Supply shortage leads to higher firewood prices

Last modified: 10/4/2014 11:52:01 PM
Although fall began only two weeks ago and most New Hampshire residents have not yet lit their woodstoves, firewood is already in unusually high demand.

“It’s already a mess out there. . . . I have no idea what people are going to do,” said Mary Congoran, who organizes the Wood for Warmth program and the Sean Powers Wood Bank in Hopkinton. “Cordwood is going to be very difficult to find.”

The Sean Powers Wood Bank is just one New Hampshire organization established after community members recognized the need for winter fuel assistance. With less seasoned cordwood available and prices higher than they have been in past winters, the need for wood assistance is likely to be greater this year than any in recent memory.

“You’ve just got to get people to start thinking about it much, much earlier this year,” Congoran said.

Sarah Smith, a forest industry specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said that in the 25 years she’s been working in the industry she has not seen a competition this intense between markets for the same logs. In addition to logs being used for firewood, they are also sought after for hardwood flooring, wood pallets and timber mats. A local demand for timber mats – typically used by oil, gas and utilities companies in Southern and Western regions of the country – “caught everybody by surprise,” she said.

“There’s a bit of a supply issue with firewood this year,” said Eric Johnson, program director at the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. Supply and demand are moving in opposite directions, he said. The result is fewer logs being used for cordwood, and higher prices for the cordwood that is available to burn.

“Pricing is high and probably will be higher as it gets colder,” Smith said.

A cord of seasoned wood – firewood that is dry and ready to be burned – in the area costs about $350 right now, compared with about $300 for a cord a year ago, Johnson said.

“That kind of money for a cord is usually what we would pay deep in winter time,” Congoran said.

Because of the high demand and high prices for wood, assistance programs are encouraging New Hampshire residents to apply for aid early.

“We’re encouraging people to apply now so that they get their wood before winter sets in,” said Celeste Lovett, fuel assistance program manager at the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning.

Assistance programs are typically thought of as providing aid to those who use oil to heat their homes, but households that use firewood as a heating source can also apply for assistance – although this is far less common because fewer people in the state use it as their primary heating source. Of the 36,805 households in the state that were eligible for any type of fuel assistance benefits through the Fuel Assistance Program last year, 961 households were eligible for benefits for either firewood or wood pellets, Lovett said. Although the need for assistance looks like it will be greater this year than last, Lovett said, the organization will not know until early December whether more people are applying.

Johnson also advised not waiting until winter to think about heating sources. The best time for people to purchase wood is in the spring so that it has time to dry out.

“The main takeaway is order early,” he said.

Much of the wood that is available right now is green wood, which contains about 50 percent moisture. Prices for cords of green wood are less than prices for seasoned wood but are still more expensive than in past years. Moist wood is dangerous to burn and does not burn efficiently, Johnson said. To avoid excess smoke, build-up of smoke in the chimney and chimney fires, he added, wood should be down to 20 percent moisture before burning.

“One of the important things is to make sure if you buy wood this time of year, you have some semblance of knowing it’s relatively dry,” Johnson said.

A resident of Andover, Johnson is affected personally by the wood industry changes this year. He said that because of the price increase for a cord of wood, he purchased two cords instead of three and will rely on solar hot water as a backup source for heating.

Preparation by households and assistance programs is what will help people remain warm this winter.

“We’re slightly . . . better prepared than we normally would because we’re scared of what’s going to happen,” Congoran said.



(Susan Doucet can be reached at 369-3309, sdoucet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 
@susan_doucet.)




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