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Corn or Pellet Stoves Offer Heating Options

NDSU’s Extension energy educator provides the pros and cons of heating with corn or pellet stoves.

Fluctuating energy prices have some people considering biomass stoves as a way to heat their homes.

Biomass has been used as a fuel source since humans first discovered the ability to control fire.

“Biomass is simply plant or animal matter that has enough energy inside that can be released when burned,” says North Dakota State University Extension Service energy educator Carl Pedersen.

Wood is an example of biomass. Corn kernels are another type of biomass. Corn kernels are a great source of energy because, as seeds, they store energy for young plants until they can begin to use the nutrients in soil. Burning those seeds releases a large amount of energy.

Any woodstove is a biomass stove, but woodstoves tend to be inefficient. However, recent work on them enables a homeowner to use as much energy from wood as possible.

Pellet stoves are an example of this advanced technology. Pellet stoves use pelletized fuel, often wood fibers that have been passed through a press. The fire in a pellet stove can be easier to control and pellets are more convenient to use than logs.

Corn kernels also are an example of pelletized fuel. Depending on the manufacturer, pellet stoves often can burn wood pellets or corn kernels. The stoves have an auger that adds the fuel to the fuel box at a controlled rate. The higher the temperature setting, the faster the auger adds the fuel.

Homeowners should consider a few factors when looking at adding a pellet stove, according to Pedersen. The first is cost. How much does the stove cost, how much will the fuel cost and how long will paying for the stove take with fuel cost savings?

“These are not always easy things to determine,” Pedersen says. “The cost of pellet stove fuels is always changing and the quantities sold are different than for other energy sources. For example, pellets are sold by the pound, whereas electricity is sold by the kilowatt hour and propane is sold by the gallon. Plus, what might be the least expensive now may be different in a few months, depending on what happens with fuel prices.”

The best way to compare fuel types is to compare the cost per amount of heat a fuel source provides when burned, he advises. A standard measure of heat is the British thermal unit, or BTU. Comparing the cost for different fuel sources for each BTU allows homeowners to better compare one fuel source with another.

The NDSU Extension Service has publication AE-1015, “Fuel Cost Comparisons,” that can make comparisons easier. It’s available online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/structu/ae1015.htm. This publication contains a chart with a majority of the fuel types used to heat a home and enables a quick comparison at a given price.

Here are some other factors homeowners should think about before purchasing a pellet or corn stove:

  • They require more attention and work than other heat sources. Electric heating simply requires someone to turn the switch or thermostat on and the heat source kicks in.
  • They require regular handling of fuel types and regular maintenance. Depending on the amount of use and fuel source, pellet stoves may need to have unburned fuel removed daily and ash removed weekly.

More information about corn and biomass stoves is available in NDSU Extension publication AE-1375, “Corn and Biomass Stoves.” The publication covers topics such as how the stoves work, maintenance, energy cost and content per fuel types. The publication also provides a method to do a cost comparison between a corn stove and propane as a heating source. The publication can be obtained at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/structu/ae1375.pdf or by contacting your local county Extension agent.

If you have any questions concerning this or any other energy topic, contact Pedersen at (701) 231-5833 or carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu.

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NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Carl Pedersen, (701) 231-5833, carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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