Firewood sales are scorching

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO
Adam Fansler, owner of Columbus Firewood, has sold all his residential wood. He has wood left for commercial customers.

February 14, 2014

A small pile of snow-covered wood is all that remains on Adam Fansler's lot, which is usually still spotted with tall stacks.

A bitter winter has had people looking for cheaper ways to stay warm, and one alternative has been burning wood instead of natural gas.

But firewood suppliers such as Fansler, who owns Columbus Firewood in Madison County, are struggling to keep up with demand.

Several companies in and around Columbus are running low or are out of wood for the season.

"It's good and bad," said Eric Steele, owner of Eric Steele Tree Service in Columbus, who sold his last cord of firewood this week. "It's good for business, but it's a shame to tell people no."

Steele began the winter with his usual 1,000 cords of firewood, but his usual customers were doubling and tripling their orders. He said about five people a day are calling looking for firewood.

A seasoned cord is 128 cubic feet of wood with a moisture content of less than 50 percent. Seasoning takes about six months, depending on the tree, and unseasoned wood produces about a third less heat, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which enforces the state's firewood regulations.

Columbus Firewood and Napier & Sons Tree Service in Plain City said they are experiencing abnormally high demand, cutting deeply into supplies.

Fansler sold out of residential firewood stock - about 400 cords - early this month. He still has wood saved for his commercial customers, including a grocer and restaurants, but he said both stocks usually last until spring.

"This hasn't happened in a long, long time," Fansler said of running out. "It's been at least six or seven years."

He gets about a call an hour from people looking for firewood, he said.

And the cold will continue through March, according to the National Weather Service, although the worst of it might be over.

"Thank goodness I replaced my furnace right before Thanksgiving," said John Schleich, 54, of Grandview Heights, who has been trying to find firewood as a backup source of heat.

Schleich said he has been turned away by several suppliers, and he can find firewood only at grocery stores.

But buying by the bundle gets expensive: You can spend about six times as much for the same amount of wood.

A cord of firewood is equivalent to about 170 standard bundles, and at $3.99 per bundle at Strader's Garden Center, a cord would cost $678.30. Cords from Eric Steele, Columbus Firewood and Napier & Sons cost much less: $110, $225 and $195, respectively.

But that isn't slowing demand at Strader's.

Firewood sales at the Riverside Drive location are 10 times higher than last winter, said manager Alfred Barnett.

His location is selling about 250 bundles a week, and he said Strader's firewood supplier has been delivering to each location every day.

"I'm not worried about running out (of wood) from my supplier," Barnett said. "His biggest worry is staying ahead of delivery."

In addition to demand driven by an unusually cold winter, wood heating is on the rise in Ohio and throughout the country.

The number of Ohio households heating with wood increased 95 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to Census Bureau figures.

In that time, wood heating increased 34 percent in the U.S., faster than any other heating fuel. Electricity showed the second-fastest growth: 24 percent.

"Our sales are increasing every year," Fansler said. "My goal is to increase sales 10 percent every year anyways, so we'll have more wood stockpiled for next year."