The Corn Stove: Pros and Cons

Connie’s Corn Stove

Connie’s Corn Stove

When winter comes, a young woman’s fancy turns to… HEAT!! Nice, warm houses, cozy fires to cuddle up to, warm blankets to wrap in. But in this day and age, living that dream can be very expensive, what with the costs of gas, propane and electricity. Wood is the best, in my mind, for good, bone-soaking heat.

But in November of 2005, my husband Norm fell off a ladder and broke his neck. We decided that wood heat would not be the best for us. With Norm’s neck so sensitive to the lifting, chopping and carrying of wood, we needed to find something else to keep this old house warm. Our first year of owning (but only staying here for a week at a time) told us that we needed something extra or we would be bankrupt by the propane cost to keep the house even mildly comfortable.

Since wood, my first choice, was out, what was next? We went to a restaurant that was using a corn stove to heat the large dining room and felt it would be a possibility, and finally decided on the corn furnace that we now have running in our basement family room.

It took a lot of research to decide what kind of corn stove to have. The pretty little freestanding ones that look like wood stoves are cheaper, but only heat up one or two rooms. This old (1886) house with a basement and added rooms makes up about 3,000 square feet of space to heat. The stove of MY choice would have been the outside one. But the expense of the stove AND the connecting vents to the house was astronomical beyond belief! We chose to go with a furnace – planned to go in a furnace room. The ductwork would go from the corn furnace into the propane furnace and the heat would move through the house as the propane heat does.

However, our furnace room is in the original basement under the original part of the house. The door from the “new” basement into the furnace room was too small to fit a humongous stove. Plus, all the new and old piping made it almost impossible to fit in the furnace room. We decided to put it in the family room and have duct work piped from there through a new hole in the wall into the furnace room and into the propane furnace itself. This made it more convenient for Norm to clean the stove, fill the stove and light the stove.

We moved the stove down into the basement with the help of several strong young men, had our local stove man put in the duct work and were ready for good WARM, cheap heat for the winter.
Now I am here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, that I am disappointed in the ability of this corn furnace to keep our house warm. I had anticipated throwing a blanket on the kitchen floor (possibly bringing in some sand and a beach umbrella) and basking in the warm south sun while having the house a toasty 80°. Not so, children! No so!

We have a prevailing south wind in our area, especially in the wintertime. The house has no windbreaks to the south, and we mean to keep it that way so that we have the lovely blue (mostly) sky. The south of this old house has little, if no, insulation to help, which will hopefully be rectified, but not this winter.

I found that the basement, my weaving/spinning studio and the bedroom were nice and toasty warm but the kitchen, living room and my computer corner ran from chilly to down right frigid on windy days.

What to do? What to do? I wanted a wood cook stove in the kitchen and have begged, pleaded, threatened, whined, cried and in all ways made myself very unpleasant to be around on cold days. All in vain – even a lovely gas/wood combination stove was, to Norm, out of the question. A very expensive triple-thick stove pipe as well as fireproofing the walls and floor of the kitchen made him tremble with fear and discontent.

But, still it was cold! Downright COLD in this house on the frigid winter days, and while I am willing to wear long johns and double thickness in shirts, it seems unreasonable to expect me to either wear fingerless gloves to get my work done or to bake every day (a fine idea, but there is the propane cost to be considered!).

The corn furnace keeps the temperature from falling too quickly, but the house temperature drops below 60° in the morning on most days. We then use the propane furnace to boost it up to about 68° before using just the corn furnace to keep the house partially warm. Otherwise, using only the corn stove, we stay about 62° all day.

We had a small electric heater in the kitchen to take the chill off, if you were sitting (like Norm) with your toes nearly under the heater, but still no relief was in sight!

But now, lo and behold! Our local farm supply store had heaters on sale! An EdenPure Quartz Infrared Portable Heater, as advertised on Paul Harvey. Now, I don’t listen to Paul Harvey but Norm does, and he has been talking about them for a while. His brother in South Dakota got one to heat the addition and he said that it keeps them nice and warm. It’s supposed to run for “pennies” a day so the electricity shouldn’t go up in cost, too much!
Norm and I talked, and I said that IF it kept us warm enough, I would stop asking (begging, pleading, threatening, whining, crying) for wood heat. So we bit the bullet and bought one. We got it on a Thursday and set it up right away. I was leery of it actually doing any good, but I’m here to tell you, it seems to work! That night the kitchen was hot (well I was baking bread, so the oven was running, too).

