Cheap heat

joyfulguyOctober 24, 2006

If you live anywhere near some farmers who raise corn, wheat or rye, you might be interested in what I consider the cheapest heat available, with the exception of wood that you cut yourself.

Which requires quite a bit of largely specialized equipment and a lot of work (it heats you about 8 times between cutting the standing tree and throwing a block into the fire). Plus an available supply of raw material, whether appropriate trees or tops remaining after logs have been cut from a woodlot.

In this area around the Great Lakes, one can heat most of a 2,000 sq. ft. house (with good circulation, as most stoves have no ducting, and insulation) using about 150 - 200 bus. of corn per year, at about $3.00/bus. ... can you heat your living space that cheaply?

I sold such stoves, about 15 years ago, for a while.

A friend of mine, who'd sold a couple of models previously, one of them that he, quite mechanically capable, couldn't make work, said that he could build a better on ... and did.

One of the best ones available today, I think, though I'm somewhat out of touch.

As the fire requires power draft, one does not need a chimney - they can be vented though any exterior wall.

Two major problems - they must have electricity to function and one can never go and leave them for more than slightly under a day, as they require maintenance, or the fire goes out.

Environmentally friendly, into the bargain - testing agency had to re-test, as they couldn't believe the initial set of results!

If you're in need of hot air (more than your friends can provide directly), these systems of heating may be useful for you.

ole joyful

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My sister heats her home with a corn pellet stove and she's very happy with it. I don't know the details, size,brand,etc.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2006 at 11:04AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

can you heat your living space that cheaply?

I think and hope I can. My house is smaller...about 1300sf. I keep the 2 bedrooms, and one bath shut off and just heat the liv room/dining area, kitchen and one bath.

Some folks would debate about them being heated though...usually kept at 65 or less. I turn the heat back even more at night, and whenever I will be gone for maybe 6 hours or more.... frequently gone Sat night until Sun night.

I heat with Propane central heat, and had a fill up earlier this fall. With a little luck, and being frugal with my heat, it will make me through the winter, or I will fill in the spring then with lots left over to take me into next fall/winter. I've heard the price per gallon has gone down some...might just have to call, and see if they would care to top me off sometime when they are passing out my way.

A penny saved is a penny earned...right?


    Bookmark   October 25, 2006 at 2:29PM
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Hi chemocurly,

Do they grow corn, wheat or rye in Alaska?

When I spoke of the number of bushels required to heat the average home in this area, that was for the level of heat that most folks desire in about 2,000 sq. ft.

If you have a smaller home - but it's rather important to have good circulation, as many of these are single source heaters (no ducting) - or operate the heating system to provide substantially lower temperature levels ...

... guess what ...

... substantial reduction in amount of fuel used!

Not only that, but if you have a furnace the thermostat tells it to run for a while, and when the circulation fan comes on it blows cold air for a while before the warm air arrives and shortly thereafter it turns off for a while.

There are some corn/(grain?)-fired furnaces avilable.

Corn/grain-fired heaters run continuously, so the level of heat remains more costant and one doesn't have that blast of cold air when the furnace comes on.

As far as using propane goes, that and electricity are considered very much the mostly costly methods of heating, in this area.

Good wishes for finding all of the hot air that you need, Sue.

As I've refused to turn the (oil-fired) furnace on yet and it was cold in the house last night, I went to bed earlier than usual.

And stayed in that cosy little cocoon longer, this morning ...

... so I guess that I'd better put some heat on, if I want to get any work done - or go visit the neighbours a lot.

I know - I'll go to the library and talk to the KT folks. There's lots of hot air there ...

... that's in the library, I meant.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   October 25, 2006 at 6:06PM
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we have a large 5 bedroom house, two level. our power bill - gas and electricity runs about $50/month total yearround - we burn wood, don't have a furnace

    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 11:38PM
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"Do they grow corn, wheat or rye in Alaska?" Nope, we can't grow that up here. Gas is the most cost effective, since most hard woods don't grow well here either. No oaks, maples, etc.

Keeping the house well insulated is our best bet. With hot water baseboard heat, the house is pretty comfortable unless we dip below zero. Then you can feel the cold through the windows, even though we have new double pane stuff.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 1:19PM
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Gloria the quilter,

That's what I was afraid that you folks were going to say.

Sorry - it'd be a bit expensive to ship it up from Vanc. or Seattle, I figure.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 4:33PM
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Sorry Joyful you know the handful of troubles with ours.

It came down this year that we were going to sell ours, we have had it for 3 years and had all kinds of problems with it. FIL had a smaller model and sold it and the guy Mike that sold them to us then came over and looked at ours. We got a brand new one this year so we have decided to give it one more try.

DH devised a corn cleaner that gets most of the debris and dust out of the corn so we are hoping that will help with the soot in the house.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 2:23PM
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Didn't your seller advise you to use clean corn?

Chunks of cob or stalk quite often jam the auger, which may well strip some of the gears in the gearbox that reduces the speed of the electric motor to a revolution or two per minute for the auger, so you know that there are quite a few of them, some of them plastic and rather fragile.

