The Shrinking Wood Stove/Wood Heat Market

Dan Melcon, industry gadfly and fellow alarmist, discusses the factors contributing to the declining popularity of wood heat and wood stove sales.

| October/November 1998

The American market for wood heat is dwindling, and this emergency reserve of fuel — so entwined with the spirit of individualism and independence — is being elbowed to the sidelines by a glut of oil and natural gas. It seems that the same collective amnesia that allows us to build gargantuan sport utility vehicles has made us forget that a wood stove is one of the last practical defenses against another energy crisis. After we attended the convention of wood, gas, and pellet stove manufacturers in St. Louis, I discussed this situation with Dan Melcon, who has made a career of monitoring the "hearth products" industry. — Matt Scanlon

MOTHER: One look at the most current trade show in St. Louis is enough to convince a prospective wood stove buyer that the industry is in a real transition. The place was full of multi-thousand dollar gas and pellet stoves ... combination fish tanks and radiant beaters. But I saw virtually no actual wood-burning stoves. My first question to you is: Why has the wood stove seemingly disappeared from the wood stove industry?

Dan Melcon: [Laughs] It's true, but I haven't heard anyone ask me that question in a long while. I did an article a while back entitled "Whither the Wood Stove?" so I can appreciate what you are referring to. I think that the wood stove has largely disappeared from the wood stove industry because of declining energy prices for one, the mentality that wood stove heat is a hassle, the perception that wood heat is an environmental "bad guy," and finally, simple demographics.

MOTHER: So as oil prices plummet, wood heat seems less of a bargain?

D.M.: It seems that way, but wood heat is still one of your least expensive forms of home heating. The variable is how you account for your own labor. Throwing logs into a stove is, to some degree, labor intensive. So it depends upon how you value that. But in terms of cost per million BTUs, wood, along with natural gas, is still one of the best buys. Gone, however, are the days when your oil bill exceeded your house payment. Oil is selling for well under a dollar a gallon, about 50% less than in the heyday of wood stove enthusiasm.

MOTHER: It's hard for me to swallow that Americans are gladly disposing of a bargain for the sake of sheer convenience. I mean, the practicality of wood beat is still only an oil-crisis away.

DM.: Wood heat is regarded by a lot of people as work, and work that they don't have to do now. It might be because their own economic situation is better or it might be because the cost of the other energy options is a lot less expensive than it had been. And also, as a society, we have gotten away from some of the core values of [MOTHER EARTH NEWS' ] readership: being selfsufficient and harboring our natural resources and using them wisely. Whether you look at the incredibly wasteful sport utility vehicles or at the ostentatious square footage of new housing, we're not nearly as concerned about living on a small planet anymore. Part of that care should be heating with wood.

1/16/2009 6:58:07 AM

Good article about wood stoves I read next to my Morso stove while the outside temp hovers at 21 below ! I was surprised the best benefit of wood heat was never mentioned. That is...How warm it is. I could never afford to keep my house as warm as I do if I used my natural gas furnace. We love to hang around the stove to stay toasty warm.

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