The warmth and radiance of the fireplace, once the center of every home, is being rediscovered as a practical and economical heat source. Rising gas prices have many people reconsidering the virtues of wood heating—as well as new pellet and corn alternatives. As demand heats up, the resultinginterest in alternative heating rivals that of the wood stove boom during the1970s oil embargo.
Traditional heating products have found new inspiration from technological advances in recent decades. Modern stoves are over 70 percent efficient, meaning more than 70 percent of the fuel’s potential heat is radiated into yourhome. A required EPA test limits emissions to 3 to 5 grams per hour—farfrom the 60 to 80 gram norm of the “black boxes” popularized bythe 1970s oil embargo. A combination of high efficiency, safe burning, andlow maintenance makes these stoves deserving of a place in your house.
Thinking of using an existing brick fireplace to lower your gas bill this year? Think again. Testing demonstrates traditional fireplaces are minus 15percent efficient; the warm air in your house that fuels the fire continuesright up and out the chimney! Figures are similar for most prefabricated metalfireplaces. Fortunately, installing an insert directly into your existing fireplace offers all the advantages of a freestanding model, while saving space and reducingcosts by using your existing chimney.
Whether you need whole-house heating or simple foyer decoration, manufacturers offer a wide range of sizes, styles, and installation flexibility. The availability of wood, corn, and pellets (from wood chips) makes these renewable fuel products well-suited to the Midwest. All serve to add value to your home.
Wood fuel produces a quality radiant heat. Wood is locally available and,if you’re so inclined, it’s possible to cut your own. With thepossibility to stay warm and cook food even if the power or gas supply is interrupted,a wood stove also gives you great independence. The drawbacks of wood, however,remain the effort required for its transportation and storage and the associated mess.
Pellet and corn-burning stoves are recent entries in the alternative fuellandscape and provide the benefits of radiant heat and a fireview without theeffort of wood. Automatic thermostatic controls allow you to pour a 50-poundbag of fuel into the hopper and let the stove run unattended for one or twodays. Installation is also easy, as pellet and corn stoves vent outside directly through an exterior wall. And in Iowa, corn is our least expensive and mostreadily available fuel.
Are there any drawbacks to these units? Possibly, depending on your needs. Because corn and pellet stoves use electronics and motors to operate, lossof electricity causes these units to immediately stop producing heat. Fueltransportation and storage is again an issue, as pellets must be shipped intoIowa, while corn requires rodent-proof storage.
Today’s stoves are also aesthetically pleasing. Striking designs andcolorful enamel paints offer appealing alternatives to classic black metal, and the ambient heat of a stove remains as comforting today as in past generations. With safe and economical renewable-heating options available, why burn a holein your pocket this heating season?
Glen Fredrickson, owner of Mr. Sweeps Chimney & Stove, is celebrating 20 years serving Southeast Iowa.