Firewood abundant and available, despite limits

Supplies of firewood remain abundant for this heating season, despite state regulations that restric

Supplies of firewood remain abundant for this heating season, despite state regulations that restrict transportation of firewood and wet weather that prevented some dealers from harvesting firewood.

“I got plenty of wood,” said Tom Georgia, who runs a firewood supply business out of Tribes Hill.

Georgia said a regulation enacted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2009 is a problem, “as is any regulation,” but is not affecting his business. “There is plenty of wood around here available for use. The regulation is more of a problem downstate,” he said.

The state regulation is designed to combat invasive, exotic tree insects and diseases by limiting the transportation of firewood to within 50 miles of the source of its production. Source is defined as the village, town or city that the firewood producer declares as the source of the firewood. A 50-mile radius circle, 100 miles in diameter, equals 7,854 square miles or about 5 million acres, according to the DEC. This size area would cover almost the entire Adirondack Park, or all of western New York from Dunkirk to Bath and Lake Erie to the Pennsylvania border.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said the state has issued 10 tickets under the regulation since 2009: one in 2009, six in 2010 and three so far in 2011.

“We have received dispositions from the courts for six of the 10. One was dismissed, the rest pleaded guilty and were fined between $25 and $100 for a total of $325 so far,” she said.

The steady supply of firewood helps keep the price stable and makes it a low-cost choice for people seeking to lower their home heating bills, according to firewood and wood stove dealers.

Arthur Mormile, owner of Adirondack Fireplace in Amsterdam, which sells wood stoves, fireplaces and pellet stoves, said competition is keeping the price down. “We are not relying on the oil companies for prices. Here, there are so many people selling wood, it keeps the price competitive,” he said.

The most common measurement of firewood is the full cord, defined as 128 cubic feet. Dealers sell a full cord for between $180 and $225. The price depends on the type of firewood used — hard wood, soft wood — and whether it is seasoned or not. Generally, wood left to season six months or longer is more expensive and easier to burn than just-cut wood, dealers said. Some dealers also tack on a transportation charge to deliver the wood to a customer’s home.

“It has been that price for a few years,” Mormile said.

The price of home heating fuel, meanwhile, is up 29 percent from a year ago, to $3.64 per gallon as of Oct. 3, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Kerosene costs $4.01 per gallon, up 0.2 percent from Sept. 26 and up 27 percent from a year ago. Propane, another fossil fuel heating source, costs $3.22 per gallon, down 0.2 percent since Sept. 26 and up 11 percent from a year ago, according to NYSERDA.

The U.S. Energy Institute Agency said the average homeowner using home heating oil will spend about $193 more this winter. About 6 percent of U.S. households depend on heating oil for winter fuel. The Northeast accounts for about 80 percent of these households, the agency said.

Homes that heat with natural gas, which outnumber those that use fuel oil, can expect to spend less this winter, according to the utility company National Grid. The cost of a typical household’s natural gas usage from November to March will be reduced by about $61 from last year’s bills, the company said.

Lou Faraone, owner of the Seasoned Gourmet Firewood in Malta, said when home heating fuel prices increase, he sees an increase in business. “We find that it follows that pattern. If energy costs are going up, people are looking for an alternative source,” he said.

Faraone has 4,000 customers, and is seeing more all the time as people migrate away from expensive fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources such as wood, solar and wind. “We are on the low end of the spectrum, but we are seeing it,” he said.

Mormile said his stove business has grown “leaps and bounds” over the last 20 years.

“High energy prices are compelling people to look for other heat sources,” he said. “The one nice thing about wood is that it is a renewable source.”

Faraone said many firewood dealers this year are running low on stock, which may affect prices. “This spring was the wettest we could remember. We also had a wet summer and a wet fall and many dealers did not harvest any firewood this year. In fact, I am selling to many of my competitors,” he said.

Mormile said the average home stove will burn four to five full cords of firewood per heating season, for a total cost of $900. By comparison, a homeowner will spend on average $3,000 for fuel oil. Mormile said the average home fuel oil tank requires a monthly refill.

An average wood stove can heat approximately 1,400 square feet, or a zone of the house. Some units can heat the entire house. Mormile said prices start at under $1,000 for small stoves to $3,000 to $4,000 for units that heat a house. The energy-efficient units are also eligible for a $300 tax credit, he said.

“Most people will spend 80 percent of their time in 20 percent of their house. So why heat the whole house when you can heat the living room?” he asked.

Georgia said higher heating costs help him stay in business. With some fuel prices rising, he expects business to be brisk this year. “I have doubled my stock for this season, to 40 cords,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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