Pellets, stoves in demand even in summer’s heat

Elaine Allegrini

A half-hour after two pellet stoves were placed on the selling floor at Home Depot in Brockton last month, they were gone — grabbed by consumers hoping to beat winter’s chills.

And, 22 tons of pellets to fuel the stoves sold out in two days.

“We should see more product by the end of the week,” said D.J. Walls, store manager.

Simon Kavanaugh, owner of Fireplace Showcase in Seekonk, is not as optimistic.

“We had 80 to 100 stoves and we’re completely sold out right now,” Kavanaugh said. One thousand tons of pellets also sold out.

Pellet stoves are not new to the market, but they are in demand as consumers try to beat skyrocketing costs of traditional heating fuels.

Heating oil is now about $4 a gallon, down from a high of nearly $5 a gallon, but still 50 cents a gallon higher than a year ago. Natural gas costs are expected to nearly double in the coming heating season, according to Phil Lindsay of MassEnergy, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. And, since natural gas and oil are used to manufacture electricity, that is expected to jump in price too.

Wood stoves offer another heating source. Firewood is currently selling for an average of $300 a cord. It takes several cords to heat an average home for the winter.

Pellet stoves are billed as the “perfect choice” to control heating expenses, offering efficient heat with minimal emissions. They also require less attention than a wood-burning stove and offer easy maintenance, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute.

But Kavanaugh warns, “It’s not an inexpensive heating appliance.”

Pellet stoves are available in a wide price range — from about $1,200 to several thousand dollars, depending on quality and size, based on the area to be heated. They also require installation, including an electricity source to power the automatic feed.

“People need to understand, they need to take the long-term approach,” said Kavanaugh, who estimates a typical investment of $4,500, plus installation.

Pellet stove sales actually dipped last year, but took off in a big way in early summer.

Eddie Velez, of South Coast Hearth and Patio in West Wareham, said sales are up 50 percent. He has stoves in stock, but does not sell pellets that are also in demand.

Since pellets are made of sawdust and ground wood chips, and new home construction is down, there are concerns that there will not be enough pellets to last the season. That has led pellet stove owners to stock up for the entire winter instead of buying the fuel as needed.

Some retailers are limiting sales to serve more customers.

“We’re anticipating a shortage half way through the year,” said Walls, the Home Depot manager.

Kavanaugh said he is reserving any additional pellets for those who bought stoves from him, but he does not subscribe to the fears of a shortage.

“I sold 1,000 tons but could have sold three times that,” Kavanaugh said. “There’s plenty in the marketplace, now they’re bringing (sawdust) in from longer distances.”

Elaine Allegrini can be reached at eallegrini@enterprisenews.com.