July 10, 2008

Energy-Efficient Wood Stove Enterprise in New Jersey Saves Homeowners Cash

By Nina Rizzo, Asbury Park Press, N.J.

Jul. 8--Irene Borghaus and her husband, Karl, were concerned about the high cost of heating their home after the 1973 energy crisis, but there weren't many cheaper alternatives to home heating oil back then.

That is, until they discovered a high-efficiency wood stove in 1976, and they rarely turned up their thermostat again.

"I find it delightful," Irene Borghaus said, referring to the warm glow of the fire. "I can't imagine living without it."

The couple became so intrigued by supplementary heating appliances that they opened Fireplaces of America in 1977, at a time when homeowners were still feeling the burn of soaring energy costs.

"Once you see what a wood stove can do, you see how much savings there is," said Borghaus, a 56-year-old former real estate agent whose 58-year-old husband owned a construction company. "It not only looks pretty, but it's efficient."

The Borghauses, who live in Millstone Township, have been using wood to heat their 1,500-square-foot showroom at 44 Main St. since 1986. They use between two and four cords of wood each winter -- depending on how cold it gets -- at a cost of $130 per cord. Back then, they were paying $800 per month to heat the store with electric heat in the winter season. So when it came time to remodel the store, they installed a Pacific Energy wood stove with a red enamel finish to keep their employees and customers toasty warm.

Prices for a free-standing wood stove range from $1,200 to $2,300. A fireplace insert, which fits into a traditional masonry fireplace, costs between $1,500 to $3,000. A high-quality wood stove can last up to 20 years if maintained properly, she said.

The couple sells between 350 and 500 wood stoves and fireplace inserts each year. Most customers purchase their units after Labor Day, so they can be installed by autumn. And with crude oil prices hovering around $140 per barrel these days, she expects more homeowners to look for ways to save money on their home heating bills before the first frost.

"I honestly don't believe there's going to be enough product to go around," Borghaus said. "I believe the demand will be so strong, we won't be able to handle all the people."

Earlier this year, New Jersey Natural Gas asked the state Board of Public Utilities for two separate rate hikes -- 18 percent to pay for wholesale natural gas and 7.5 percent to cover distribution and operation costs. If approved, average customers who use 164 therms of gas during the winter would see their heating bill rise to $302.62. If spread out over a 12-month period, the monthly cost for 100 therms would be $189.21.

Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey, said a gallon of home heating oil cost around $3.60 last year. The price has jumped to $4.60 so far this year. The average homeowner uses between 800 and 900 gallons of fuel oil each year, amounting to a cost of no less than $3,680 this year.

Borghaus said using wood stoves can cut heating bills in half. "It is the only option that allows customers to be independent from paying these high prices," she said.

DeGesero pointed out the price of wood has gone up dramatically as well. "The demand is up because people think that's a better option," he said. "The alternative isn't as much as of bargain as you think. The price has gone up every year."

Joe Artelli, owner of Holmdel Firewood Inc., said last winter he charged $520 for a cord of seasoned Pennsylvania oak and $60 for delivery. His customers should expect to pay at least $10 more for a cord and another ten bucks for delivery this winter.

Artelli said other dealers are selling mixed tree-service wood, which he said was of lesser quality, for between $300 and $350 per cord.

DeGesero blamed investment banking and hedge funds for higher energy prices. "It has nothing to do with demand," he said, adding that oil companies and other groups are pressuring Congress to stop oil speculation.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data in 2004 showing that more than half (57 percent) of U.S. homes use gas as their heating fuel. The second-most popular choice was electricity at 31 percent. Other fuel sources, such as home heating oil, coal and kerosene, were used by nearly 9 percent of households nationwide, mostly in northern states.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says traditional pot-bellied stoves have been replaced by modern wood stoves, which produce almost no smoke, minimal ash and require less firewood. They can be sized to heat a family room, a small cottage or a full-sized home. The best models are certified for safety, so check the label before making a purchase.

"EPA-certified wood stoves burn more cleanly and efficiently, save you money, reduce the risk of fire and improve air quality inside and outside your home," according to the EPA Web site. Consumers should use only seasoned hardwood and burn small hot fires in order to reduce the amount of smoke generated by the stove.

Older, uncertified stoves and fireplaces release 40 to 60 grams of smoke per hour. Newer models produce only 2 to 5 grams. Borghaus said most of her wood stoves have an overall efficiency of 70 percent. Her cleanest model, the King 1107, has an overall efficiency of 82.5 percent.

The fuel merchants association points out on its Web site that new fuel oil equipment for homeowners produces the highest average efficiency at 85 percent, which is 10 percent higher than natural gas.


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