Spike in firewood costs fueled by demand
November 29, 2005
Anticipating a spike in natural gas prices, Jens Dressler ordered a cord of soft wood to heat his South Lake Tahoe home this winter.
“With gas prices the way they are, it’s the smarter, cheaper way to do it,” said the San Jose Avenue resident.
Dressler is one of many resorting to the old-fashioned way of heating houses and doing their best to bypass natural gas. That has created a business boom for wood suppliers who have responded by hiking their prices, they say, to help deter demand.
Affordable Lawncare and Snow Removal delivered the cord of fir to Dressler on Tuesday. The company raised its full-cord prices on both soft and hard wood. Soft wood, which burns more quickly and not as hot as hard wood, experienced a $50 increase from $230 to $280 while seasoned hard wood jumped to $485 from $395.
Owner Steve Wood said despite the price hike, people who used to buy half a cord are now buying three.
“We can barely keep up,” he said.
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A cord of wood is wood stacked 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and 8 feet long.
Wood’s business is not alone. An answering machine message at Tim’s Total Tree stated its firewood supply is nil. Rick Mapes at Mapes Enterprises also raised prices in soft wood cords, from $200 to $250 for South Lake Tahoe residences, and heard people are removing their natural gas stoves and replacing them with wood burning stoves.
“They are,” said South Y Fireplace salesman Dave Lehw. “That has occurred.”
Business has been brisk; the best in four or five years, Mapes said.
“I’m actually selling more wood than we usually cut,” he said.
At Bushwhackers Tree Service, which solely serves the North Shore, prices and demand have also jumped. Earlier this month the company depleted its initial supply. That doesn’t typically happen until the end of November, said President Brian Rye, noting more wood is on the way.
News reports in Maine and Minnesota have remarked on the demand for firewood after gas prices surged after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast and the nation’s domestic oil supply.
“It’s all economics,” said Dressler, who attempts to keep the thermostat in his home at a steady 60 degrees.
“With this thing,” he said, referring to a squatty wood stove in the corner of his living room, “we don’t need the central heating at all.”
Lehw said the number of people inquiring about wood and pellet stoves has tripled but natural gas inserts remain popular.
Natural gas stoves are also preferred by customers at Rudy’s Plumbing and Heating, said Administrative Supervisor Michelle DeBruce. She cited the ease of the natural gas stove, usually turned on by a flip of a switch, to the numerous chores associated with a wood stove like splitting, stacking and carrying fuel.
The boom has been welcomed by Wood. The last times sales increased was before Y2K when people thought electronic infrastructure would collapse. With the emergence of the popular natural gas stoves, Wood thought his firewood business was doomed.
“Demand is just insatiable,” he said. “A few years ago we thought the firewood business was over, but you wouldn’t think that now being around here.”