Scarce supplies of wood pellets for heating have left many US residents chasing delivery trucks claims the Ponco Record.
An unusually cold winter and high demand for the fuel have combined with a scarcity of supply, throwing the entire Northeast into a cold sweat.
Both Steele’s True Value Hardware in Tannersville and Cramer’s Home Centers in East Stroudsburg are out of pellets.
Wood pellets are made from compressed sawdust, a byproduct of wood milling operations. Machines apply pressure to the sawdust and pelletize it. But when the milling business slowed, the supply of pellets dropped.
“Our manufacturers were having issues because loggers weren’t manufacturing enough sawdust,” Steele’s Devish Ramdeo said.
The loggers aren’t out there because of a weakness in the wood industry.
The demand for pellets doubled at Steele’s this year, Ramdeo said.
And that has homeowners scrambling.
The Parent family heats the upstairs of their Stroudsburg country farmhouse with an oil-fired boiler.
They use a wood-pellet stove to heat the downstairs.
The pellets are inserted into a hopper on the stove. When the thermostat calls for heat, a drill bit-like auger feeds the pellets into a burn pot fired with an igniter.
“We’ll go through one (40-pound) bag in 10 to 12 hours when it goes down to the single digits,” Marc Parent said.
Steele’s has gone through seven truckloads of wood pellet pallets so far this year.
Each truckload holds 1,100 40-pound bags of wood-pellet fuel, or 44,000 pounds of pellets per delivery.
Yet the supplies are selling faster than cold beer at a summer baseball game.
“We average one truckload a week,” Ramdeo said. “Then run out for a week. When we do get it, we will run out in a couple of hours.”
10 to 20 calls daily
A 40-pound bag typically sells for around $3 a bag. Parent found a pool supply store selling it at $6 a bag with a 10-bag limit.
And his supply was getting low.
“The big-box stores pretty much stayed at the same price,” he said. “I’ve been calling every day, and they don’t know when they’ll get a shipment. And I happened to hit it. I drove down at 8 in the morning, and there were a ton of guys in their pickup trucks loading it up.”
The Home Depot store he visited limited each customer to 20 bags, charging a little over $4 a bag.
Cramer’s expects a shipment next week.
Yet despite the demand and shortage, the store hasn’t raised its prices, Cramer’s Josh Serfass said.
“I get about 10 to 20 calls a day about it,” he said.
Wood now ranks as the third most common heating fuel after gas and electricity, for both primary and secondary heating fuel use, according to the Alliance for Green Heat, which extracted the data from the 2010 census.
The same figures showed that homes heated with wood grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010 — faster than any other heating fuel.
The rise of the fuel’s use is predominantly a rural phenomenon and, to a lesser extent, a suburban trend.
About 10 to 12 percent of American households use wood when secondary heating is counted, according to the Census Bureau and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the alliance said.