Demand is high for wood stovesby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the average American household to spend 20 percent more this winter to heat with oil, natural gas, propane, and electricity. That's prompted many Minnesotans to turn to alternative sources to heat their homes. Some businesses who sell wood and corn stoves say more customers are demanding their products.
St. Paul, Minn. — At a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, Kris Borgeson stays busy selling corn stoves that burn not only corn pellets, but also wood pellets, and cherry and olive pits.
"The farmer's almanac is predicting a colder than normal winter and more snow," said Borgeson. "So I have people who not only want to save money on their heat bill, but they want to stay warm."
Borgeson and her husband own Haven Hearth & Home in Cambridge. She says many people are interested in both corn and wood stoves, so their business recently began to sell wood stoves and wood pellets. It's proven to be a good business move, particularly with wood pellets.
"We ordered ten semi-loads and we've already sold seven and it's August," said Borgeson. "We're thinking probably by the middle of September we'll be all sold out of the wood pellets we have coming."
Borgeson predicts pretty soon it'll be difficult to find pellet stoves. While most of her clients are in outstate Minnesota, Borgeson says more people from the metropolitan area are expressing interest. In the Twin Cities, it's legal to have corn and wood burning stoves, but you need to get a city permit and the stove has to pass an inspection.
In rural southwestern Minnesota, Brent Olson felt he needed to find a better way to heat his home.
"I live in a big old house," said Olson. "And you can insulate it and you can put in big windows, but it's still a big old house on the prairie, and it takes a lot to heat it." Olson found an energy efficient EPA-approved wood-burning boiler. With this new boiler, he'll heat his house, his workshop next to his house, and a greenhouse he plans to build. Right now he pays about $500 a month to heat his home using propane. Sometimes he's had to pay more.
"If prices stay the way they are, the payback is three years," said Olson. "If the prices drop significantly, five to six years and that's not bad."
Olson is anxious to get his boiler, but the earliest he can get it delivered is the first week in October. He ordered it in July. When he shopped around, Olson found that was the average delivery date.
That's because the company that sold him the boiler is seeing high demand for these boilers. Rodney Tollefson is the vice president of Central Boiler in Greenbush in northern Minnesota.
"Normally, the busy season starts in August and September," said Tollefson. "We've actually had dealers that have sold as many furnaces in the first half of the year as they sold all last year and the normal heating season busy time is really just barely starting."
Tollefson has more than 400 dealers across the U.S. and in Canada.
"They are doing their normal marketing things and the fuel prices have really sped up the decision process for people," said Tollefson. "They're not waiting as long because they are concerned they may not be able to get a wood furnace if they wait too long because the demand is so high."
Tollefson says some of his clients save as much as $3,000 a year in heating costs. His bigger clients save up to $5,000 a year. Tollefson has been with the company for about 18 years, and he says it's typical to see business upticks when fuel and energy prices skyrocket.
Kent Price has also made that observation. He owns Price Firewood Company in the Duluth-Superior area. He's happy more people are turning to the old favorite.
"We've actually, since probably late March, we've been having a lot of inquires for firewood and I would say our business is up as much as 20 percent this year."
Price and other business owners say customers like the fact that corn and wood are renewable sources.
But like other sources of energy, burning wood has its drawbacks. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says while climate change gases from burning wood are lower than emissions from natural gas or oil, other emissions add to the air particulate matter that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular health problems. That's why the EPA now requires all new wood-burning devices to burn more cleanly than old conventional ones.
- Morning Edition, 08/28/2008, 7:48 a.m.