Monday, June 02, 2008

Firewood demand is soaring Rising oil prices are also driving up the cost of an old heating standby for Mainers

Kennbec Journal

Staff Writer

Annie Manley is seeing things she's never seen and hearing stories she's never heard before as office manager at J&M Logging in Augusta.

"People that usually order two or three cords of wood are ordering five or six now," she said. "It's amazing. Just this month -- the month of May -- we've cut about 135 cord."

Manley and others who deal in firewood say the demand is increasing significantly as the price of oil skyrockets.

People are afraid they will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter; older people who should not be lugging wood are planning to buy outdoor boilers, Manley said.

"People are really scared," she said. "I'm finding new people are getting into wood stoves -- and they don't know how to use them. The oil price is turning people to wood."

Mark Pearson, co-owner of J&M, says the company charges $220 for a cord of wood, a price he increased from $180.

"I hated to go up," he said. "I didn't want to, but you can't survive if you lose money on every cord you sell."

He said he had to increase the price due to a combination of factors, including the cost of fuel and demand for hardwood at the pulp mill.

"You feel bad, because a lot of the people we sell to, we know. The fact is, if we can't do it and make somewhat of a profit or just break even, we won't be there to serve at all. The alternative is not to do it at all."

Smaller firewood dealers also are seeing a greater demand as fuel costs increase. Thomas Tracy, owner of Arbormore Tree Service, of Rome, spends most of the year doing tree work and in the winter when things slow down, he works in firewood. Last year he cut and sold about 30 cord; this year he expects to do 50, he said.

"The demand this year is a lot more than I've seen it," Hall said Friday.

He sells the wood for $230 a cord, a price he says many people think is too high.

But he buys tree-length wood for $115 a cord and spends about four hours cutting, stacking, splitting by hand and then re-stacking it. Because he is self-employed, he has to make a certain amount of money per hour, he said.

"I have to hold on to my prices. It takes a good four hours to process a cord. People get scared when you tell them it's $230."

Bill Howard, owner of B.H.D. Enterprises on Route 27 in New Vineyard, sells green firewood for $190 a cord and adds a delivery charge if he has to go outside a 20-mile radius because of the cost of diesel fuel to truck it.

He said demand for firewood is way up, and people are buying more than usual to prepare for this winter. Many are converting from oil heat to wood heat, he said.

"I am planning on doing the same," he said. "I was buying all kerosene and I'm going to convert back to wood."

He said his price of wood changes from week to week, depending on how much he has to pay for it. He buys tree-length wood and cuts and splits it.

"As the market goes up at the mills, so does my firewood price," he said.

He makes sure people get the wood they need, he said.

"People can come around the clock. If you run out of wood at night, I'm always open. I'm selling it by the bundle, by the armful or by the truckload. People can come and get a rack. They're four-by-four racks with a tier of firewood on them. They're $30 each. For an average household, it's three days worth of heat."

He said he is getting calls from people as far away as Portland, wanting to know if he will deliver.

Like Howard, Rick Heatley of R.H. Tree Specialists in Athens, says he plans to get an outside wood boiler, which costs about $7,100, to heat his home. Because he has a tree business, he cuts his own wood.

"I think it'll pay for itself in two years," he said of the boiler.

Heatley does not sell firewood but is familiar with the market. He says a cord of wood in the Athens area goes for between $150 and $200 a cord.

In some places, people are stealing wood because they need it so desperately, he said. As the cost of fuel goes up, people are going to be hurting more, he said.

"How do people afford to buy gas to go to work on minimum wage -- and pay for food and lights and heat?" he said. "How about the poor ones who have day care on top of that? It's sad."

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

1 comment:

Rick said...

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