My Story: Corn Stove Complaint

contributed by Diane

I didn't find anything about corn stoves on The Dollar Stretcher, so here's my experience. It is not a positive one. We wanted to save money on electricity and firewood (which we buy). Things don't always work out as planned.

We bought a corn stove to replace our 1975 Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove. What a mistake! We thought it would be a better idea. There would be no need to search for a source of fuel (or split our own from deadfall), less mess, less maintenance, even, steady heat, reduced heating bills, and easier refueling (no walking to the wood pile and carrying wood by the armload). Or so we thought. We were wrong on all counts (except for splitting the wood and the trips to and from the woodpile). I am not saying that you shouldn't buy a corn stove, but for those thinking about buying one, it's always good to hear the bad and the good. So here are the issues we faced:

  1. The stove is noisy. There are multiple fans. One is for the air intake, one is to blow the hot air out into the room, and possibly one is to assist with the venting. The fans are inside a metal stove, so there's a kind of amplification effect. There are motors to turn the augur (which feeds the corn) and the agitator (which breaks up the corn to reduce cinders). The agitator lifts up the fire pan and drops it, which clanks. This goes on all day and all night. And there is squeaking because of the oyster shells (yeah, we'll get to that).
  2. It is dirty. It's a lot dirtier than a wood stove. With a wood stove, when the ash gets thick, you shovel out the ashes and you're done (barring chimney cleaning). With this corn stove, after waiting up to an hour for it to cool down, you stick your hands wrist-deep in ash to dump the ash into the ash box below. Then you have to vacuum any remaining ash out of the area. You also have to vacuum the ash from the no-access chamber behind the fire box, vacuum the cinders (rocks made of ash) from the fire box (or take them out with your fingers or chopsticks if your hose won't fit), vacuum the door and the sides, and bang the back of the chamber to drop more ash and vacuum that out.
  3. There's a lot of other work. Twice a week, you have to remove the agitator (involves strength and Allen wrenches), remove and clean the burn pot, clean the flue from the bottom (another messy job, which I have to do every couple of days because the ash builds up there as well), and clean and inspect air holes (which you have to find because they don't seem to be listed in the manual). There's monthly work involving using a chisel to break any creosote build up, and removing the augur tube to clean it (the augur feeds the corn). Annually, you still need a chimney cleaning, but if you go through the wall, you can do this yourself and it's cheap. You also have to inspect the exhaust venting system, but it doesn't tell you what that means or how to do it. I think it means taking apart the entire 20 feet of vent (for me). Most people have five feet.
  4. The venting is expensive. We couldn't go through the wall of our house, so we had to go straight up. One has to use stainless steel venting for corn stoves, and we have high ceilings. The pipe averages $15 a foot, plus things like a clean-out T-shaped pipe (mandatory), cap, and other doo-dads.
  5. The stove is a blown hot air system, which does not retain any heat. This means it doesn't get hot and stay warm like a wood stove. It is constantly blowing hot air onto the floor (the blower has a shield that is angled down). It really dehydrates the room (went from 47% humidity to 34%, and our room is 13x26x10 with two archways). This is going to damage our 140-year-old hardwood floors, and one can't re-direct the flow. If you have any conditions aggravated by dryness, this type of stove isn't for you.
  6. It creates a lot of cold drafts. Since it doesn't radiate heat, the air around the stove is always cold. Since it only blows hot air to the floor in front of it, the cold air sucks the heat back, so there's a convection effect. The temperature in the room goes up, but because of the draft, one is always chilly. And you only feel warm if you lie on the floor under the blower, which is good for the dogs maybe.
  7. We bought it to heat up the next room over, which it doesn't do. With the wood stove, we put a fan in front of the hot stove and blew the air across the room, through the archway and into the other room. We could raise the temperature two degrees in half an hour and 15 degrees in two hours. It was very comfortable. We figured since the corn stove has a blower, it would blow the warm air without using an extra fan. Wrong! It doesn't do anything to heat up the other room.
  8. Fuel is a pain. I go through 80 pounds of corn a day, on low. If I buy corn from the dealer, it's something like $240 a ton for bagged corn (40-pound bags). It's fairly clean, but you still have to pick out some stalks. I can buy direct from a grain elevator for about $160 a ton, but I have to clean it. However, that is dirty corn. It takes more work to bend over all that corn and pick out the foreign objects, which will mess up your stove, than to just buy wood split and delivered. Plus you have to store that corn that you're buying by the ton. A ton is a pallet and is about four feet high.
  9. It may be more expensive than our all-electric heating system to run. The heating system kicks on only when the thermostat says it's cold. The stove has two or three constantly-running fans, two constantly-running motors, and the computer console. By the way, you have to buy a surge protector for the stove and maybe a battery backup. However, you don't have to do that with a wood stove.
  10. It's hard work to get the augur out (I can't do it) or the agitator (I can't do that either). I'm a 45-year-old woman with apparently too little brute strength.
  11. Don't forget storage and accoutrements. In addition to finding a clean, dry, inside location for storing the ton of corn, you have to have a place to store the corn near your stove. You also need a place to store the wood pellets (used for startup and to mix with the corn if the moisture content is too high) and the crushed oyster shell (used to help the corn to burn and makes a high-pitched squeak as it runs through the augur)
  12. Mice just love corn, whether it's stored in the garage or your house. And those kernels that drop as you're feeding the stove? Easy buffet for rodents.

Plenty of people love their stoves. For me, the amount of work involved has quadrupled compared to a wood stove. We had once-a-year chimney cleaning, once-or-twice-a-year wood delivery, and a trip to the woodpile once a day. I spend more time picking out stalks from the corn in a five-gallon bucket than I ever did walking hip-deep through the snow to the woodpile. This is an extra warm year. We've only had one snowfall and I don't think it's gotten below 25 degrees yet this year. What's going to happen if it gets cold? We'll be using the regular heat even more, since we don't have the wood stove to heat up the house. I hate the thing and regret buying it, but not everyone feels as I do. I wish I had been able to find negative feedback before we bought our stove, so we could have made a more balanced decision.

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