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Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006 05:25 am

The power of corn

Stoves that rely on wood-pellet or corn fuel are energy efficient

This pellet stove can be controlled by a wall thermostat and it has an autostart function to light the fire.
I use my fireplace for extra heat, but it is a hassle. I am considering getting a corn or wood-pellet stove instead. Are they energy- efficient and low-maintenance? What are my options?

A wood-pellet or corn stove is an excellent choice for heating a portion or all of your home. I have tested many designs in my own home for the past 16 years, and I have one running as I write this column. I burn a corn/wood-pellet mixture in a corn stove. Corn and wood-pellet stoves are nearly identical. Wood pellets are only 1 percent ash, so any pellet or corn stove will burn them. Corn has a higher ash content and forms a clinker, so burning corn in a pellet-only stove will not work well. Most corn stoves include a wood-pellet setting that changes the ash-removal rate and airflow.

Both corn and wood-pellet stoves are energy-efficient. This is because the combustion is nearly complete with almost no smoke. The small corn kernels or pellets have a high ratio of surface area to weight, compared with a big log, so each piece gets bathed with combustion air. Heating with wood pellets or corn is better for the environment than using fossil fuel furnaces or electric heat is. When you burn corn in the stove, it produces primarily ash, water, and carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas). Next spring, when new corn grows, it uses the same amount of carbon dioxide the burning produced, so there is little in the way of net greenhouse gases.

These stoves are relatively maintenance-free. Every couple of days, depending on the heat setting, pour a bag of corn or wood pellets into the hopper. With the low ash content, the ash drawer needs to be emptied only once a week. Corn is stickier than pellets, so each month you may need to clean the draft fan and perhaps the auger.

Even if you plan to burn wood pellets and don’t have nearby corn farms, consider a corn stove. Wood pellets are often in short supply, and it is convenient to be able to stop at a pet store for a bag of feed corn if you run out of pellets. Select a model with a battery-backup option. Corn and pellet stoves use electricity to operate the blower, combustion air fan, and feed/ash augers.

When the electric power goes off, as it recently did during the Buffalo snowstorms, the stove automatically switches to battery power. A self-igniting option is a convenience for starting the stove. There are also various door options, some with more viewing glass.

These companies offer corn and pellet stoves: American Energy Systems, 800-495-3196,; Country Flame, 417-859-0990,; Dell-Point Technology, 877-331-6212,; England’s Stove Works, 800-516-3636,; and Lennox Hearth Products, 800-953-6669,

My home has a shallow crawl space containing the furnace and water heater. The house floor over it is not insulated. I am sure the furnace gives off some heat, so should I leave the house floor uninsulated?

Generally you should insulate the floor above a crawl space. If your furnace is efficient and the ducts are insulated, not much heat should be lost to the crawl space and it should stay reasonably cold. During the winter, check the air temperature in the crawl space. If it is almost as warm as the house, the furnace is losing heat. Insulate the crawl space walls instead of the floor above it. Make sure there is adequate combustion air for the furnace.

Send questions to James Dulley, Illinois Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or go to