Firewood demand causes challenges

  • Logs for firewood are sawed and split before being kiln-dried at the Clifford Lumber Company yard in Hinesburg on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) VtDigger — Glenn Russell

  • Lynn Gardner gives a tour of the Clifford Lumber Company yard in Hinesburg, Vt. Gardner said that Clifford increased its firewood and delivery prices in October from about $450 to $500 for a cord of kiln-dried wood due to the surge in propane prices, which fuels the kiln. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) —Glenn Russell

Published: 10/24/2022 9:20:44 PM
Modified: 10/24/2022 9:20:48 PM

As home-heating fuel prices surge, the state’s firewood sellers and wood stove installers say they’re struggling to keep up as more Vermonters turn to wood heat.

The demand for wood began to increase at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a state official and business owners. But the latest challenges have been compounded by staffing problems and rising costs associated with logging and kiln-drying, they said.

Some are reporting backorders of wood stoves and shortages of firewood.

“The oil prices are so high and everybody’s worried about them going higher, you know?” said Bernie Lantagne, a partner at P&L Loggers. “And ... usually there’s a good strong supply of wood but right now, it’s hard because I’ve had a lot of different companies call and want wood and we can only produce so much.”

P&L Loggers increased its price for a tractor-trailer load of firewood by about $700 since last year — up to $2,200 based on delivery distance, Lantagne said.

Similarly, Sam Desrochers from Crosscut Firewood, a seller based in Danville, Vt., said that the company has had to increase the price of a cord of kiln-dried wood — generally about 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet — from $420 to $495.

Desrochers said rising fuel prices and worker shortages in the logging industry have driven the increase.

Plus, he said, paper mills are paying more for wood, which further drives up the price.

“We haven’t seen the supply increasing, so that just creates supply versus demand issues — a shortage,” Desrochers said.

Desrochers added that he has heard that other firewood companies are turning away new customers because of the wood shortage.

Lynn Gardner, a partner at Clifford Lumber in Hinesburg, Vt., which sells lumber, firewood, boxes and crates, said that 85% of firewood sales are to repeat customers, whom he prioritizes. Gardner said that at around this time of year, it is “very hard” to take any new customers.

The increased demand for firewood began in 2020, according to Gardner, who characterized this year’s sales as “steady” and “consistent” but not overwhelmingly high.

Paul Frederick, the program manager for Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, agreed.

“The demand piece has been strong ever since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “And it really hasn’t let up from what I’m hearing from folks.”

Gardner said that Clifford increased its firewood and delivery prices in October from about $450 to $500 for a cord of kiln-dried wood due to the surge in propane prices, which fuels the kiln.

Lantagne at P&L Loggers said he has struggled to hire workers to keep pace with increased firewood sales. He said that demand has been increasing for the past four years.

At the same time that firewood and fuel prices are increasing, some wood stove sellers say they are having to schedule far in advance to install stoves due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and increased demand.

Steve “Freff” Hedges, from Stove & Flag Works, a stove and flag shop based in Williston, Vt., and Montpelier, said that he is scheduling into January for wood stove installation. In previous years, he scheduled installments within six weeks.

Peter L’Esperance is one of the owners at Chimney Sweep, a fireplace shop with locations in Shelburne, Vt., and Berlin, Vt.

He said he ordered wood stoves earlier this year, anticipating higher demand after seeing increased interest in wood stoves last year.

L’Esperance said that he is booking into early December for the installation of wood stoves. If he hadn’t anticipated the demand, he said that his customers could have been waiting until March of next year.

L’Esperance said that he thinks the increased demand comes in part due to high fuel costs but also due to the 26% federal tax credit for the purchase and installation of a wood or pellet stove with a thermal efficiency rating of at least 75%.

The state also offers rebates for buying new wood stoves.

Efficiency Vermont recently increased its rebate from $200 to $400 to encourage Vermonters to replace their existing stoves with a more efficient wood or pellet stove.

The organization offers a $6,000 cash-back rebate for central wood pellet furnaces and boilers.

The Vermont Public Service Department also offers a wood stove change-out incentive, among other wood system incentives, funded by the clean energy development fund, which supports cost-effective renewable energy in Vermont.

The wood stove change-out program offers incentives up to $10,000 for people who qualify based on income to replace their old wood stoves with wood and pellet stoves that are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or repair their current stove to meet Vermont’s fire and building safety codes.

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