Thursday, December 12, 2013
Clarke Canfield / The Associated Press
PORTLAND — When oil prices skyrocketed to more than $4 a gallon four years ago, Dan Stevens got rid of his oil-burning furnace, oil tank and heating baseboards and began using wood to heat his home. He wasn't the only one.
Logs are moved around the wood yard at Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham recently. The company sold 3,200 cords last year, up from 2,600 in 2010.
Dan Stevens loads the wood stove at his home in Gardiner last Thursday. The number of households using wood as a heating source nearly doubled in Maine from 2000 to 2010, while growing by a third nationwide, according to U.S. Census figures.
The number of households using wood as their primary heating source nearly doubled in Maine from 2000 to 2010, while growing by a third nationwide, according to U.S. Census figures.
Stevens never was a fan of heating oil — he doesn't like the idea of oil coming from overseas, he had troubles maintaining his furnace and he wasn't keen on the feel of oil-fired heat. When heating oil prices rose to over $4 a gallon in 2008, he finally turned to wood to heat the rambling three-story wood-frame house in Gardiner.
He now uses one wood stove that burns firewood and another that burns wood pellets in the home where he lives with his wife and their youngest son. When needed, he has two small propane heaters for supplemental heat.
Since the change, he estimates he's been spending $2,500 or so on cord wood, wood pellets and backup propane. That's less than half what he was paying annually when using oil.
"Maine's got trees, so you can buy local this way and still heat your house," Stevens said. "And the heat is definitely cheaper."
Oil is the No. 1 heating fuel in Maine and across much of the Northeast. Three out of four households in Maine use oil as their primary heating source — making it the most oil-dependent state for heat.
Residential heating oil last week was going for $3.97 a gallon on the East Coast (although it's cheaper in Maine), up 58 cents a gallon from a year ago, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Ten years ago this week, it was selling for $1.19 a gallon.
Oil consumption has fallen as homeowners have found other sources of fuel, with wood being the fastest-growing alternative, according to census figures.
About 2.1 percent of U.S. homes, or nearly 2.4 million households, used wood as their primary heating source in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up from 1.6 percent in 2000, or under 1.8 million homes.
Among states, the number of homes using wood as a primary heat source went up 135 percent in Michigan and 122 percent in Connecticut, while nearly doubling in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Ohio and Nevada. The top wood-burning states per capita are Vermont (where 15 percent of homes use it as their primary heating source), Maine (12 percent), Montana (8 percent) and New Hampshire (8 percent).
Wood is an often-overlooked source of heating fuel, said John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, a Maryland-based nonprofit that promotes the use of wood heat.
Wood was the primary heating source in 23 percent of U.S. homes in 1940, but had virtually disappeared by 1970, according to the Census Bureau. It's become more popular in recent years mainly because of the high price of oil, Ackerly said. People are also drawn to wood because it's both a renewable and local product, and it's free for people who live on wooded lots.
"It's kind of under the radar," Ackerly said. "It's more a popular movement. It's not driven by big investments and big projects that are covered by the media. It's driven by individuals who don't have much of a voice."
New wood stove models, those made since 1990, have had to meet specified EPA emissions standards and shouldn't even have smoke that is visible when used properly, Ackerly said. But he cautions that there are still concerns about pollution — and elevated risks for people with respiratory illnesses — from old models that people may be dusting off and from people who use green wood in the new models.
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