Last month’s violent thunderstorms caused tens of millions in damage but was a literal windfall to a few people: Those with a chainsaw and a fireplace.
For them, the oak trees scattered across the region were less of a problem and more of a solution to wintertime heating bills. Tree care businesses have long profited from the wood they cart away from customers’ homes, chopping them up and reselling for firewood in the fall and winter — but some think the abundance of free wood will drive down prices.
“Yeah, we anticipate in the fall that there will be a little bit less demand,” said Gregg DeGrazia, owner of Distinctive Lawns in the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township.
A cord of wood is a neatly piled stack of wood 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 8 feet long. DeGrazia said the company usually has about 200 cords of wood on hand. But post-storm, he estimated they had 300 cords. They sell split and seasoned oak and cherry wood for about $195 to $220, depending on where they have to take it. Fruitwoods, prized for their ability to lend fruit flavors to smoked meats, go for about 15 percent extra.
Other tree services shared DeGrazia’s projection for prices.
This winter, Robert Brown said, “You’re going to have a whole bunch of homeowners grabbing the wood, and we’re not going to get as many calls.”
Brown runs Robert Brown Tree Services in Corbin City. He charges $150 a cord, but the amount of work needed to haul, chop and haul the wood again barely makes it worth while.
“There’s a lot of labor in it,” he said. “They don’t just jump up and split itself.”
But in New Gretna, Justin Adams, owner of J.A. Tree Service, said he would always have some customers. Many homeowners don’t have chainsaws and logsplitters, he said, and “the elderly are not going to get out there and pack wood and split it.”
He sells firewood for about $150 to $175 in Atlantic County, depending on fuel costs and distance. He took in about 65 cords of wood because of this storm, but they plan on seasoning it until at least February. There may be fewer customers this year, but he expected prices to remain the same.
Burning wood may be humanity’s oldest fuel, but it’s been years since it was New Jersey’s dominant fuel source.
Statistics provided by the state Department of Environmental Protection said that to equal the energy in a cord of red oak, the state tree, a person would have to burn more than a ton of coal, 135 gallons of fuel oil or 164,000 cubic feet of natural gas, or use 3,606 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
In 1940, the first time the U.S. census asked, slightly less than 3 percent of state residents heated with wood, compared with 71 percent who burned coal.
The most recent available figures show that in 2000 about two-thirds of state residents heated with natural gas, the most common source, while 0.2 percent preferred wood.
Locally, 2,001 residents in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean Counties burned wood as a primary fuel in 2000, down from 3,867 in 1990.
Just 1 percent of Cape May, and 0.7 percent of Cumberland and Atlantic residents relied on wood in 2000, but those were among the highest percentages in the state.
Carol and David Ketschek live off of Old River Road, in Mays Landing. The storm brought down a medium-size oak on the property, but they borrowed a chipper and took care of most of it.
The balance was sawed up and stacked neatly at the side of the yard last week. Carol Ketschek said they don’t have a fireplace, so some firewood will go to her son-in-law, while the rest will go to a friend. She said, “We don’t even need to use it.”
Industrious homeowners have long had access to nearly free wood. The state has a program, the Homeowners Firewood Program, which allows state residents to go into parks and cart away dead trees in the fall and winter months. Residents in southern New Jersey can go to the Bass River State Forest in southern Burlington County. The cost is $20 per cord of wood.
This program may even help speed the cleanup of some of the region’s hard-hit parks.
Larry Hanja, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the department hasn’t decided what it will do with the downed trees in Parvin State Park in Salem County. He said that the thunderstorms felled hundreds of trees there, “so we have many weeks of work to do.”
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