MONTPELIER, Vt. — People who use wood to heat their homes saw their wood piles dwindle during the extreme cold snap that sent much of the Northeast into a deep freeze in December and early January, and now some wood suppliers are having a hard time meeting the demand for firewood.
While some firewood suppliers say they have caught up with the need for wood, others are still working to ensure that people have enough dry firewood to heat their homes through the rest of the winter, experts said.
John Ackerly, president of the Maryland-based Alliance for Green Heat, a nonprofit education and advocacy group for wood heating consumers, said Tuesday the problem is most acute in the Northeast and parts of the upper Midwest, although there have been similar anecdotal reports in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.
Ackerly said the shortage is for firewood, not wood pellets. Wood chips are used almost exclusively in non-residential wood heat systems.
He said it was “very unusual” that there was a deep freeze early in the winter. “Because it hit at the beginning of the season a lot of people went through a third of their wood supply in a matter of three weeks,” Ackerly said.
Adding to the shortage, said Paul Frederick of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, was the warmer than normal winters the last two seasons. It might have prompted some people not to purchase as much firewood as they would have in other years, he said.
“We were seeing from firewood dealers that sales were down during the course of the summer,” Frederick said.
Jon Darling, of Phillips, Maine, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Augusta, said he was worried earlier this season he wouldn’t be able to find the 12 cords of wood he needs to heat the 10-room home he lives in with his wife and three daughters.
“I had enough for the season until we had that cold snap,” Darling said Tuesday. The late 19th century house he moved into in 2014 does not a central heating system.
He put ads on Craigslist, but ended up getting wood from two neighbors. He said he owns property, so in a pinch he could cut his own wood, even though it wouldn’t be seasoned. He said he’d get by.
“No one is going to go cold,” Darling said.
In Vermont, an estimated 38 percent of Vermonters heat with wood, either fully or in part. Frederick said most people who heat with wood also have oil or another heat source as a backup if they run out of firewood.
But some firewood users are having to look to other products.
Jim Maurais from Southern Maine Renewable Fuels in Windham, Maine, said he’s seeing 15 to 20 new customers a week looking for a firewood replacement. He sells logs and bricks made of compressed firewood for woodstoves and fireplaces.
“We started getting calls in the fall from people who couldn’t get seasoned firewood,” he said.
Ray Colton of Colton Enterprises in Pittsfield, Vermont, said that for about a month this winter he was having trouble keeping up with his firewood orders. Two warehouses used to stockpile about 1,000 cords of wood to get through the busy part of the season were empty.
“That ran out and then we’re depending on what we can produce,” said Colton whose business can kiln dry 189 cords of wood a week. “When we get down to that, that’s when we get into trouble.”
Ackerly said some people who now heat with wood don’t plan far enough ahead.
“The real old timers would buy their wood two years in the future and that’s what people should start doing more because then you never get caught by a cold winter,” he said.
Associated Press reporter David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.