Firewood Already In Demand

Consumers are buying firewood early this year for their fireplaces or wood stoves, according to local
tree removal companies that are selling wood by the cord.

With the pronounced run-up in oil prices over the past year, companies that sell firewood and wood stoves say many
consumers are investing in alternatives to help offset those rising energy costs.

Oil suppliers Donald Fowler, who owns Williams Oil Co. in Uncasville, and Mark Mazzella, owner of Benvenuti Oil in Waterford, say analysts are advising them to brace for the likelihood that consumers will cut back on fuel usage – either through conservation or the use of alternative sources, such as wood stoves, by anywhere between 10 percent and 20 percent this coming heating season.

Scott Bourgeois, who owns C&S Tree Removal in Niantic and Salem, said he has had orders from between 70 and 100 people in the past six weeks – and had to turn “quite a few” away.

He charges $200 for a cord of wood, up $25 from last year.

“A lot of people are trying to get orders in before the prices go up and up and up,” he added.

Typically, the season for regular customers starts in August but new requests usually don’t come in until September or October,he said.

Another woodcutter, who declined to be named, said he was too busy to be interviewed.

According to the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association, Connecticut’s 682,000 heating oil customers use 545 million gallons of heating oil annually, or approximately 800 gallons per customer. That number has declined over the past three decades because of increases in efficiency.

July’s high for wholesale heating oil at $4.23 a gallon is now down 93 cents, to $3.30 a gallon, according to Eugene Guilford Jr., the executive director of the ICPA. But winter retail prices will likely exceed $4 a gallon, according to industry observers.

“Heating oil prices not only have gone down, but are likely to continue to go down,” said Guilford. “We certainly hope people do conserve regardless of what the price is. That’s the intelligent thing to do.”

The Benvenuti firm is charging customers $4.32 a gallon to pre-buy oil for the winter.

At C&S Tree Removal, the firm usually removes trees and clears residential building lots for its supply of wood. But that has slowed as fewer homes are constructed because of the slumping housing market, Bourgeois said. So he buys most of his wood, splits it hydraulically and then delivers it by the cord.

A cord is 4 cubic feet by 4 cubic feet by 8 cubic feet of wood, tightly stacked.

Back orders for wood stoves as well as pellet stoves in some cases extend to the end of the year or beyond, said Joe Biber owner and president of the Preston Trading Post.

“We had placed huge early-buy orders, but we’re kind of coming up against the availability problems, so it’s going to be a tough season for a lot of folks who wait,” he said.

In Waterford, the Home Depot is seeing the same trend, said Jen King, a corporate spokeswoman. The store will soon carry firewood but isn’t doing so yet, she said.

Guilford of the ICPA believes that if the price of oil continues to drop, people will tire of supplementing oil heat with firewood. But the industry is volatile, and the opposite could also occur, he acknowledged.

“The charm of cozying up to the wood stove at night – the bloom comes off the rose when you realize you have to cart the wood and stoke the stove, but people will do what they have to do,” he said.

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