As the Wood Burns: The Top 3 BioMass Heating Sources Revealed
CNN predicted a 22% increase in the cost of heating oil this year. Boston was named by Forbes.com as this year’s “Most Expensive Place to Heat a Home.” Everywhere you look, there’s just more bad news on how expensive it will be to heat your home, and frustrated homeowners are turning to alternative heating fuels to help ease the burden of their heating bills. As we look to reduce our independence on fossil fuels and save money at the same time, biomass fuel is appearing more commonly in commercial markets everywhere. Here are the top three uses, and how they have worked for our family:
Wood – We switched over to all-wood heat this year. Nothing compares to the dry, hot heat that wood produces! Using the same metal wood stove that my dad built when I was just a tot, we have been cutting lumber from our grove and filling the fires every 4-5 hours for optimal warmth. The only cost to us is the gas for our chainsaw and the electricity to run a furnace fan throughout our old farm house. Updates have been made to the chimney lining to ensure safety, but otherwise it has been a very low-cost heating solution! (For directions on how to make your own wood-burning stove for under $35, read this article from Mother Earth News, circa 1978.)
Wood Pellets – These tiny pellets are made from leftover wood residue and saw dust from manufacturing sites. They burn hotter and cleaner than traditional wood logs, due to their compressed size. They can be burned in a traditional wood stove, fireplace, or a specially-made pellet stove. We burned wood pellets for the previous three years in our pellet/corn stove, and had great results. They can be purchased from a local fireplace supply or farm and feed store in bulk for lower prices than if purchased one bag at a time. (For updates on the availability of wood pellets nationally, check here.)
Corn – This was a great heating alternative in year’s past, due to the location of where we lived and the fact that our family farms. This year, however, the price of corn has risen considerably, making it a poor choice for saving money. Assuming that the price of corn may drop again in the future, a corn stove still may be a good way to heat a home. Corn heat compares well with other fuels; One Bushel of corn has as many BTU's as 5 therms of natural gas, 5 gallons of LP, 3.2 gallons of fuel oil, or 131 kilowatt hours of electricity. Many corn stoves also burn wood pellets, so they can be used with the cheapest fuel for the year. For the best information on burning corn, see I Burn Corn’s website. (Note: We use a stove very similar to this American Harvest model, which burns soybeans, cherry and olive pits, processed silage, and biomass fuel grains.)
As technology advances, other forms of biomass fuels will become readily available in the U.S. market. Garbage, animal waste, grasses and leaves may all someday be available in an easy-to-burn form for all kinds of residential heating systems. Accepting biomass into our daily lives may take a little more work and preparation, but the rewards are great -- both in savings and freedom!
(Note: For a comparison of the cost of biomass fuels with other traditional fuels, see this chart.)