Not burn corn
In the interest of fair and balanced, should there be something here?
Burning corn is something that should be both financially viable, adequately convenient and the way corn stoves work needs to be compatible with your home, circumstances and personality quirks...
On the financially viable end: Since late 2006, the market price for shelled corn has increased dramatically. In late summer 2006 I began researching alternative energy sources and personally settled on a corn stove based on the following logic: 1) Corn prices have been historically stable around $2/bushel. 2) I live in Michigan, have a 7100 heating degree day season, and have cornfields in every direction I looked. 3) Since corn stoves are automated in their operation (some are even thermostatically controlled), I could rely on my corn stove for continuous operation 24/7 with only little interaction required. 4) Corn stoves are clean burning and produce almost zero objectional emissions.
Unfortunately, no sooner I bought my corn stove (October 2006), the corn price shot up to $4.00/bushel. At a monthly consumption of 30 bushels, this was a cost of $120/month without counting the cost of collecting the corn. It was still a saving, but remember that my utility bill didn't disappear, it was just reduced somewhat (to about $75/month in fact). What this means is that instead of the cost of the corn stove instalation being amortized over 2 winters (the original "business case") it would now take about 7-10 years, all depending on future increases in both the corn price and the cost of natural gas.
The narrower cost benefit may also make consumers think critically about the reality of living with a real live biomass combusting device... One has to carry a 60lb sack (or 2 large pails) of corn from wherever you have it stored to wherever the stove is every day. In dispensing the corn into the hopper of the stove, a certain amount of fines are released and one does have to clean this up on a regular basis. This alone drove my wife nuts. Neither of us had any alergy problems. Twice a day, one has to remove clinker from the stove (depends on the rate of burn). How difficult this is depends on your stove. I bought a very expensive St Croix stove ($3300) which has a very slick system that allows clinker to be removed without shutting down the stove. Even with this system, one has to pay attention and "nurse" the fire until it re-stabilizes. If one does not do it just right, the fire goes out, ets smothered with fresh corn and the stove shuts down. As you can see, it is not as convenient as running a natural gas or propane furnace.
I personally trade the inconvenience for the sake of supporting local farmers and NOT supporting the big utility companies. I am also using a renewable resource, but how important that is to you depends on your convictions. Clearly there are many people who couldn't give a hoot about anything other than convenience (which is why SUV's and Walmarts dominate our society).
There is another issue that cannot be ignored with any kind of corn / pellet stove and that is their dependance on electrical power. I had to experience a power interuption of 3 days after the ice storm in Jan 2007 and my corn stove was useless unless I ran my generator. The same applied to my natural gas furnace. For people living in areas that are subject to power disruption seasonally, the selection of a heat source that is dependant on availability of mains power may be an important consideration. IF one has a set of deep cycle batteries AND they are constantly and carefully charged at all times AND you have a sufficiently powerful inverter to run your corn stove, then one would be able to work around the mains power requirement at least for a while. Needless to say, this kind of equipment is not cheap and one is more likely to find it in the home of more radical envirnomentalists who live "off the grid". These folks are less likely to support corn as a heating resource due to environmental concerns with the way corn is grown here in the US.
That leaves the final weak link in the system, which is you. Do you want to hunt down sources of corn ? Do you want to schlep the corn back home and build a safe dry and convenient storage place for 2-3 tons of it for the heating season ? Are you going to schlep the corn to the stove twice a day and remove the clinker and nurse the fire at these times ? How do you feel about having an appliance with a blower in your living area that runs 24/7 ? Do noises in the house bother you at night ? The corn makes a tinkling sound when it is fed by the auger and it is intermittant. The blower hums all day and all night. No matter what the manufacturers promise, your house will not be heated evenly. Will your spouse put up with cold bedrooms and bathrooms, or will you have to get a super intelligent furnace thermostat that is programmed to come on early in the morning to heat thebathrooms and balance the heat in the house during peak activities prior to going to work ?
I have done all those things and it is easy to justify when corn is $1.89/bushel. I today (08/1/2007) went to the local feedmill and they quoted me $4/bushel for 2 tons of bulk shelled corn. At that price I don't think it is worth it. I may as well run the furnace at 60F and also run the wood stove during the times we are home (morning and evening). I don't have the space to store enough wood to run just a wood stove 24/7 all winter long.