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corn stove

A Guide to Corn Stoves

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Jun 25, 2019

There are many ways to heat your home, ranging from electric and gas-powered furnaces to propane and wood stoves, but have you considered corn?

Corn is one of America’s largest crops, grown commercially in 41 US states and produced in the most significant quantity in Iowa. It’s used for animal feed, human consumption, reusable cutlery, and, you guessed it, home heating.

What is a Corn Stove?

A corn stove is a type of home heater that produces heat with the feeding of dry corn kernels rather than wood or propane. Dried corn contains oil and ethanol for heat production and burns cleaner than other fuels available. 

The fire produced by a corn stove may appear much smaller than that of a wood stove but is plenty capable of producing more than 60,000 BTUs. For reference, one BTU is the amount of heat energy required to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.

When Was the Corn Stove Invented?

The corn stove was invented in 1969 by North Carolina native Carroll Buckner and has been used to sustainably heat homes since. While they certainly aren’t the most popular form of heat, perhaps it’s time we gave them a second look. After all, if the corn stove was good enough for President Jimmy Carter’s Oval Office, it’s good enough for anyone.

What Is the Best Corn for a Corn Stove?

A corn stove will burn any dried corn you add to the hopper, but higher quality, clean and dry corn will burn the hottest. Feed corn produced for animals is usually high grade and perfect for your corn stove.  If you buy your corn directly from the farm where it's grown, the farm will be able to tell you more about the grades of corn they offer.

How Long Does a Corn Stove Burn For?

If you currently use a wood stove, you know how tedious it can be to fill continually, poke, and turn the wood to maintain steady heat. Alternatively, a corn stove hopper can be filled with 50 pounds of corn and burn steadily for 24 hours without any tending. And no, the corn will not pop—it will merely burn down to ash.

corn stove
Photo Credit: Stardock

Stored corn should absolutely be kept in dry, covered storage to protect it from animals and pests who will certainly make a meal of it if you allow it. Most corn stoves require the moisture level of corn fuel to be 15.5% or lower, but some stoves require a maximum moisture content of 13% for the best heat. 

One of our wonderful Rise community members shared her experience switching to a corn stove. “We replaced [our] furnace with a used, corn burning one, which is the least expensive way to make abundant heat. They burn far cleaner and safer than wood stoves, and if you live in the Midwest, the heat is eminently affordable.”

A 1,900 square foot home can be heated on just 40lbs of corn/day, averaging 6,800-8,500 BTUs per pound. Of course, different corn stove models burn more efficiently than others, so shop around to find the most heating bang for your corn feeding buck.

The Benefits of a Corn Stove

John Ackerly, the President of the Alliance for Green Heat, has studied the many uses of corn and says, "I really believe using corn for heat is one of the best things corn can be used for." A corn stove is one of the most sustainable methods for heating your home on cold days. Here’s why.

1. Low Carbon Emissions

Corn is a beautiful, renewable resource grown all over the United States and takes only 3 months to produce from seed. Better yet, corn can be purchased locally and direct from farms and feed stores, significantly reducing your dependence on transported fuel.

If you’re willing to take it a step further and have the available land, you could even grow your own corn fuel! About 150 bushels can be grown per acre, which, when dried out, equates to 56 pounds of fuel for every bushel. That’s about 8,400 pounds or 5.6 months of 24/7 energy-efficient heating. Corn does take a minimum of two months to dry out enough for burning, but that time can be significantly reduced with a home dehydrator's help to strip the moisture more quickly.

corn for home heating
Photo Credit: Chelsea Hearth and Fireplaces

Corn stoves are low in heat-trapping carbon emissions and are not dependent on fossil fuels, making them an incredibly sustainable heating option.

2. Less Waste / More Efficient Heating

Corn stoves are smartly designed to automatically feed fuel and the exact amount of corn needed to keep your temperature at the same pre-set level. Unlike wood stoves, there is absolutely no waste. All the ash produced by a corn stove is compostable and an excellent source of lime to be added directly into the soil for healthier gardens, trees, and lawns.

3. Even Temperature

Corn stoves maintain an even temperature, unlike wood that burns extremely hot and then cools off before its next feed. Thermostats are now made for corn stoves, making it possible to regulate and set their temperatures, just like modern heating methods.

4. Easier to Maintain

Where wood stoves produce ash and smoke, requiring regular chimney cleaning, corn stoves burn much cleaner. All stove exhaust is funneled outside your home and is almost invisible, unlike the puffs of black smoke produced by wood. As a bonus, if you enjoy the smell of corn, you’ll love the sweet scent in the air when your corn stove is burning!

Corn stoves don’t require a chimney and will work just fine with a simple dryer vent to draw exhaust outside your home. As you know from our post about cleaning your dryer, cleaning those vents is much easier than getting up inside a chimney. And, because corn stoves draw air from outside rather than inside your home, they don’t leave that dry, stuffy air that wood stoves tend to.

If that weren’t enough, corn stoves don’t require any backbreaking wood chopping, hauling, or tending. Save yourself even more work by purchasing your corn fuel in bulk and delivering it right to your storage location.

Corn Stoves Do Pose a Few Hurdles

Of course, with every benefit, there are a few downsides to corn stoves.

1. Price Fluctuations

Most prominently is the ever-shifting price of corn. Because corn is grown, the price varies by the season's success and the demand created by a lower supply. For example, climate change has taken a toll on corn farmers this year, forcing them to wait to plant their first crop until after the harsh snowy winter and flood conditions. Therefore, the price of corn may be higher than next year, so it’s essential anyone considering a corn stove be aware of this potential for fuel price fluctuation. Of course, propane and oil fluctuate similarly.

2. Different Kind of Heat

Corn stoves also work a little differently than wood stoves, which may take some time to adjust. Because the heat is different, corn stoves don’t radiate heat that will warm you more by standing next to the stove. They also don’t get hot enough to cook on if you’re a bacon-and-eggs-on-the-stove kind of person.

3. Requires Electricity

Corn stoves do require electricity to run and will produce a low hum while running. If you tend to experience blackouts in the winter, you must get a generator or store solar power to continue running your corn stove through the cold night.

How Much Does a Corn Stove Cost?

The cost of buying a corn stove varies by model, capacity, and features. Corn stoves range from about $600 for a used stove and climb upwards of $1,500 for new.

When corn prices are low, corn stoves are, by far, the cheapest method of heating your home. Corn fuel is often the most expensive to purchase from stores where stoves are sold but can be bought in bulk at a significant discount directly from the farm. And, some farmers may negotiate a set future price for heavy corn users, helping to hedge the cost of corn price fluctuation. You can use Penn State’s chart to calculate just how much corn you’d need to run a corn stove compared to a wood pellet, propane or coal stove.

For reference, Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa, the owner of a coop in Takoma Park, Maryland spends about $150/ month to heat his three-bedroom house, maintaining a steady temperature of about 68°F.

Is a Corn Stove Right for You?

If you’re thinking about switching to a corn stove, be sure to check your local regulations regarding the installation and burning of corn before buying your new stove. You will also want to consider the layout of your home, whether the heat can reach all the areas you intend to heat, and size your stove appropriately.

Only you can make the final decision, but the benefits to the environment are quite compelling. Corn stoves may fluctuate in price due to the rise and fall of corn prices, but with little to no carbon emissions and a sustainable and local fuel source, they are certainly an excellent heating option for homeowners looking to live comfortably and minimize their carbon footprint.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-05-31T23:55:17+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.