If you live near a reliable source of feed corn, wheat, cherry pits, sunflower seeds or other biomass fuels, a multi-fuel stove may be a better buy than a regular pellet stove. Choosing a multi-fuel stove also lets you hedge your bets so you're not hanging on the price of just one fuel source, which can vary greatly depending on season, demand and availability. You can also make or buy biomass briquettes to burn in a wood stove.
It's rare to find a multi-fuel stove that can also burn firewood -- the ultimate in versatility -- but the Sedore 3000 multi-fuel furnace (Est. $3,400) can burn wood logs as well as pellets, corn, corn cobs and other biomass fuels. You can even burn sawdust or wood chips. Owners are very enthusiastic about this furnace/stove, although it's big and built with an eye toward function, not beauty.
Pellet stoves that can also burn biomass fuels are much more common, but keep in mind that just because your stove burns pellets doesn't mean you can toss any pellet-sized fuel in the hopper. Burning fuels your stove isn't designed for may void the warranty.
The Quadra-Fire Castile (Est. $3,000) is similar to the Quadra-Fire Santa Fe mentioned in the pellet stoves section of this report, but the Castile can burn both corn and wood pellets. It provides up to 34,400 Btu per hour and is rated for heating up to 1,700 square feet. Optional wall and remote-control thermostats are available, and the hopper holds up to 40 pounds of corn or pellets.
If you need to heat a larger space, the largest and best-reviewed multi-fuel stove in this report is also a top runner-up in our pellet stove category. The Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE (Est. $4,100) comes preprogrammed to burn wheat, sunflower seeds and corn in addition to pellets, and Quadra-Fire dealers can reprogram it for optimal burning efficiency of other fuels as specs become available.
With a maximum heat production of 52,460 Btu per hour -- enough for up to 2,900 square feet -- and an 80-pound hopper, the Mt. Vernon AE can burn all day or night during a deep freeze. It does have a few reliability issues, particularly with the auto-igniter, and sometimes the "smart" features are a little too smart, like an auto-shutdown cycle that kicks in if you lower the stove's setpoint too low. Then you have to wait until the stove has shut down and gone through its auto-clean cycle before you can restart it.
With all that said, however, the Quadra-Fire's features still make it the best multi-fuel stove we've evaluated. It comes with a programmable wall control and intermittent pilot ignition. It's also compatible with zone heating, and that auto-clean cycle reduces the chance of burn-back into the top-loading hopper. If the electricity goes out, the Mt. Vernon AE can be run from a 12-volt automobile battery, and it's approved for use in mobile homes. Minimal clearances for the Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE are 8 inches front and back and 18 inches on both sides; the hearth need extend only a few inches on each side of the stove.
If the Mt. Vernon AE is overkill for you or your budget, you do have other options. The Harman PC45 (Est. $3,800) draws lots of recommendations for its interchangeable burn pots, which give optimal results with either pellets or corn, and you don't need tools to swap the pots out. Maximum heat output is 45,000 Btu, so the PC45 is appropriate for 900 to 2,400 square feet. Its hopper holds 80 pounds of corn or 72 pounds of pellets, and an exhaust sensor automatically maintains the heat levels within 1 degree of the setpoint.
A decent multi-fuel stove at a lower price, the Englander 10-CPM (Est. $2,000) is available mainly through HomeDepot.com and can burn corn, pellets and cherry pits. The 10-CPM is EPA-certified -- a voluntary measure for pellet stoves -- and mobile home approved; it's rated for heating up to 2,200 square feet. The hopper holds 50 pounds of wood pellets or 60 pounds of corn. Other features include a 250 cfm adjustable fan and a large ash drawer; a wall or remote thermostat is optional. However, the firebox is lined with brick fiberboard instead of actual firebrick.