A Look at the Current State of the U.S. Wood Pellet Industry

As a year-round wood pellet retailer, we’re always seeing fluctuations in pricing and supply/demand through the seasons. However, the beginning of the 2018-’19 heating season has its fair share of complications.

These setbacks have affected a significant number of pellet stove owners throughout the states – understandably resulting in many questions.

While we are hesitant to use the phrase “wood pellet shortage” – we are concerned with the increasingly tight supply of pellets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the ability for pellet mills to meet a growing demand.

Here are some main factors contributing to the current state of wood pellet supply:

  1. The industry has been struck with a series of catastrophic fires that have crippled some large pellet mills from producing pellet fuel. The sudden removal of these suppliers has forced many retailers to scramble for alternative sources.
  2. Many pellet mills have had great difficulty building necessary inventory levels due to this year’s weather. Last year’s winter stretched far into spring, depleting much of the inventory normally built up over the summer. Furthermore,  with the record wet fall and extremely cold November, many mills have ended up with a historically low level of inventory.
  3. Transportation has become more and more expensive and limited due to a growing shortage of qualified CDLA drivers, as well as strict new government regulations on hours of service via Electronic Log Devices. This technology – which is designed to enforce limits on driving time without breaks – has not only pushed many seasoned drivers to quit, but also reduces the number of trucks available overall. All of this significantly affects pellet suppliers trying to move wood pellets to where they’re needed.
  4. The price of heating oil always makes an impact on wood pellet demand. When heating oil costs increase, like this year, many pellet stove owners switch back to relying predominantly on pellet fuel. Combined with the rising pellet stove sale rates, this equates to a tremendous amount of new demand for wood pellets this year.

All of these factors have made the wood pellet market tight, and it’s possible this may worsen as we get into winter. However – any number of variables can dramatically change the state of this industry. A milder than expected winter; a dramatic drop in the price of heating oil; or a slowdown in the economy can all directly impact wood pellet availability. That being said, the risk of supply disruptions this winter is still significantly higher than in prior years.

If you haven’t secured your fuel for the winter, or think you didn’t order enough to safely last the entire season, you should do so immediately. While there are still many retailers selling pellets (including ourselves in certain regions) we cannot be certain on how long the availability will last.

For those who remember the winter of 2014, pellet shortages can occur very quickly and without much warning. The wood pellet market is in a delicate state and vulnerable to supply disruptions – which is why we strongly recommend you secure your pellet fuel while you still have the opportunity.

Keep This Tip in Mind When Re-Stacking Your Wood Pellet Bags

Woodpellets.com Customer Re-Stacking Techniques

Many folks don’t have the space to keep their wood pellet fuel stacked on pallets as delivered. Although storing wood pellets outside is possible and very common, we’ve noticed our customers often have our delivery drivers place the skids near an entrance to the house for re-stacking inside.

Read >> How to Keep Wood Pellets Stored Safely Outside 

Read >> Customer Tip: How to Easily Move Pellet Bags into the Basement 

Regardless of how you’re stacking the bags within your space, be sure to maneuver the bags in your front row to build up more bulk. This bag molding method makes the front row a little taller, making the stack lean a bit towards the wall as you layer up. This will help prevent an unfortunate (and potentially dangerous) toppling of your bags. See the photos below, provided to us by a customer with his warning of “Don’t shortcut” during your stacking.

Pellet Bag Re-Stacking

 

Wood Pellet Stove Troubleshooting Guide

Since every pellet stove is different, some of the best advice can be found in your stove manual. Whether you’re burning pellets for the first time in a new stove, firing up your system at the start of a new season, or switching to a new brand of pellets, this quick reference guide for troubleshooting some common burn quality issues should come in handy.

The Problem The Likely Culprit The Solution
Poor burn quality Dirty stove Clean your stove according to your manufacturer’s recommendations, or schedule a professional cleaning.
Blackened glass Burning on ‘low’ Adjust heat setting to medium or medium/high.
Excessive clinkers Airflow leak Clean all vents, check and repair/replace all gaskets, adjust damper or airflow setting.
Trouble igniting Air-to-pellet ratio Adjust air-to-pellet ratio by increasing air flow.
Lazy or small flame Air-to-pellet ratio Adjust air-to-pellet ratio by increasing air flow and/or decreasing feed rate.
Low heat output Air-to-pellet ratio Adjust air-to-pellet ratio by increasing air flow and/or increasing feed rate.
Sparks flying / embers in the ash pot Air-to-pellet ratio Adjust air-to-pellet ratio by decreasing air flow and/or decreasing feed rate.
Whole, charred pellets left in the burn pot Air-to-pellet ratio Adjust air-to-pellet ratio by decreasing air flow and/or decreasing feed rate.
Auger jamming / stove shutting down Long pellets Drop bags on the floor – this can break long pellets into a manageable length.
Excessive ash build up / whole, charred pellets in burn pot Short pellets Reduce feed rate.

As you can see, many burn issues are directly related to your stove’s airflow. If you have reviewed your owner’s manual to make the proper settings adjustments, but you’re still experiencing problems…you might have a leak. Wood pellet stoves operate through a system of air intake and exhaust, and the exhaust fan sucks air out through the burn pot to cause combustion of the pellets. It’s important to inspect your venting setup to see if it’s properly sealed, but it’s more likely the leak is through your door gasket.

It’s simple to test the door seal efficiency with a dollar bill. While holding on to one end of the bill, insert the other side into the door, and shut it. Pull out the dollar while the door is still shut, and note the resistance. You shouldn’t be able to remove the bill without a good amount of resistance. Repeat this method all around your door to check the full effectiveness of your gasket.

 

Please call 1-800-PELLETS if you have any concerns with the quality of your Woodpellets.com fuel. Learn about our Quality Guarantee, here.

Farmers’ Almanac Thanksgiving Forecast

Here’s the Farmers’ Almanac Official Thanksgiving weather forecast for the Northeast and New England on Thursday, November 22 through Sunday, November 25:

New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C. will experience wet conditions that may linger in most of the area (especially in New England) but the weekend should be fair.

See the full forecast here: Thanksgiving Weather Forecast

New York State Thruway, South of Buffalo. Photo by NYS Police.

The Farmers Almanac has also put together an overview of history’s storms that wreaked havoc on Thanksgiving events and travel, including the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950, Chicago’s White Thanksgiving in 1975, Denver’s Turkey Day Blizzard in 1983, New York City’s White Thanksgiving in 1989 and the Lake Effect “Snowvember” Storm in 2014

 

See the full list here: Historic Thanksgiving Storms

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