Today, an item from the color-me-not-entirely-surprised department: Horrified by the perpetually escalating cost of home heating oil, an increasing number of homeowners are turning to their wood-burning fireplaces and stoves to generate a bit of warmth during the winter months.
What is surprising is that a bulk of homeowners aren’t saying adios to oil and using wood as a supplementary, special-occasions-only heating source but as a primary method of heating their abodes. I'd love to ask my landlord if he'd consider replacing those baseboard heaters with a pellet stove but I'm thinking that wouldn't fly.
According the U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the number of U.S. households using wood as a primary heating source grew from 1.6 percent (1.8 million households) in 2000 to 2.1 percent (2.4 million households) in 2010. Taking a look way back, the rate of wood-burning American homes was 23 percent in 1940.
Statewide, the number of households relying primarily on wood grew 135 percent in Michigan and 122 percent in Connecticut while rates nearly doubled in states such as New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Ohio. Overall, the top wood-burning state is Vermont where 15 percent of homeowners burn wood as the primary heating source. Maine, the nation’s top consumer of heating oil, comes in at a close second with 12 percent.
So how spendy has foreign-sourced heating oil become? According to a recent AP article using statistics from the Energy Information Administration, recent rates for residential heating oil in the Northeast stood at $3.97 per gallon, a 58 cent increase from around this time last year. A decade ago, the cost was $1.19 a gallon.
John Ackerly, president of nonprofit group Alliance for Green Heat, explains that many homeowners are turning to wood as a primarily source of home heating fuel because it’s renewable, locally sourced, and often free — all things that oil most certainly isn’t. He says of the shift away from oil: "It's kind of under the radar. It’s more a popular movement. It's not driven by big investments and big projects that are covered by the media. It's driven by individuals who don't have much of a voice."
And on the topic of voices, I’d love to hear yours: Have you switched from oil to wood as a primary heating source at home? Or are you still cranking up the wood-burning stove mainly on a back-up basis? Have you invested in a new, EPA-approved wood stove over the past several years? What kind of savings have you noticed? Are health risks a concern for those of you with older stoves and fireplaces?