Monday, November 26, 2007

Hoping to buy wood? Get in line

Seasoned firewood is pricey or already sold. Many hoping to avoid
oil bills are out of luck.

By NOEL K. GALLAGHER, Staff Writer
November 25, 2007

People looking to lower their home heating bills by burning
more firewood are out of luck if they haven't already ordered.

Most firewood stocks were committed to regular customers by
the end of October, several dealers say, and what's left on the
market is either green wood not suitable for immediate burning
or hard-to-find -- and pricey -- seasoned or dry wood.

"I'm certainly seeing more people," said John Sylvester of Alfred,
who sells about 300 cords of green and seasoned firewood a
year. "They're getting frightened because (heating costs) have
taken such a dramatic increase."

Today, many dealers in southern Maine have phone messages
on their machines saying they are out of stock, or down to
selling just green wood. Prices have stayed steady at between
$150 and $180 for green wood in the last year, but seasoned
wood has jumped from about $220 a cord to as high as $275.

Consumers are rethinking their home heating strategies after
getting sticker shock from filling an oil tank with $3-per-gallon
oil. The price was about $1.80 per gallon last year.

"I had someone the other day who ordered a half cord and they
changed their order to two cords," said Sylvester, an Alfred
selectman who runs a firewood business with his daughter. "He
said he'd just got a bill for filling his oil tank for $700, and it
used to be $200 or $300."

The firewood market in Maine is made up of mostly small-time
operations. Cutting, spitting and drying wood is a long process,
so the marketplace is not responsive to sudden demand shifts.
That inability to ramp up supply quickly is bad news for people
who were hoping to burn less oil and more firewood.

"Obviously, with $3 oil, people who had only thought about
burning wood are doing more than thinking about it," said Peter
Lammert of Thomaston, a forester with the Maine Forest Service
who goes through about 8 cords of wood a year heating his
home with firewood.

Carol Thompson of Alfred said she's taken to shutting off whole
sections of her 225-year-old colonial farmhouse in Alfred and
only heating a few rooms to keep ahead of her heating bills. She
keeps the thermostat at a setting that won't let the pipes freeze
and uses her wood stove to heat the living room, where she
sleeps on cold nights.

"A lot of people I know are living in one room in their house,"
said Thompson, adding that she's one of the people who got
caught short on firewood this winter.

"I just took stock of my wood the other day, and I'm not going to
make it," she said. "(Wood) is really expensive, but it's a lot less
than heating oil."

At this late date, the problem is less with cost and more with

"Most everyone is out of dry wood," said Bob Drew of
Kennebunk, a third-generation firewood seller. His stock of
roughly 80 cords usually lasts through spring, but on
Wednesday, Drew said he expects to run out before the end of
the year. Demand is so high, he's been supplying another dealer
in the area.

"He's bought four cords in the last four days," Drew said of the
Wells dealer. "He's pretty much out of wood."

Lammert said some people always wait to order their firewood.

"I call it the 'first-frost syndrome.' Some people have to scrape
the first frost off their windshield before they get their
firewood," said Lammert, who gets his firewood before the first
thaw of spring, and has it cut, split, stacked and drying on his
property by May 1.

Dry wood or seasoned wood is difficult to find, and pricey if you
can find it.

"People that are buying their wood now are facing the likelihood
of just buying green wood," Lammert said. "Seasoned wood is
not going to be in supply."

Some firewood dealers hold out, knowing there will be increased
demand late in the season, said supplier Jeff Carver of Buxton,
who consistently sells all his wood by the end of October.

"That's why the prices are starting to climb up," said Carver.
"People hold onto it until November and December, when they
can name their price. They'll get up to $250 a cord. I, myself,
just want to get rid of it."

Demand is so high, it has even put an unexpected crimp in some
fire-burning stove sales efforts.

"We're getting a little bit of backlash," said Greg Palmer, a
salesman at Finest Hearth and Home in Yarmouth. More people
are coming in to look at wood and pellet stoves, but the store's
having a hard time hooking the customers up with suppliers, he

"We love that people want to buy more stoves, but they're angry
when they can't use it," he said. "They come in, they buy a stove
and they have to heat the pig. It's a two- to five-thousand-dollar
investment, and it's tough if they can't find (heating) product."

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 282-8226 or

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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