If you live near a reliable source of feed corn, wheat, cherry pits 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 stuck with one fuel if its price shoots up. You can also buy or make biomass briquettes to burn in a wood stove; see the ConsumerSearch Useful Links section for more information.
It's rare to find a multi-fuel stove that can also burn firewood -- the ultimate in versatility -- but such a stove does exist. The Sedore 3000 multi-fuel stove (*est. $2,200) can burn wood logs as well as pellets, corn, corn cobs and other biomass fuels. You can even burn sawdust or wood chips. Owners recommend this stove with enthusiasm, though it's big and built more for function than for beauty. The main drawback is that the Sedore stove requires a regular woodstove chimney.
The Quadra-Fire Castile (*Est. $2,700) is similar to the Quadra-Fire Santa Fe pellet stove, but it can burn corn as well as wood pellets. The Castile provides up to 30,000 BTU per hour -- rated for up to 1,500 square feet -- and is fully automatic. Optional wall and remote- control thermostats are available too. The hopper holds one 40-pound bag of corn or pellets, and the Castile carries a lifetime warranty.
All the larger Quadra-Fire stoves are multi-fuel stoves. The largest, the Quadra-Fire Mt. Vernon AE (*Est. $3,700), automatically adjusts to burn a wide range of biomass fuels from its 81-pound hopper, including sunflower seeds, wheat, corn and various grades of pellets. (Some pellet stoves work well only on top-grade pellets with minimal ash.) The Mt. Vernon pellet stove comes equipped with a programmable wall thermostat. Maximum output is 60,200 BTU, and the stove is rated for up to 3,800 square feet.
The Harman PC45 Corn Stove (*Est. $3,000) is designed to burn feed corn but can be converted to burn pellets with an optional grate. Maximum output is 45,000 BTU, so it's rated for spaces only up to about 1,400 square feet. The warranty is for six years, and this is one of the most-recommended brands.
For heating larger areas, the NorthStar Corn-Burning stove (*Est. $1,600) produces up to 55,000 BTU. This stove gets mixed ratings from owners at Northern Tool, with some complaints not only about quality-control issues but about the design. Several users report that their tumbler mechanism needs to be repaired every two years (the warranty is for three years). Owners say that for the stove to work well, the corn must be very clean and dry.
Another budget multi-fuel stove worth considering, available mainly through Home Depot, is the Englander 10-CPM (*Est. $2,500) that can burn a lot of different biomass fuels in addition to corn and pellets. It's rated for an area up to 2,200 feet, and the hopper holds 50 pounds of pellets or 60 pounds of corn. It comes with an ash pan, auto-igniter and outside air kit, and carries a five-year warranty (but only one year on quite a few of the parts). It's EPA-certified (a voluntary measure for pellet stoves) and approved for mobile homes.