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Alternative Home Heating – A Comparison of Wood, Pellet, and Corn Burning Stoves

Updated on December 24, 2011

With steadily rising fuel costs many people are turning to alternative home heating methods. Heating by propane, electricity, or fuel oil is not cheap, as anyone who uses those methods knows. Now may be the time to take a serious look at different heating methods. In this article I will review the basics of wood, pellet, and corn burning stoves and some of the pros and cons of each.

First, let's answer some very basic questions. Most of us know what a wood burning stove is. Most people have probably also heard of pellet and corn stoves. But if you haven't checked into them, you may not know exactly what they are.

Wood Pellets for a Pellet Stove
Wood Pellets for a Pellet Stove | Source
Kernel Corn for Corn Stove
Kernel Corn for Corn Stove | Source

So, what is a pellet? A pellet is a 6-8mm pill or cylinder shaped piece of wood that is used as fuel in a pellet stove. They are typically made from sawdust, scraps, and other waste wood from the lumber and logging industries, wood product manufacturers, and other industries that generate wood waste. Pellet manufacturers will make pellets in different grades, depending on their intended use, such as home, commercial, etc. The higher grades produce less ash.

OK, what about corn? Corn is usually burnt as dried whole kernel shelled corn. A corn burning stove refers to these kernels, not the burning of stalks or corn cobs.

One more thing we should also understand is BTU (British Thermal Unit), which is the unit of measure most commonly used for heating. The BTU rating you will need can vary depending on your location, but a simple calculation is to use 25-30 BTU per square foot of area you want to heat. Use the lower end for warmer climates and the higher end for colder climates.

Please note that I will be referring to US Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency ratings. These ratings are minimum efficiency standards and actual efficiency may be as much as 20 points higher.

Let's look at the different stove types now.

Wood stove

Wood stoves burn cut and split logs, or “cord wood”. This is the same thing you would burn in a wood fireplace, just in smaller sizes depending on what your stove will take. Cord wood is readily available in most places. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has listed a cord of wood as costing $200 on average, but that obviously varies depending on where you live. Many people live where they can cut and split their own wood, which significantly reduces the cost. The heat value for a cord of wood also varies significantly depending on the species of wood. Some burn hotter than others.

One important plus is that most wood stoves does not require electricity. This is an important consideration if you are looking for something that will provide heat even if the power goes out.

Wood stoves are not as efficient as other methods of heating, having a US Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency rating of 55. You will also need a large, reasonably dry area to store a sufficient supply of wood for the winter. Wood stoves generate a lot of ash which must be cleaned out and disposed of, and the chimney should be cleaned each year to remove soot which creates a fire hazard. Wood stoves do require a chimney, and a chimney fire is no laughing matter.

Pellet Stove

Pellet stoves burn the wood pellets described above. They have become widely available and usually come in either 20 or 40 pound bags. They are also available in much larger quantities as well, such as by the ton, if you should want to stock up all at once for the winter. As with cord wood you will need a place to store it. The EIA lists the average cost for a ton of wood pellets as $250. As with cord wood the price may vary greatly depending on where you live. Pellet stoves are very efficient and have a DOE efficiency rating of 68. Pellet stoves can usually be vented directly out a wall, making them useable even if your home does not have a chimney. Pellet stoves produce less ash than a wood stove, but they do need cleaning.

A pellet stove requires electricity to operate the auger and fan. The auger feeds the pellets into a combustion chamber, while the fans pull air into the chamber and blow out heated air. These parts also need maintenance. If the power goes out, so does your pellet stove. Some stoves are available with a battery backup, so if a power outage is a concern consider a stove with that option.

Corn Stove

Corn for use in a corn stove is also widely available. Often it is grown locally and available at local feed stores or through local farmers. It is typically purchased in bags and should be available by the ton, which again has to be stored in a dry place. Corn is one of the best fuels for heating, with a DOE efficiency rating of 68 and an EIA average cost of $200 per ton. Note that corn availability and price can be affected by annual crop output. Corn stoves also produce ash or a block of “clinker”and need to be cleaned out. Corn stoves can usually be vented through a wall and do not normally require a chimney.

The corn needs to be dry and corn with a higher moisture content will produce less heat. As with other stoves a corn stove must be cleaned and the moving parts maintained. Most corn stoves are electric, having an auger and fans like a pellet stove, but non-electric corn stoves are available. There are also stoves available that will burn both wood pellets or corn, usually called multi-fuel stoves.

Points to consider

I've given you the basics for each fuel and stove type. Here are some things to consider if you are looking at buying a wood, pellet, or corn stove.

  • What are your BTU requirements?

  • Is a power outage a major concern in your area? If so, choose your model of stove accordingly.

  • Is there a local supply for the source of fuel that you plan to use? Is it readily available or is it a “short supply” item?

  • Have you considered a multi-fuel stove, if you are looking at pellet or corn stoves?

Wood, pellet, and corn stoves are widely available, both online and at stores. They may be cost saving alternative home heating methods that are worth your consideration.

Portable heaters

Just looking for something to take the chill off at home or work? Check out my article on Portable Electric Heaters for Home or Office. The article has a complete guide to portable heaters with some recommended models!


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    • profile image

      Shirley 4 years ago from America

      I prefer a wood pellet stove

    • docbruin profile image

      docbruin 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks for commenting on my hub Eddie. I am glad you found it helpful! I think alternative heat is the way to go. Other methods are just getting too expensive.

    • profile image

      Eddie-Perkins 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge of this subject Doc Bruin. I find this fascinating and have given consideration to an alternative method of heat so this information is very useful. Vote up and useful. ~ eddie

    • docbruin profile image

      docbruin 6 years ago from USA

      I believe all things are from God and they must be used effectively and responsibly. I would not want to see anyone starve due to overuse of corn for heating or fuel, nor would I want to see anyone freeze because they cannot use corn for heat and cannot afford or use oil or coal. Thank you for your comment Vladimir!

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 6 years ago from HubPages, FB

      I have to congrats for info. Only problem I have is that when we will use corn, we will be hungry. God gave us coal and oil on purpose, we would have plenty to eat. What do you think?

    • docbruin profile image

      docbruin 6 years ago from USA

      Hi Kieran Gracie! Thanks for reading and commenting on my hub. I too used to think that wood was the most efficient home heating method, until some friends started talking about pellet and corn stoves and how much better they were. Each has its pros and cons, but at least there are some additional options out there. You are correct, some states require various clear distances around stoves. This does take up more space, but as you mentioned there are ways to use it to your advantage. Thanks again!

    • profile image

      Kieran Gracie 6 years ago

      Great Hub, Doc Bruin. Clearly you have done a lot of research to produce this article, and it shows. I always thought that a wood stove was the most efficient source of heat for a house, so I was surprised at your efficiency figures for the corn and pellet stoves.

      I think that building regulations in at least some states require a minimum distance between stove and back wall (12 inches?), and many people fit heat reflecting material on that back wall to improve efficiency still further.

    • docbruin profile image

      docbruin 6 years ago from USA

      Hi Amber! Thank you for reading and commenting on my hub. As you've noticed I have just started writing but I am enjoying it. I hope to keep writing on various things that interest me and that might interest others. As for using corn to heat with, believe it or not, some stoves will also burn olive or cherry pits, pecan shells, and various other types of fuel. With regular heating fuel prices going up so fast this may be the way of the future. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks again!

    • Amber Allen profile image

      Amber Allen 6 years ago


      Welcome to Hubpages. You've certainly been very busy. I had no idea that you could use corn as a fuel and am surprised by how efficient it is. This is a very informative hub.