For families already experiencing the pain of high home heating costs, one thing is sure to be a continual source of frustration: paying even higher costs down the road because they are locked into a single type of fuel whose price keeps rising. Or worse, not being able to buy the fuel at all due to shortages, restrictions on emissions, or other circumstances beyond their control.
As a result, many families are instead turning to multi-fuel stoves, which can provide clean, low cost, energy-efficient home heating with a variety of fuel sources including some “future fuels” now becoming available. This can provide home heating security for families not only during the cold winter months but also year-round for decades to come.
Too Cold for Too Long
The trouble comes from relying on a single home heating fuel source. Whether that source is wood, corn, wood pellets, propane, kerosene, fuel oil, or electricity, uncontrollable factors such as price volatility, shortages, or emission restrictions can put a family’s ability to stay warm at risk. It can also force a family to invest in new technology that could also face similar challenges in the future if it relies on a single fuel source. This can leave families feeling trapped. When the cost of home heating escalates, some simply turn down the thermostat and wear extra sweaters, socks, and blankets to conserve heat.
“We were tired of how much it cost to keep the house barely warm, tired of wearing extra clothes indoors and piling on blankets,” says Beth Gasser, who along with her husband Steve and three daughters live in a 3,300 sq. ft., three-floor home in Hutchinson, Minn. “We were spending about $3,500 a year to heat our home, yet the floor was always cold and we couldn’t afford to keep it as warm as we wanted.”
The challenge in home heating will not be resolved by the traditional wood stove, which is at risk of being banned or restricted as regulatory standards for air quality tighten. Citizens of Libby, Montana, for instance, found themselves unable to use wood burning stoves when their air did not meet the EPA’s national air quality standards, and were required to replace existing units with cleaner-burning EPA-certified units.
Although cleaner burning options like wood pellet stoves are now a popular alternative, even this fuel source became unavailable to many homeowners across the U.S. Northwest and Canada during a severe shortage in 2008. This occurred when the rising cost of home heating fuels led to the popularity of the wood pellet stove. Unfortunately, wood pellets, a construction byproduct made from sawdust, became increasingly unavailable due to a down economy which slowed construction, and homeowners who rushed to stockpile the pellets.
Gasser, like a growing number of consumers, was cautious about being locked into any one fuel source, instead opting for a multi-fuel burning stove from American Energy Systems (AES), an innovator in multi-fuel stoves. The Hutchinson, Minn.-based company has engineered a new generation of home heating stoves able to burn a variety of renewable fuels including corn, wheat, wood pellets, biomass, and more. Biomass fuels are usually made from organic materials such as grass and other plant-based waste. The EPA, in fact, invited AES to burn one of their biomass stoves on the White House lawn during a conference as an illustration of the fuels of the future.
The Countryside Pedestal model stove Gasser purchased was installed in the main floor family room, and provides ample heat for the entire home, plus direct radiant heat that makes the room a favorite gathering place on cold winter nights. Gasser’s family now burns wood pellets and corn, and has installed a bin with a chute in the garage which can hold up to 200 bushels of corn.
“We burn mostly corn because we can buy it in bulk from our neighbors down the street,” says Gasser. “But if there’s a storm, hail, tornado or anything that makes corn too costly or unavailable, we can switch to other fuels such as wood pellets, wheat, barley, or biomass pellets at any time. The multi-fuel stove gives us options.”
“With so many fuel options, we can keep our family warm at a most reasonable price,” explains Gasser. “We’re saving about $3,000 a year in home heating costs with our multi-fuel stove, which was more than we expected.”
According to Mike Haefner, President of AES, and developer of the first certified multi-fuel stoves in the industry, “The goal is fuel flexibility so families are never priced out of the market or affected if a certain fuel becomes unavailable. A stove engineered to burn multiple fuels cleanly and efficiently will keep a family warm no matter what happens in the future.”
When consumers first sought out multi-fuel stoves, some manufacturers re-labeled their wood burning stoves as multi-fuel under the guise that they could burn just about anything. But that is inaccurate and even dangerous, since different fuels burn at different rates with different combustion and emissions challenges. In the industry, some manufacturers accused of re-labeling their single-fuel stoves as multi-use have been sued for allegedly starting house fires.
“You can throw anything into a coffee can, light it and it’s going to burn, but is it going to burn cleanly, continually, and efficiently?” adds Haefner, who routinely sits on EPA-related committees, been on governor’s counsels for indoor air quality, and is previous chairman of the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (HPBA) Biomass Appliance Manufacturer’s Caucus.
According to Haefner, the key to burning a variety of fuels today as well as the fuels of the future is a scientific approach to stove design. In figuring out how to make corn burn optimally, for example, AES employs a team of chemists and scientists to determine how to make corn burn cleanly, continually, and efficiently.
Self-Sufficient and Saving $2,500/Year in Home Heating Cost
Dan Deboer, a Kalamazoo, Mich. homeowner, believes in self-sufficiency. Deboer, his wife Jan, and his youngest son live in their 2,500 square ft., two-floor farmhouse on a 200-acre property where he and his brother raise hay, corn, and heifer cows.
“When multi-fuel stoves became available, I bought a MagnuM by AES because I was fed up with paying about $2,500 year to heat my home with propane, which was rising in cost at the time,” says Deboer, who later bought a second unit to ward off the chill in a second family room with two floor-to-ceiling windows.
Deboer began burning corn in his stove for home heating when its price was low. When the price of corn rose, he switched to wood pellets. “But a few years back, I couldn’t buy wood pellets at any of our stores,” says Deboer. “My friends and neighbors couldn’t buy wood pellets either because there was a shortage and they were in trouble.”
Deboer was able to turn to a free, local, burnable source of biomass product, a plant-based waste from a company that extracts oil from herbs. He purchased a pellet-making machine and began making his own biomass pellets to burn in his multi-fuel stoves.
“I’m now taking a free waste product and turning it into heat and saving about $2,500 a year in fuel costs,” says Deboer. “If you want to become more self-sufficient, save money, help the environment, or reduce America’s dependence on foreign fuel, multi-fuel stoves are a great place to start.”
Multi-fuel stoves are available in automated or manual models. Automated stoves have computerized controls that will adjust the amount of air and fuel needed to keep the fire burning cleanly and continually. These stoves also have the ability to connect directly to the home thermostat. An additional feature lets users control the stove remotely by calling the unit from their phone so the house is warm when they arrive.
The manual stoves require users to light the flame by hand and control the heat by adding a desired amount of fuel. Units such as those from AES can be powered by electricity solar, wind, and even DC power for maximum energy efficiency off the grid.
For more info, call 800-495-3196; or visit www.americanenergysystems.com.
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