap-switches or internal reset switches.

They seemed amused that I dared question the quality of the manuals, video, or the stove.

When the "technician" arrived, and looked at the unit, he said, "It's dirty; it needs to be cleaned." Now, my wife can bear witness to how I have tried to keep the unit clean. She asked a few questions and determined the service guy was not referring to what a typical home-owner would feel comfortable doing. When my wife asked how he was going to clean it, the guy replied, "We don't maintain them; we just service them."

The service guy said the feeding mechanism was jammed. (Hmmm. Not bad fuel?) It took him less than 15 minutes. Cost: $150.

Before he left he said the unit should be professionally cleaned after using two tons of fuel Hmmm. The magazines and web articles say the average home owner uses three tons of fuel per year. Do the math.

My wife told me how she tried to watch the service guy. She was amazed that the reset switches were on the back side of the unit. How convenient! Great design for ease of maintenance [not].

A few weeks later I called Chimney Sweeps and asked if they cleaned pellet stoves. Answer was No. They did the connections and they did the flue. So, who cleans the internal pieces of the stove? Total cost to clean the chimney, chimney flue, and pellet-stove related stuff that they normally do: $398.

Hmmm. I bought this thing to save money. It's a money pit.

Well, here it is, the beginning of March 2009. I finally sat down to write this review, because the stove wouldn't start this morning for a few hours even after I cleaned it again.

We're stuck with it, but if we could do it all again, we wouldn't buy a Quad, wouldn't buy the Sante Fe, wouldn't buy from Natick Fireplace, and wonder if we would slap anyone who says how wonderful pellet stoves are.

I have seen plenty of articles saying how wonderful they are. Well, either people aren't telling the whole story, or my wife and I won the lottery whammy: poor dealer, poor manufacturer, and poor unit of a poor model.

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Sorry to hear about all your problems. I personally would never have a pellet stove because I've heard they cause problems. I'd be on the manfacturer's @@s to resolve your problems. No exceptions period. Don't give up.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2009 at 10:13AM
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It's March 24, 2012, three years after my original review.
Here's a little update for interested readers.

Over the last three years, we've learned to work with our temperamental wood stove. I stand by my original review---I would buy a different model if I could do it all over again---but through constant cleaning and keeping it on as much as possible, we've come to appreciate the heat.

Last winter we had a different dealer service the stove and replace some parts. It's been less temperamental since.

This past winter was relatively mild, and so the Santa Fe was able to keep our major room warm. By leaving it on as much as possible, we used a lot less oil. We only had two deliveries this past winter versus the normal four. My wife has come to enjoy reading by the fire.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 3:45PM
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