Americans load up on firewood as heating costs skyrocket

A worker splits wood at Zia Firewood in Albuquerque, N.M. Adria Malcolm/Bloomberg

Amid the inflation surge that’s rippled through the U.S. economy and touched thousands upon thousands of products, one of the more obscure items on the list is firewood.

It’s a fuel from earlier times, so niche an industry that no one appears to even try to track pricing on a national level.

Talk to firewood vendors in state after state, though, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Sales are booming on the eve of winter, and prices are soaring.

At Firewood by Jerry in New River, Ariz., a cord of seasoned firewood — roughly 700 pieces or so — goes for $200 today. That’s up 33% from a year ago. At Zia Firewood in Albuquerque, the price is up 11% since the summer to $250. And at Standing Rock Farms in Stone Ridge, a bucolic, little town in the Hudson Valley that’s become popular with the Manhattan set, the best hardwoods now fetch $475 a cord, up 19% from last year.

“It’s crazy,” says Randy Hornbeck, the owner of Standing Rock Farms. His sales this year are already 27% higher than his total for all of last season. “Everybody wants firewood.”

Some of this is a work-from-home thing. White-collar workers cooped up in their suburban homes or country escapes are re-discovering the joys of an evening by the fire. This is the typical Hornbeck client. But there’s a grimmer economic force driving the surge in demand, too: Soaring prices for heating oil, natural gas and propane — key parts of the broader inflation surge — are pushing many Americans to try heating their homes at least partially with firewood.

Just over 1% households will use firewood or wood pellets as their primary heating source in the U.S. this winter, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates. That may not seem like a lot, but it equates to some 1.7 million households. What’s more, another 8% of the population will use wood as a secondary heating source, according to the EIA.

“Everyone is extremely concerned about how they are going to pay for the cost of home heating,” says Brian Pieck, the owner of House of Warmth Stove and Fireplace Shop in New Milford, a town in rural western Connecticut. That angst, he says, has translated into an almost 50% jump in orders for the woodstoves he sells at prices of $2,800 and up. “Our manufacturer is working feverishly around the clock.”

His advice to those in search of wood next season: Order it by Easter. Or, alternatively, buy an axe and split your own.

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