All I want for Christmas is corn (to burn)

Corn promoted as clean (and cheap) heating alternative

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

In an area where corn grows abundantly, it’s easy to view those fields as sources of food energy and not as a source of heating energy. Patrick Michielsen of Sylvan Kitchens sees otherwise.
“I think burning corn’s a really good alternative to burning wood and fossil fuels; it’s environmentally friendly, and corn is cost-efficient and likely will continue to be.”
Michielsen decided to integrate corn stoves into his current business, but only after installing one for himself.
“The price of oil was going up, and with my house being older and lacking good insulation in some areas, I wanted to supplement the heat. I discovered the corn stove would be an easy fix because you don’t need a chimney – you can direct vent it out the wall.
“I had experience burning wood in the past, and I found it was way too much work and too dangerous because of chimney fires, etc. If you are going to cut the wood yourself, it’s dangerous, while corn is much easier and a lot less work to handle the corn, go get it, store it, and load it into the stove.”
Sylvan Kitchens recently started carrying the St. Croix brand of stoves, which start at $2400. Michielsen heats his home with the Greenfield stove and has the lower-priced Auburn on display in his office. The Lancaster, which has a smaller hopper (35 lbs. compared to the Greenfield’s 50 lbs. and the Auburn’s 90 lbs.) is the lowest-priced and is available by request. St. Croix also makes a corn furnace that can hold 200 lbs. of corn. All of the stoves produce about 40,000 BTU, or enough to heat between 800 and 1,800 sq. ft.
“They’re quiet, clean to operate in the house, they have a lot of safety features that wood stoves won’t have,” Michielsen says. “They have a vacuum control switch where if the door opens, the stove will shut down. They have heat sensors where it will shut down if it’s too hot, and if the fire goes out, it will stop putting corn through the auger. With the direct venting, you don’t get creosote buildup, so you don’t have to worry about chimney fires. Yet, it gives you the look, the flame and the heat you would get from a woodstove.”
The stoves are easy to use, requiring only one fill per day and the ash produced needs to be emptied about once a week. The ash can be composted, too.
“As soon as the water hits it, it seems to disintegrate and disappear,” Michielsen notes.
Besides the convenience, there’s the issue of economy. Michielsen was burning oil as his main fuel source until last year. The price of oil continues to rise, but the price of corn has remained steady.
“Last winter, I saved about $1200 in oil,” he notes. “The average person will likely burn a bushel a day, so in an average winter of 100 days, the cost would be about $400.”
And if you can’t find corn, the stoves can also burn wood pellets, which are available at stores including TSC. Wood pellets are about the same price as corn.
For more information, visit Sylvan Kitchens at 565 Elginfield Road in the hamlet of Sylvan. The shop has everything needed to get the stove running, including venting and chimney products, and hearth pads to place under the stove.