The next day it only got up to 10° outside and we had a south breeze, but the kitchen AND the living room AND my computer corner were running around 70° all afternoon – without propane assistance! Now THAT’S more like it!

Of course, we are now more dependent on electricity (sigh) but we do have a portable propane heater for emergencies, and I have my gas (propane) cooking stove that I love so much in case of electrical outages. And perhaps (dare I dream?) we might get a wind-generating windmill to put out our own electricity and not be caught up with higher electric prices and outages. But that’s another story – another dream!

Now we are dependant on more than the corn stove to keep us warm. Would I get one again? I sincerely doubt it. And Norm seems to think he’d choose something else, also.

Fire! Warm!

Fire! Warm!

The corn has risen in price, so it costs us about $200 a month to run the stove (not as much as propane, but more than we had hoped). Norm has to catch our neighbor to get the corn, and that is hard. Our neighbor is so busy, even in the winter, so it is difficult to contact him to get another load of corn. However, the difficulty is worth it because he charges the going rate for corn. If we were to get corn from a dealer, we would have to pay more. We have a pick-up bed trailer that holds a corn bag, which, in turn, holds 50 bushels of corn. That will last us about a month, if the weather is not too severely cold.

Norm has to haul the corn from the trailer down into the basement – we have not quite figured out a chute system to drop corn from outside into the basement. He does this in 5 gallon buckets. If he puts half a bucket in, I can help carry. Otherwise, I open and shut the door as he brings in about 20 buckets at a time (well, 2 at a time, 20 total a day). We have large garbage cans in the basement to hold the corn. He brings in enough for a week’s supply each time he brings corn in.

You need to fill the hopper about every two days. But that is not the only thing about the stove you need to tend to. It needs to have the ashbin emptied (just like a wood stove); you need to make sure the corn is clean and of a low percentage for burning. Starting the stove can be a pain – you need wood pellets, as corn does not start easily, and it works best if you get a gel starter to pour on the pellets. This stove is a bearcat to start and sometimes it takes Norm almost an hour to get it going. I have convinced him that he can clean the ashes and do his tending without letting the stove out. However, the stove will stop running for any given reason. The wind is too strong; the wind is too light; there are stars in the sky; it’s cloudy out; it just FEELS like going out – usually about 3:00 in the morning so that we wake up to a COLD house!

Also, the stove only runs for about 2 days (if it doesn’t quit) without tending, so if we leave for a weekend or longer, we need to shut the corn stove off and use the propane.

My choice of a different source of heat? There are 2 choices that I can see.

The first would be a huge wood furnace outside that burns logs, not split wood. We already have most of the ductwork because of the corn stove. Norm could use his tractor for hauling the wood. We have a lot of wood in our grove that would work and we have friends and neighbors that would delight in our taking wood from their groves. There would be a minimal amount of cutting to fit the wood in the building.

The second choice would be electric heat (sigh). My sister and brother-in-law heated their whole house in South Dakota with “cove” heating – the electric heaters on the ceiling, one in each room. They have now moved here to Minnesota and have discussed the same type of heat for their larger home here. A member of our electric co-op told them that if they purchased the proper heaters and accessories, they could get a discount on the electricity used. He also told them that unless propane was less than $1.90 a gallon, it would be cheaper to use electricity. And the way the corn prices are going, it would be cheaper to convert our house to electric, as well. Certainly would be less work on Norm’s part – just turn them on and set the thermostats!

And then, there is the promise (sometime down the road) of solar-electric type units that will make electricity even in star-light (this electrician has seen them). The plan would be that a household would rent (or purchase?) the unit and connect it to the side of the house. There would be no wires to break in storms and the rental of the unit would be the only price – you would not pay for the amount of electrical usage. Sounds tempting to me!

Until then, we are “stuck” with the corn stove and continue to use it. Much cheaper, so far, than propane. And, it does make me feel “green” to be using an alternative heat.

About cpthegreat

Connie (aka Spinning Grandma) lives on Ash Lane Farm in southwest Minnesota. She is an expert on spinning, weaving and knitting and a former history interpreter.

