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Home, Garden, and Car Care Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 2, 2008
With falling temperatures and rising oil costs, stoves that burn corn, gas, or wood are hot
By Jo E. Prout
Wood-, gas- and corn-burning stoves are all the rage this fall as consumers prepare to face record-high oil prices.
This year’s frenzied build-up to the autumn hearth installation season began on the Fourth of July, a time when homeowners traditionally begin to investigate home-heating possibilities, according to Wayne Stritsman, owner of Best Fire Hearth & Patio, with stores in both Troy and Colonie.
“The demand is far higher than normal,” he said. “Some items are sold out for 2009. Others are going quickly.”
“They want to save on import energy costs,” Stritsman said. Most of the conventional fuels, like oil, that Americans use are imported, he said. “We’re paying extremely high prices.”
Local fuels, however, are more affordable, according to Stritsman and Reed Settle, owner of Turnpike Power Equipment in Altamont.
“If you’re buying corn, to burn corn, you might pay $260 per ton,” Settle said. For the entire heating season, he said, “You could heat your whole home for approximately four tons. That’s about [the cost of] one oil delivery. You can’t heat your house with one oil delivery.”
Wood and wood pellets are grown in the Northeast where they are “locally processed and locally available…and about half the cost of oil…and environmentally friendly,” Stristman said.
Settle sells only corn-burning stoves as part of his lawn and garden business.
“The corn stove is not a ‘set it and forget it.’ ” he said. “You have to load the stove, light the stove, and clean the stove. Wood’s messy. It’s also dangerous. Corn and pellet stoves are much safer to operate.”
Settle said that corn and pellet stoves are easier to maintain, and eliminate wood-related worries like bringing in bugs with the wood.
“It gives off really nice heat,” he said of the corn-burning stove. “Farmers in this area grow corn every year. We should be able to grow corn forever. You’re helping the local economy.”
He said that midwest corn woes did not hurt the fuel corn supply, despite media reports otherwise.
“There is absolutely no shortage of corn at all, anywhere,” Settle said. “We’re not buying mid-western corn, we’re buying from Schoharie and Albany counties. There’s huge, beautiful-looking corn.”
Stritsman said that the cost of firewood per BTU (British thermal units used to describe the heat value or energy content of fuels) is lower than that for wood pellets. Firewood can be harvested by homeowners, themselves, he said. Wood pellets are processed wood about one-inch long and pencil thin, he said.
“The pellet has a more automatic, clean-feeding system,” Stritsman said. On the other end of the spectrum is home-heating oil, which can be delivered and used without fuss.
“It’s all a matter of what you can afford to pay,” Stritsman said. Bestfire sells wood, coal, gas, and pellet stoves. It also sells fireplace inserts and central heating systems.
Wood and wood pellets burn with 75- to 85-percent efficiency, Stritsman said. Oil dealers will say furnaces get up to 87-percent efficiency, but “by the time you get heat upstairs, you get 50 percent,” he said. He suggested that those with oil-burning furnaces older than seven years replace them, even if they continue to choose oil as their main fuel.
“Solid fuel isn’t for everybody,” he said.
“Any homeowner can install a corn stove on their own in two hours,” Settle said. He said that corn stoves can vent directly through an exterior wall.
“If he’s got any carpentry skills at all, it can be in two hours,” he said of a typical homeowner.
For wood, pellet, or gas stoves, Stritsman said, he suggests using a reputable, experienced dealer to help design and install heating appliances.
“You either have to be very good, or very diligent as a homeowner, or everyone in the house dies,” Stritsman said. “When we make mistakes, people die at two in the morning. Whoever does this installation needs to do it properly.
“Safety is not negotiable in any of the heating systems areas. You’re bringing live fire into the home. They have to be done properly with the right people,” he said. “If it’s done right, the customer is happy, and they send me more customers.”
Besides safety, efficiency is also an issue with installation. Half of all heating systems in United States homes do not perform to their rated efficiency as a result of improper installation, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Settle said that many pellet stoves are already sold out.
“The market is very tight,” he said. “If the dealer doesn’t have it on his floor, don’t buy it.”
He said that costs for a corn-burning stove range from $1,995 to $2,700. Equipment to vent the stoves can cost about $200, and, if homeowners pay to have the stove installed, labor can cost about $200, also, he said.
Coal and pellet stoves range from $1,000 to $3,000, Stritsman said. Fireplace wood inserts range from $1,500 to $3,500, he said.
“The people really enjoy our projects,” Stritsman said. “They would rather be dependent on conventional fuels, and more independent of fluctuating fuel costs. They’re not a puppet on a string. What are you going to do? It’s hard, isn’t it?”