Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.
I am trying to move toward alternative heating. I wanted to install a corn/pellet stove. Over this past winter corn prices have gone wild with little relief in sight per Wall Street. Now I'm reconsidering a free standing wood burner until someone gets the nation through this biofuels debacle of supply vs. demand. What are your thoughts?
Warnings have been heard for years that the use of kernel corn as a heating fuel would not be viable without fuel and crop subsidies. It has also been criticized on the basis that burning food is dubious on moral and environmental sustainability grounds. The steady rise in the price of oil and gas, which most knowledgeable commentators say is the result of resource depletion combined with rising global demand, is likely to mean that corn and all other crops will become more costly. Even if the high demand for corn caused by the ethanol debacle (good term) eases somewhat, there is little likelihood of the corn price falling back to the low levels of the 1990s.
The price of wood pellets has been more stable, but again, there are concerns. The expected high cost of natural gas and heating oil this coming winter has people rushing to wood heat stores to buy pellet stoves. This trend could create regional shortages of fuel if pellet mills are unable to keep up with demand. Shortages may not occur, but industry insiders have raised the issue already.
Probably the most secure fuel you can choose is regular firewood, but heating with wood can mean a serious lifestyle change. The cost of firewood where you live may not be advantageous depending on population density and the local fuelwood market. Heating with wood means trading convenience for low cost and even security if you are willing to salvage your own fuel. But the decision to heat with wood is a highly personal one that shouldn't be influenced by people outside your household.
Another way to deal with high heating costs is by investing in energy conservation around the house. That type of investment can save you money no matter what fuel you use and it can also increase the comfort of your home.
We are all struggling to deal with these higher prices, although I am sure knowing that doesn't make it any easier.
— John Gulland, contributing editor and co-host of www.woodheat.org