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Firewood business heats up

January 22, 2001

Firewood business heats up



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Prime TimberHeating costs have soared during the Tri-State area's coldest winter in years, but Eric Garns and Rich Haden aren't complaining.

That's because they sell firewood.

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"I'm very excited about the wood business this winter," said Garns, co-owner of Prime Timber in Hagerstown. "You just cannot fathom the number of people out there who will not buy fuel oil when the prices get so high."

A division of Hagerstown Contractors Inc. - the masonry company that Garns and Haden own - Prime Timber harvests wood throughout the year for seasonal firewood sales.

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"We've been getting about 60 calls a day for firewood," Garns said.

This winter's increased costs of natural gas, heating oil and propane have made firewood an attractive heating alternative to many Tri-State area residents, said Don Schwartz, an extension agent for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

People who heated with wood during the last two mild winters may notice that a cord of firewood costs slightly more this heating season because the demand for the fuel source has increased, Schwartz said.

The cost of a cord of unstacked wood has increased from about $60 to $70 last winter to about $80 to $90 this year, Schwartz said. Most wood dealers charge an additional $20 to $30 to stack the wood for the buyer.

Prime Timber has sold about 200 cords of wood per month this winter at a cost of about $120 a cord, delivered and stacked, Garns said.

His company sold about 1,000 cords of wood last year, and Garns expects to sell at least 1,500 cords this year, he said.

"We're going to run out of wood," said Garns, who purchased a $100,000 fuel wood processor to make splitting and loading large quantities of firewood easier.

He and Haden lucked into the firewood business four years ago when they needed to clear 30 acres of land they bought in southern Washington County. The wood sold quickly and for a good profit, Garns said.

"It's so funny. We were struggling to make ends meet after we bought the property and the idea of selling the wood started out as a joke," Garns said. "It turns out to be one of the hottest things to do in winter."

Dave Beam, of Frederick, Md., agreed that it's been a busy year for wood sales. He's sold about five cords a week at a cost of $90 per half-cord, and could sell more firewood if he didn't have a full-time landscaping job, he said.

Bob and Linda Baker, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., needed to get rid of about half a cord of seasoned locust after they changed their method of heating this January. The couple put an ad in the local newspaper and sold all their wood within three days.

"It went real quick and we're still getting calls," Linda Baker said. "I think a lot of people have already gone through their winter supply because it's been so cold."

Firewood is a cost-efficient fuel source, but it isn't the most efficient source of heat.

Different types of heaters burn fuel at different efficiencies. The average airtight wood stove burns at an efficiency of 50 percent, an oil furnace burns at 65 percent, natural gas burns at 75 percent and electricity at 100 percent, according to the Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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