Alternative Fuels for Wood Stoves


In a 1996 report by the University of Oregon, estimates suggest that our oil reserves have only 50 years of production remaining. The world is left scrambling for alternative fuel resources. Attention has turned to other types of plant energy to supplement the burning of wood for heat. A wide selection of different fuel-burning stoves are now available for home heat. Examine the availability and cost of the product used as fuel when selecting one for your needs.

Pellet Stoves

  • One hundred percent recycled sawdust compressed into pieces about 1 inch in length makes up wood pellets. They take up a small portion of storage space when compared to firewood and are easily managed.

    Pellet stoves look and operate much like a traditional wood stove with a glass front burn area for ambiance. They function more like an oil or gas-burning heater, except they have a large hopper and augers that store and move the pellets. Because of this system, the stove can operate on its own for up to weeks at a time, depending on its size. One downfall is that most wood pellet stoves require electricity to operate the auger but battery packs are available in the event of power outages.

    Wood pellet stoves are more common in rural areas than cities due to the space needed for storage of the 50-lb. bags and the room needed for trucks to deliver. During one winter season, the average household burns approximately the amount of pellets that can be stored in a single car garage bay.

Corn Stoves

  • Corn as a heat source is locally grown in just four months time, making it a more affordable resource than oil or natural gas. The Corn Marketing Program of Michigan reports that corn burns 20 percent hotter than wood and is cleaner with less ash and soot. Although usually installed to supplement conventional heaters, the larger corn stove can provide enough heat for a 3,500 square foot home.

    Many of these stoves are direct exhaust vent systems with no chimney required. Similar to pellet-burning stoves, most corn stoves have a storage hopper and auger. They use a small combustion chamber into which the corn is fed and combustion air is pumped through. A fan is used to move the room air through the stove to be warmed and radiated outward.

    According to a Penn State University professor's research calculations as of December 2005, the cost of heating one million British Thermal Units (BTUs) with corn was just more than one-third the cost of heating with oil.

Anthracite Coal Stoves

  • Another type of new stove burns a fossil fuel rather than using plant energy. Anthracite coal is very different from the dirty bituminous coal furnaces used previously. Low sulfur and high carbon content make it an extremely clean-burning fuel. It produces very little smoke or pollution. Its even heat flow and high level of BTUs gives anthracite the reputation of the warmest, most comfortable heat source available. A modern anthracite stove heats steady without adding coal for up to 36 hours with very little ash and no creosote buildup. Anthracite is fairly easy to handle in 40-lb. bags. If coal is abundant where you live, this is the economical way to heat your home.

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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images pellets image by Rupert Roth from corn image by Maciej Mamro from coal image by robert mobley from
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