Consumers look for heating alternatives for fall, winter

October 18, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER


As projected costs for oil and gas this winter soar, consumers are turning to wood - and even corn - to heat their homes.

Local retailers say the demand for wood stoves, pellet stoves and corn-burning stoves is keeping sales brisk and their manufacturers hopping.

Lori Poffenberger, general manager for Home Adventures Company on Wilson Boulevard in Hagerstown, said sales of pellet stoves have jumped 350 percent from last year.


"It's been crazy," she said. "It's really to the point where we only have a few in stock."

Manufacturers are having a hard time meeting demand, she added, "because of the energy thing that's happening."

"We definitely have seen an increase in sales of wood stoves and pellet stoves over last year," agreed Tara Oberholzer, store manager at Bair Pools on Jefferson Boulevard. "But what we have sold the most of is corn-burning stoves."

Oberholzer said Bair is selling "three to four times what we usually sell." Asked whether the stove sales are the result of oil and gas prices, Oberholzer said, "I would swear to it."

She said outdoor wood furnaces are back-ordered from Bair's suppliers until January, and corn-burning stoves are back-ordered until spring.

The corn stoves are similar to pellet stoves, which burn small pellets of wood, Oberholzer said. Rather than pellets, the corn stoves burn shelled "field corn," she said.

Some pellet stoves also burn corn, said Bill Stover, a salesman at Sunfire Hearth Patio Spa in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he said sales of wood stoves, wood inserts for fireplaces and pellet stoves "have gone up tremendously."

Consumers find the cost of corn or pellets to be more economical than traditional heat sources, he said. "Pellets cost about $189 a ton; it only takes 11/2 to 2 tons to heat for the entire season," he said.

Farmers can find corn-burning stoves especially cost effective.

"Farmers say, 'in four months' time I can grow my own fuel,'" said Rod Boyer, owner of Boyer's Wood Stoves in Greencastle, Pa.

"They have been doing this in the Midwest for a while," he added, predicting that corn will become more of an alternative source as the corn stoves become more refined.

Boyer said the manufacturer of his stoves, Northwest Manufacturing Inc. of Red Lake Falls, Minn., has stepped up production to keep up with the demand.

"Every time the fuel prices go up, they get an increase in interest."

Depending on the size and kind of stove, they can cost from a little more than $1,000 to about $7,500, retailers said.

As the demand for the stoves rises, so does demand for the wood and pellets to burn in them.

"We're selling a lot of wood," said Randy Baer of Baer's Garden Center & Greenhouse in Shippensburg, Pa.

Baer's has been processing wood for sale since 1987, he said.

"Normally, our customer list (for firewood) is about 200. Every year, we have a lot of just one-time buyers. We've seen quite an increase in return sales already this fall," he said.

"We normally gear up for wood delivery in early September," he said. This year, despite temperatures in the 90s, "at the first of July, we started delivering wood every day."

Customers whose wood stoves have been dormant for a while are, well, coming out of the woodwork.

"A lot of people are telling us they hadn't used their wood stoves for three or four years," Baer said.

But he's also noticed that consumers are turning to corn, too.

"Corn stoves are seeming to really get a lot of interest this year," he said. "People are doing their homework."

on the Web

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