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Corn Stoves Can Cool Off Heating Bill

Kernel-burning a hot trend in utility battle
By Andy Vuong
Denver Post Staff Writer

Tired of skyrocketing heating bills, Rich Hannan has turned to an alternative straight from the days of the Depression.

Hannan is burning corn kernels - the type bought directly from farmers or grain elevators and fed to cattle - to heat his 1,800-square-foot house in Greeley.

It is the latest and hottest trend in the battle against surging utility bills.

"It's going to save me $500 a winter on fuel," said Hannan, 61.

The savings come with a catch. Hannan plunked down roughly $2,900 on a corn-burning stove. He spends about $50 a month on corn and has to load about a thousand pounds of corn into his garage each month. In the stove, the corn doesn't pop - it melts into fuel. And Hannan cleans ashes from the stove daily.

"This isn't for everybody," Hannan said. "It requires a little bit of work."

Sales of corn-burning stoves have more than doubled this year to about 150,000, according to Mike Haefner, chairman of the biomass appliance research committee of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association in Arlington, VA.

Haefner said interest in the stoves has climbed steadily over the past several years.

"What sent it into rocket proportions was the Katrina hurricane and the sudden inflation of heating prices," he said.

Hurricane Katrina cut refinery production in the Gulf Coast, sending prices of heating fuel to record levels.

Sales of corn-burning stoves are expected to reach 350,000 units next year, said Haefner, owner of Hutchinson, Minn.-based American Energy Systems Inc, a leading manufacturer of the stoves.

A typical corn-burning stove weighs roughly 450 pounds and is about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. The price ranges from $2,000 to $3,000.

It would cost about $130 worth of corn to heat a 2,000-square-foot home in Colorado for a month during the winter with a corn-burning stove, according to figures provided by Dennis Buffington, a professor at Penn State University who has studied corn-burning stoves for seven years.

In comparison, it would cost about $125 a month using a coal stove and $247 for natural gas.

The wait time to buy a corn-burning stove could be several months after the recent sales surge. Wisdom Industries Ltd., a wholesale manufacturer in Merino - about 110 miles northeast of Denver - has been sold out since October.

The company sold 1,500 this year, up from 500 last year.

"We used to build them just seasonally," said Rod Havens, who works in production for Wisdom, which also makes amusement rides. "We're building continuously now."

Poulsen Ace Hardware in Eaton - about 70 miles north of Denver - has been sold out since mid-September after selling 250 units this year.

Its next shipment of 30 stoves is in January, and half of those have been claimed by consumers who have put down deposits.

"If we could get more, we could sell well over 500, possibly 1,000 stoves," said co-owner John Heppner. "The phone rings off the hook. The manufacturers can't produce it fast enough."

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Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-820-1209

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