Friday, November 16, 2007

I Burn Corn to Heat My Home

If you visit this blog frequently you know that I supplement my home heat by burning corn. The corn-burning stove is part of an overall strategy to reduce my use of fossil fuels, and to become more self-sufficient. The stove uses electricity for the blowers and an auger motor, and my photovoltaic (PV) system supplies that energy if the grid is down. My stove must be lit manually, and will not relight itself if the fire goes out. While this is somewhat of an inconvenience, it also keeps the power requirements of the stove low, making it possible to get by with fewer solar panels and batteries. And although the stove doesn’t have a thermostat, it does have individual controls for the corn feed rate and for the room air blower motor. When properly set, these controls help to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature regardless of the outside temperature.

I buy shelled corn in 50-pound bags, and use the stove when the outside temperature drops into the 30’s. I usually start the stove in the evening and stop using it mid-day as the outside temperature rises. This is my second season with the stove. Here are some details from last winter:

I purchased (and burned) 2 ½ tons of corn.
My natural gas bill for the heating season was $524.97
My natural gas bill for the same period, one year before getting the stove, was $1140.71
Because I burn corn, I cut my natural gas bill by $615.74
For this period my cost for corn was: $397.45
My net savings was $218.29

People sometimes ask me if the extra work involved in heating with corn is worthwhile. I believe it is. I’ve calculated that corn-handling and stove-related chores take about 10 minutes per 50 pound bag of corn. Or to put it another way, these chores took about 15 hours during the entire heating season. If I divide my time by the money I saved, I conclude that I’ve saved about $15.00 dollars per hour. I call that worthwhile. And, for a variety of reasons, it’s likely that my savings will dramatically increase in the future.

Some say that burning a source of food is immoral. I disagree. Blowing up mountains in order to harvest coal is immoral. Since that coal is used in power plants, purchasing electricity from those power plants is immoral. Any step taken to reduce energy consumption is a step in the right direction. Solar panels, compact fluorescent lighting, energy-saving appliances, recycling, and alternative heating and cooling are a few of the steps you can take to do your part.

Is burning corn immoral? I will ponder that as I sit in front of my stove on a cold winter day.



Anonymous said...

What an informative post-I am always looking on ways to save on my utility bills and I have actually found relief this winter because of a vent-booster called the airflow breeze.
I plugged it into my vent in my bedroom which is always way way way too cold and now it is cozy because of my AirFlow Breeze!
My bills are lower and I am saving a lot of energy---which means it is good for the environment!
You should really tell your readers about this great product, it has truly saved my winter!

d said...

Hi SJ,

Burning for heat is tightly regulated in UK urban areas such as London, but a relative of mine, with a few acres of beechwood, heats her house with a combination of recovered wood and solar thermal, with oil only for backup so far as I understand it.

She's been doing that for years, though in her 70s I guess that she's doing less of the wood-chopping herself these days!



PS. My latest crack-pot scheme for a year-round seasonal thermal store to improve the CoP of heat-pumping: though feel free if you think it inappropriate 'advertising'.

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