2007-01-04 / Scene

Warming up to natural fuel

Rosie Cosens rcosens@laview.net

By Rosie Cosens
LA VIEW Staff Writer
— When it comes to keeping warm in the winter, people want warmth without hassles, guilt or having to take out a second mortgage.

One option for home heating that is gaining popularity is the corn stove. No, it does not pop corn or provide roasted ears dripping with butter, but it does pump out the thermals. Penn State University Agriculture and Biological Engineering did a study that shows the energy content of corn is in the range of 8,000 to 8,500 BTU per pound of dry matter.

What that means is, if you burn shelled corn in a corn stove, you will get a lot of heat in your house.

“We bought the smallest one available and just started using it,” said farmer Jim Caldwell of Mayfield Township. “It’s just a little fire but it is amazing.”

Caldwell and his fiancé, Jennie Sweeney, say “The Baby” corn stove puts out so much heat that up until the cold snap last weekend they had to keep windows open to cool the house when the stove was going.

On the day this reporter visited it was 17 degrees. “We have the furnace off,” said Sweeney. “It’s just the corn stove on the lowest setting.”

“We got out a box fan to blow the warm air to other rooms,” said Caldwell. “It has five heat settings, and we have found that we’ve never had to have it off the lowest one.”

Since he farms, he does grow his own corn but has had to take it to be dried. “I had to haul it over to Lapeer Grain to dry. Out-of-the-field corn has about 19 percent moisture. To burn it, you need it dried to 12 to 14 percent.”

Some corn stoves can tolerate moisture content in the shelled corn of up to 15 percent; be sure to find out this information before you buy.

Corn stoves have a small fire pit that is fed by an auger from a corn hopper. The fire is fed a few kernels at a time. “I go through about 40 to 45 lbs. of corn in 24 hours,” said Caldwell from his very toasty living room.

“A bushel of corn equals 56 lbs., and corn is about $3 a bushel this year which is up from last year.” Last year farmers were getting about $2 a bushel says Caldwell. “There’s almost no ash to it. No smoke comes out the chimney.” The corn stove in Caldwell’s home has a three-inch stove pipe. “That’s about half what we had for a wood burning stove.”

There are many sellers of corn stoves in the area. Lapeer Grain sells five different models including Caldwell’s ‘Baby’, $1,800, up to an outdoor hot- water 200,000 BTU model for $5,500. Dry shelled fuel corn is sold for $130 per ton.

Fuel Currently Used Equal to Pounds of Shelled Corn
1 ton of Hard Coal = 3,360
1 gallon of #2 Fuel Oil = 22
1 million BTU of Natural Gas = 170
1 gallon of Propane = 15
1 full cord of Firewood = 2,800
1 ton of Wood Pellets = 2,575
1,000 kWh of Electricity = 635
(From Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences website)

Not all corn stoves are the same. Do your homework before you buy. A good place to start? Visit http://burncorn.cas.psu.edu, the website of Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, for an unbiased look at products and for a list of questions to ask stove sellers.

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