WASHINGTON – Marylanders who burn wood as a secondary way to heat their homes are planning to burn a little more this winter to offset high natural gas and fuel costs.
Natural gas prices in the South Atlantic region, which includes Maryland, are projected to rise 45 percent from $730 per household last winter to $1,060 this winter, said Neil Gamson, an economist with the Energy Information Administration. The national average price for a gallon of residential heating oil is expected to jump nearly 36 percent from $1.54 in 2004 to $2.09 for 2005.
Meanwhile, the price for a cord of firewood, which is a stack equaling 128 cubic feet, has gone up 5 to 10 percent to about $150, said A.J. Bierman of King Mulch Garden Center in Essex.
His firewood sales are up about a third from last year, and he said people are ordering wood as emergency backup in case of fuel shortages, higher prices or another storm like Hurricane Katrina, which damaged shipping and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico and caused oil prices to jump dramatically.
So far, sales of firewood at Stone Cellar Nursery in Mount Airy are the same as last year, said owner Ethan Langrill, but as the weather gets colder, he expects them to pick up.
“I think sales will go up, it will be an issue,” Langrill said. After Sept. 11, 2001, he saw sales jump because consumers were worried gas prices would rise.
According to the Census Bureau’s 2004 estimate, nearly 24,000 households in Maryland use wood as their primary heating fuel. That number, which equals 1.1 percent of housing units in the state, is down slightly from 2002 when 1.3 percent of homes used wood as a primary fuel.
There are also those who use wood or other forms of alternative energy such as pellet stoves as a backup heating source to natural gas or oil furnaces.
“Those that use wood are going to try and use it more as a primary source and less as a secondary,” said Guy Hinebaugh, an assistant art gallery director who lives near Oakland. “Everyone’s trying to do something.”
Hinebaugh plans to use more wood this year to conserve the full, 500-gallon, fuel oil tank he also uses to heat his home. By cutting some of his own wood and buying the rest, he expects to burn three or four cords this winter at a cost of around $300. He figures that is about a third of what he would spend using fuel oil.
He has also taken other steps to conserve energy this winter such as buying insulated curtains.
Owners of huge million-dollar homes might not care about heating costs, Hinebaugh said, but “little people like me care.”
There’s been a substantial increase in the number of people choosing natural wood burners, said Ralph Baumgardner, owner of Baumgardner’s HearthFires & DeckAttires in Westminster.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the last four weeks of traffic in general,” Baumgardner said. Wood stoves are the costliest to install, compared to gas or pellet stoves, but they use the cheapest fuel, he said.
A cord of wood costs around $150 while a ton of pellets costs around $200.
This year, the only cost increases for heating stoves, which run from $600 to $3,000, are usual inflationary rises, he said.
“Price stability seems to be OK this year,” Baumgardner said. “That’s good news for the consumer.”
Both Bierman and Langrill suggest buying firewood early.
“Smarter buyers are getting the wood now,” Bierman said, because his supply might be gone by Thanksgiving.
The older and drier wood is sold first, Langrill said, so early buyers get the better wood. Plus, “it’s nicer to stack it in warm weather.”