Resulting in some profanity, quite frequently, as the motor and gearbox are usually one-piece units that cost substantially over $100. - not sure of current costs, as I haven't participated directly in that game for nearly 15 years - holy cats - has it been *that* long??

You don't want fine stuff, dust or broken kernels, either. Dust tends to accumulate at the bottom of the drop tube, then burn. Which forms a bit of a dam, then more dust accumulates, burns, and after while the kernels say that jumping over that pile of burned dust is just too much trouble, so they lie down behind it and go to sleep - until the fire hits them, when they get so mad that they start to smoke.

And the heat goes up to other kernels backed up behind them, that then get so mad that they start to smoke, too. Soon there's smoke and heat moving back up the auger tube and through the hopper ... out into the room.

Soon after which, the housewife, and/or those in charge of cleaning, get mad and start to smoke, too ...

... maybe start using some profanity, as well.

That causes a real mess, as you have found out.

Quite a few stoves have a pipe leading from the combustion fan to the top of the drop tube, as well, I think, to push a bit of air flow down the drop tube to prevent the fire from coming up it.

Sometimes that pipe gets plugged, usually where it enters the top of the drop tube, so one needs to clean that blockage. Sometimes you may find that pushing a piece of speedometer cable (maybe from a truck, for a bit extra thickness) up that thin, curving pipe from the fan end will clear the blockage.

If you have corn with chunks of cob, stalk, dust or quite a few broken kernels, better set up a box/tray on a slope steep enough that corn will flow down it, with a couple of sieves on the bottom of the box, the one at the top end with mesh too small for the kernels to go through, with a bucket below to catch the dust and fines, then a sieve below that with mesh just large enough to let the kernels drop through, but to make the chunks of cob, stalk and other large debris slide off of the end into a third bucket - call that your "auger insurance".

Fines and dust for the birds, kernels for the fire, use your ingenuity to figure what to do with the chunks of unwanted stuff: maybe to start your campfire the next time you have a wiener roast. Or start the fire in your corn-fired heater.

Some stoves have a cover over the hopper, with a gasket, and a bar that goes over the cover with ends that slip under retainers on each side of the hopper, and a screw that pushes the lid down tight against the top of the hopper - to stop any smoke from getting out. One of the patents that my friend got on his stove. I don't know whether other stoves use such - but they should.

Could you get a piece of heavy sheet plastic or some other material that would close off your hopper on top of it, if you were to lay, say a bag of corn over it, so that the smoke couldn't get out?

You do have some pressure pushing it, due to the fan pushing the air through the fire, but it can easily vent through the exhaust, so the air pressure pushing the smoke is not substantial. You'd need to close off every aperture coming out of the hopper, though.

That said - I'm sorry that you've had trouble with your system. Get after your dealer, who's supposed to know what to do to get things going well (unless s/he sells a lousy stove) ...

... and if s/he does - for sure will know it (but may not want to admit it)!

I hope that you can get things worked out so that you're happy with your stove - as thousands are with theirs.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 4:42PM
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How have things been going with your corn-fired heater?

I hope that it's working well and that you are pleased with it.

If you are still having problems, if you explain them, perhaps I can help get things going better.

You did, after all, pay a fairly high price for it. It'd be too bad to feel later that you needed to dump it.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 2:11PM
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Hello all. This is my families first year in our "new" 1850 farmhouse. Since our house is surrounded by cornfields and we have 5 1/2 acres of which we can grow our own, we decided that we wanted to buy a cornstove. That is until we spoke to our neighbor (a farmer) about it. He said that the corn here isnt dry enough, that we would have a moisture problem. If I remember correctly, I think he said it is 20% or more. Any ideas on where to get drier corn and what is the ideal %? You would not believe what we are paying in propane and we arent even using the second floor. Thank goodness for the mild winter we are having so far or we'd be in a hotel!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2007 at 4:35AM
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heirloom mama,

You need corn with about 15% moisture to operate well in a corn-fired stove, and it works even better (if happening infrequently) if it's down to about 10 - 12%. You can burn it at up around 18% - but don't try to store it too long, or it'll likely mould. You can burn mouldy corn, but it won't run very well down your hopper into the auger to be fed into the fire. You'll be unhappy with the level of heat that you get, for it'll absorb quite a bit of the heat produced to vapourize the moisture.

Did you ever try to burn wet wood?

The farmers around here have to dry their corn that's up around 20%, or it'll mould while in storage. Which makes it useless.

I'm fairly sure that they dry it down to about 15% moisture.

Check some other sources in your area with regard to the storage requirements regarding moisture.

More info at

That was the website a couple of years ago - haven't checked it lately.

My friend of 30 years sold a couple of models, about 18 years ago and I sold the one that he sold originally for a couple of years, back then. He said that he could build a better one - and did.

I was helping him a few years ago, when I wanted a new email address - so picked the one that you see here.

He died three years ago - his son operates the business, now. A year ago Christmas he had orders backed up till April, with some of the purchasers having paid at least part of the price when ordering.

Good wishes for finding enough hot air to get by on - at not too high a price. And not too environmentally damaging: as corn stoves require forced draft to operate, they produce very low levels of pollutants.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   January 28, 2007 at 2:56AM
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