Corn stoves turn crop into heat
As winter marches ever closer with each passing day, Iowans have had to turn on their heaters. Some of them are employing one of the state’s most abundant resources – corn – and turning it into fuel for their homes. Corn stoves are popping up all over the place as an alternative form of home-heating.
Loren and Linda Huber live on a farm a few miles south of Wellman, and have been burning their own corn for 15 years. Their corn stove is in the corner of the living room, and provides enough warmth to heat the first floor of their house.
“We start up the corn stove in October and let it run through March or April,” said Loren. “We keep our house warmer now than when we used LP gas (liquefied petroleum).”
The Hubers burn about a bushel of corn per day over the winter. Loren said that he may have to burn two bushels on a really cold day in January.
Loren remarked that the price of corn is competitive with other kinds of fuel. He said he likes having the option to choose between corn and LP gas.
When the Hubers acquired their stove 15 years ago, Loren said he was one of the few people in the area who had one. At the time, the price of LP gas was going up and corn was selling for about $2 per bushel. Given the economic conditions, Loren figured that a corn furnace would be a wise investment, and he doesn’t regret the decision.
“It gives off a very nice heat,” he said. “It’s better than feeling the cold air that comes out of the register when you turn it on. This is more like a wood stove. The heat really goes in you.”
Loren said his current corn stove has a programmable thermostat that tells the stove how much corn to burn at a time. He said the stove requires very little attention.
“I just dump corn in the hopper in
the back of the stove and empty the ashes every three or four days,” he said.
The Hubers’ stove can burn corn, wheat, sunflower seeds and wood pellets. He put wood pellets in his stove for the first time Friday morning. He said he normally uses corn because it has a higher BTU value, meaning it generates more energy per unit. He decided to purchase wood pellets recently because he found a good deal on them.
Jim and Linda Wenger live on a farm just north of Ainsworth, and have had two corn stoves since 2003. The Wengers have a corn stove in their home and one in a shop. Jim said the corn stove in the shop is the exclusive source of heat for the building, but that he uses both a corn stove and LP gas to warm their house.
Jim said he mixes wood pellets in with his corn to get the fire started.
“I throw a handful of wood pellets in the burn pot, put lighter fluid on it and start it with a match,” he said. “As long as I get the door closed really fast, Linda doesn’t complain about the smell.”
Jim said he watches the fire to see if he needs to turn up the dial – to make the corn burn faster to provide more heat – and whether he should let in more air.
“If you’re burning more, you need more air to go with it,” he said. “The fire needs the proper ratio of corn and air. You learn what the ratio is by looking at it. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. You get a feel for it.”
Marshall and Jennifer Crossett have just moved into a new home in rural Washington that will soon feature a corn stove. They will take the corn stove from their former house and put it in the garage of their new house.
For more, see our Nov. 5 print edition.