Renewable heat sources—wood, pellet, corn

In lieu of the pending natural gas crisis, “Will I be warm this winter?” emerges as a timely and worrisome query. Our geographic region, for several decades relatively unaffected by fossil fuel storages and unnaturally high natural gas prices, will not escape unscathed this winter. Our borrowed time is up. But we can have comfort of mind and be warm and cozy in our homes this winter, if we are open to meeting this crisis headon by upgrading our home heating systems with renewable heat sources. Readily accessible, all-American renewable heat sources offer the advantage of energy efficiency at an affordable price. Renewable heat systems costs vary based on the appliance features required for the desired type of fuel, the BTU output size, the appliance type (fireplace, inserts, freestanding stoves), and style, plain or elegant. Efficiency, performance, reliability, safety, and style are all major considerations when considering renewable heating fuels. Housekeeping, how clean the fuel burns, how often the appliance needs cleaning to maintain high efficiency, and how easily the appliance can be cleaned, are other considerations. When choosing which renewable fuel is right for your home heating needs, consider the cost and the availability of the fuel, desired efficiency and heat output, and the expected appearance of the fire. Wood is dependable; if the power goes out, there is still heat. Wood is a relatively low-cost heat and is generally readily available. Heat efficiencies range in the 70 percent area for catalytic and non-catalytic stoves. Today’s wood-burning appliances boast state-of-the-art combustion systems that our “Old Faithful” wood-burning appliances never had. Diehard believers in burning wood should consider updating to a more energy-efficient wood-burning unit as a viable option for increased heating performance. For those of us who have graduated from the “been there, done that, and not going to do it anymore” wood thing, but still yearn for the ambiance and warmth of a wood fire, there are stoves and inserts that conveniently burn wood pellets without the wood mess. Wood pellets are a renewable, non-fossil fuel made from 100 percent compressed sawdust. Developed in the 1970s as a way to use waste wood from manufacturing processes, pellets are purchased in clean, 40-pound bags by the pallet or bag. One heating season’s wood pellet supply can be stored in a 6-foot by 6-foot area. Premium grade hardwood pellets have 99 percent combustion efficiency; a 40-pound bag produces less than a cup of ash. Pellet stoves and inserts are clean, easy to maintain, and have numerous safety features. Pellets, cost-stable for the past 10 years, provide low-cost heat and have the lowest level of wood-burning emissions. Pellet stoves average in the 80 percent efficiency range and produce between 40,000 to 42,500 BTUs. Well-designed pellet stoves offer installation flexibility, touch pad ignitions, and touch pad or thermostat controlled ease-of-use. Unlike wood, pellet and corn stoves require electricity. Quality pellet and corn stoves are UL tested and approved. Pellet stoves can be ignited with the touch of a button. Corn stoves are ignited manually. Pellet and corn stoves perform at similar efficiencies and produce beautiful flames. Wood pellets burn cleaner than corn. Corn burns 1,000 BTUs per pound hotter than pellets. To maintain appliance efficiency, corn must be agitated or stirred while being burned. This requires an additional motor, which pellet stoves do not need. Pellet stoves are designed to burn only wood pellets. Corn stoves can burn wood pellets or shelled corn. For maximum efficiency, the corn’s moisture content should average between 12 to 14 percent. Wetter corn can be burned, but performance will be adversely affected. Chemically-treated seed corn cannot be burned safely in a corn stove. A silver bullet solution to the natural gas crisis does not exist. The advantages of renewable heat sources are numerous and, more importantly, easily within our reach. Will you be warm this winter? Connie Mongan is co-owner of Mongan Enterprises in Mount Morris. Contact Mongan Enterprises at (815) 734-1645 or 211 N. McKendrie, Mount Morris.

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