Monday, October 25, 2021

Prepare now for winter home heating

Mineral Independent | October 13, 2021 12:00 AM

Each year, as cooler temperatures settle in, Montanans must prepare and ready their homes for the long winter months ahead.

This includes regular yardwork and winterizing projects. Some of the most important chores on the fall to do list involve maintenance on heating systems, gathering firewood, and splitting and stacking your supply.

There are a variety of ways for homeowners to heat their homes in Western Montana, such as propane, oil, electric, pellet stoves, or wood heat.

However, residents are often stuck with whichever heat supply their home offers, as major renovations can be expensive. With each different heat source comes a price tag, and many locals can attest to the steady increases in recent years.

Kailey Austin Hood, from Alberton, recently moved to a new home and was a bit surprised by the changes in her heating budget.

She said, “Our old house had propane and wood heat. We used the propane mainly for hot water. Our new house is propane only and not only has it been a huge price increase just to heat but the price difference between last year and this year is significant.” She also added, “Our new house has a propane fireplace insert so plans are down the road yet, but would like to yank it out and put a real one in.”

Making the switch from propane to wood heat can have its benefits. But for Superior resident Leona Crichton she has used propane gas to heat her home for many years.

Generally, gas companies will have special prices for filling your tank before the winter and it can save homeowners in the long run.

Crichton noted, “It has gone from $1.15 for the summer fill last year to $1.69 this year. Last year’s winter contract for propane went from $1.69 to $1.99. We did it last year and had to buy more in March.”

Although it is becoming less common than propane heat, oil heat for monitor heaters is still found in many homes in the area.

According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the winter of 2019–2020, about 5.5 million households in the United States used heating oil as their main space heating fuel, but about 81% of those households were in the Northeast. Very few homes in the western United States use heating oil. Annual residential heating oil consumption peaked in the 1970s and has declined nearly every year since.

St. Regis residents Vince and Louise Triplett use wood heat to keep their 3,200 square foot home warm during the winter. In the past they would go out and get their own firewood, but physically they are finding the task of filling their wood shed harder to manage with each passing season.

Over the past five years they have struggled to find local suppliers of firewood that are reliable and affordable. They burn through roughly 10-12 cords of wood depending on how cold temperatures are. Vince said, “Still we find it’s the most affordable.”

Unless a pickup is loaded down with a cord of wood and a homemade sign on the back parked outside the grocery store, local firewood suppliers can be hard to find.

For Kerilyn and Will Brooks of St. Regis running chainsaws together up in the woods is their main source of income. Kerliyn stated, “Will and I having been doing this since we first got together in 2017. However, he has been doing it since he was a kid.”

Supply and demand vary but the Brooks have had countless orders for wood this past summer. Kerliyn said, “This year there have been more than ever.”

She and her husband shoot for accomplishing a load a day, sometimes a bit more if they have a good stockpile built up. She explained, “Each day is anywhere between 4-8 hours depending on what all we have going on and how far out the wood is. That’s not including delivery.”

“We deliver from Saltese to Riverbend and 14 miles up Highway 135. We have gone to Quartz, Huson and Missoula before. But generally, we try to stay within the county,” Kerilyn stated.

The Brooks primarily cut Lodgepole pine, red fir, and tamarack, those are the most preferred woods in the area and burn the best. To make their trips as fast as possible they try to only find firewood nearby to cut down on travel time. An additional step of their job often includes splitting the firewood, some customers request it before delivery.

“Some people order the whole season worth which is 3-5 cords, some only order one a month. The average household goes through a cord a month. Depends on their size of space, needs, their stove and other appliances,” described Kerilyn.

How much does a cord of wood cost? In manageable rounds from the Brooks, it is $150 a cord delivered to your home. If you need it split first, that increases to $175.

In comparison to fill your oil tank for the winter, for 200 gallons at nearly $4.70 a gallon, it would cost $940. For 200 gallons of propane, prices are hovering around $2.00 a gallon, rounding out to $400 to fill your tank.