The most popular alternatives for whole house or supplemental heating are corn and wood pellet fueled stoves. These appliances are easy to operate and the initial capital outlay is significantly less than solar, wind or geothermal systems.
A vital question to ask before you start evaluating the merits of pellet vs corn stoves should be: "Which fuel, corn or wood pellets, is the most readily available in my locale and therefore the cheapest to burn?"
For instance, in Massachusetts corn for fuel is virtually non-existent. The closest Agway store I contacted (3/2/06) had only eleven, 50 pound bags in stock at a price of $9 each or $360 a ton. Over the course of a New England heating season, a stove will consume 3 tons of fuel. If you compare this to $260 a ton for wood pellets from a well stocked Connecticut supplier, the wood pellet stove becomes your only choice.
Likewise, if you lived in Iowa, why would you buy a wood pellet stove?
In some regions of the country like Wisconsin and Minnesota there is an abundance of wood pellets and corn. According to the dealers I've surveyed, wood pellet stoves outsell corn stoves 2 to 1.
Wood pellet and corn stoves have much in common. They are comparably priced at around $2000 for a unit large enough to heat 1200 -1500 square feet, and share an efficiency rating of approximately 80%.
Please note: Since most house layouts do not allow the free movement of air through the house, a centrally located stove will not heat the whole house. If this is the case, size the stove to heat the room where the stove is located.
Both types of stoves require electricity to run fans, controls, and the auger that feeds corn or wood pellets into the stove's firebox. Under normal usage, they consume about 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or about $9 worth of electricity per month. Unless the stove has a back-up power supply, the loss of electric power results in no heat and possibly some smoke in the house.
In addition to weekly ash disposal, both corn fuel and wood pellet stoves need to be cleaned and inspected annually.
The storage of corn, as opposed to wood pellets, can be problematic. Owners of corn burning systems who store corn inside their homes need to use tight storage containers, clean up corn spills immediately, and avoid storing corn for long periods of time to prevent problems with rodents and stored grain insects.
A third option to consider is the multi-fuel stove. Typically they are advertised as corn stoves that also burn wood pellets or vice versa.
A stove popular with consumers that burns corn as well as wood pellets is the Dansons Group Cheap Charlie Model HCCC2GD corn burning stove.