Corn is the new king when it comes to heating stoves.
It appears that every manufacturer of corn-fueled stoves in the United States and Canada is facing a backlog of orders because of the huge demand. Both manufacturers and dealers seem to have been caught by surprise by the wave of consumer interest.
Why all the sudden hullabaloo? Simple – nothing costs less to burn at this point than corn, which sells for about $2 per bushel. According to figures provided by Even Temp, maker of the St. Croix line of stoves, the cost per therm for 100,000 British thermal units is 42 cents. The same per therm cost for natural gas is $1.40 and $2.60 for propane (LP). Wood is 64 cents per therm.
And Dennis Buffington, a professor of engineering at Penn State University, provided these figures in a recent Wall Street Journal story about corn stoves: For 1 million BTUs of heat, it takes $16.47 in natural gas, $33.80 in propane and a mere $8.75 for corn.
With the skyrocketing cost of natural gas and propane, it's easy to see why corn stoves are so hot (OK, pun intended).
"I literally have had hundreds of calls from people – and these aren't just local residents, but people from all over the place trying to track down a stove that burns corn," says Bob Brown, showroom manager at The Depot Fireplace and Stove Center in Tilton.
"They have been selling tremendously, to the point that Harman, the brand we sell, can barely keep up with demand. We have stoves on back order and we're not sure when they will come in," he adds.
The brisk demand for The Depot started in August, according to Brown, when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on energy prices.
"I think people are awfully afraid of the price of natural gas and propane," he says. "If only we knew then what we know now" The Depot would have ordered more corn stoves.
Corn stoves are not an expensive purchase. The price range for most corn stoves is $1,800 to $3,000. That does not include installation. The stoves must be properly vented (most manufacturers' brochures and Web photos are a bit misleading; they show the stoves unvented).
The amount of corn they use, like any stove, will depend on the weather. On the hearth.com Web site, a central Illinois owner of a corn stove estimates he will use 15 to 20 bushels per month. The same individual also owns a wood stove and says it puts out more "radiant heat" than his corn stove.
Nevertheless, he has been happy with his corn stove purchase (go to http://hearth.com/ratesingles/rate1327.html to read more).
The big downside of corn stoves is where to store all that corn. Brown suggests buying two or three large garbage cans with tight-fitting lids (to keep out rodents). He and Karen Hertz, information director of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, suggest contacting your local grain elevator as either a source for the corn or for the name of a farmer willing to sell corn.
In addition, the corn must have a moisture content of 15 percent or less. It also must be clean and as free of cobs as possible.
Corn stoves and furnaces are still a niche market, despite the sudden demand. But farmers are ecstatic about the demand and are hoping for continued growth, according to Karen Hertz, information director for the Champaign County Farm Bureau.
"We're excited about the possibility of that market growing," Hertz says. "It's good news for producers. It could be a good market for seed corn that cannot be used or for corn that cannot go into the food system.
"We'd love to see it take off. Corn is a great source of renewable fuel. Certainly corn is much less costly than natural gas or propane," she adds. "We don't think this is just a fad. We hope the more that people learn about the stoves, that they'll become even more popular in the future."