7 thoughts on “The Corn Stove: Pros and Cons

  1. I have a similar dilemma toward the future but I currently use wood and love having a 75 degree downstairs, except when the North wind blown then I need to burn oil to keep the temp up a bit. Do you own a log splitter makes life much easier. I am planning to add a large coal stove in my basement and connect to the ductwork same as you. Coal is very affordable in Pa not sure about up North. But coal is dusty but it the heat is great so my recommendation is wood if you can get it for free, just get a splitter or try coal.

  2. A company in New Hampshire sells a basket that fits into your wood stove and will burn corn or pelletts. I have used pelletts in this baket, since corn is not readily available in this area. Loading requires more work than an automatic pellett stove, but provides comparable heat, with proper tending. I get between 7 and 8 hours heat from the half /bag the basket holds. Effectiveness of the heat depends on outside temperature. If the ouaide temp is below 25 degrees its tough to reach a 65 degree room temp in the 12×24 area I heat. In a 24 hour period I burn between 1 1/2 and 2 40#bags. I have priced cost and installation of a pellet stove . I averages between $2000.and $3000. Thats a lot of money to burn a fuel which costs nearly as much as conventional fuels for a comparable amount of heat.

  3. Seems to me your money should have been spent on insulation first. All your time, money and labor is still pouring straight out of your attic. Savings will be recouped much quicker if you can keep the heat in!!

  4. You have seen the Coal Chronicles I have been writing some posts about my experience with burning coal the next “book” is almost done. I looked into a corn stove, however the coal stove seemed the better choice.

  5. This posting came at a time when we were thinking of remodeling our 4-year old home to rip out the liquid propang gas (LPG) fireplace and replace it with a corn or wood burning stove. LPG has become too expensive for us now!!! I don’t need something to heat the whole house. I just want some comfy-cozy radiant heat for when I’m watching TV. I was leaning toward a corn stove since corn is grown in abundance around here. Hardwood is also abundant, though, and free if cut it yourself. It’s relatively cheap even if you have to get someone to cut and split it for you. After reading your post I have decided a corn stove is not for us. Thanks.

  6. I live in SE Nebraska and let me tell you that Corn Stoves are at conspiracy levels here. After asking about getting a coal burning stove one dealer looked at me and replied “Nobody but the Chinese heat with coal anymore!” I’m certainly glad I read your post before jumping onto the corn wagon. I suspected as much as a few I know with corn stoves have mentioned similar problems. Pellet stoves are simply out in our book due to constant shortages of fuel and LPG that we currently have is at 4$ a gallon and rising. Currently we are heating with wood and love it, but it is also becoming a problem getting fuel in sufficient amounts and we only have one stove and can only burn one fuel. We eagerly look forward to getting our coal stove and have the ability to but not only coal in it but wood, pellets, cherry pits, corn or whatever we can get for the season!

  7. This is the first I had heard of corn stoves! I have heard of bio-fuel using corn for automobiles. I think using corn for car fuel or heating homes isn’t a good idea . Corn is what millions of people in the third world need for food and depend on. If western countries are using it for fuel other people will go hungry. This is already happening. To me this isn’t a “green” alternative.

    We live in a house built in 1829. It wasn’t insulated ofcourse. To date the only installation is in the bathroom and porch which we built on. As we tear out walls to do repairs we will be insulating with the fiberglass pink insulation.

    We burn wood in a heating stove and kitchen stove and only heat the four rooms downstairs. We have a fan going to circulate the heat.There is no heat upstairs.

    The old people who built these houses sometimes put straw , moss or eel grass in the walls. We discovered this when remodeling. That wasn’t much for insulation. There are no fire stops in these old houses either. Air travels freely from basement through the walls.

    The solution is to pick the rooms you want to heat nearest the source of heat. Take down outside walls, put in fire stops and insulate well . Replace windows with thermal windows also. Patch cracked foundations too. Wood is great heat if it isn’t heating the outdoors!

    In bedrooms do what we did and the pioneers did. Heat rocks or bricks and wrap them in a towel to warm the bed. If you are opposed to that use an eletric blanket or heating pad to warm the bed. Dress warm and cuddle.

    I grew up in a cement house with a little oil stove which Grandma turned out at night. She got up early and lit it in minus 20 F. winters. My husband’s Mother did the same with the wood stove. She too was up early to lite the fire. The kids came running with their clothes to the stove mornings. No one heated the entire house.

    Remember winter only last one fourth of the year. Then you can spread out and use the whole house again. Have a great day! Linda