Rising utility bills send many scrambling for firewood
FREMONT, Calif. – With heating bills expected to jump off the thermostat this winter, many are cleaning their chimneys and preparing to heat their homes the old-fashioned way.
But it may not be the answer they’re seeking.
”I’ve had people call from Palm Springs, where wood is $400 a cord, saying they’ll take anything we’ve got,” said Jacom Halliday, president of Ornamental Tree Service in Fremont. ”I think there’s going to be a lot of people crying for wood here in the next month.”
Halliday said his supply is running short, and several other area businesses are already out of wood. He attributes the response to an expected 30 percent to 40 percent increase in heating bills this year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Nationwide shortages and limited pipeline capacity in California have contributed to the increases in wholesale gas rates.
”For a while, people were calling asking, ‘How much?’ ” said Halliday, who sells a cord of mixed wood for $185. ”In the last couple of days, it’s been ‘Do you have it?’ ”
But the Bay Area Air Quality Management District fears an increase in wood burning could further pollute already poor air quality. The carbon monoxide and particulate matter is a major form of winter pollution in the Bay Area.
Air quality officials say residents should try to help minimize pollution by not burning firewood at home, especially if their stove is not certified by the Environmental Protection Agency. But for those who choose to burn, manufactured logs are recommended. They reduce smoke and pollution by about 50 percent.
Retailers also say there are options available when buying firewood.
”Almond is the more renewable resource,” said Chris Kelly, owner of Chris’ Expert Tree and Stump Service and Kelley’s Farm in Fremont. ”Oak is more slow-growth, and farmers replant almond all the time.”
Buying dry wood also is recommended over moist, green wood which smolders more and produces greater pollutants. Also, air quality officials say it’s better to keep fires hot, adding small amounts of wood, which creates less smoke.
For a free wood-burning handbook call 1-800-HELP-AIR.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.