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Firewood chops heating prices for Mon Valley residents

| Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001

Area residents are turning to wood and coal to help whittle home heating costs.

Business has been brisk for Harry Kassler, who offers firewood for sale from his Scenery Hill home.

People are turning to firewood since 'the cost of oil is up and it's been so cold,' said Tony Magnelli of Newell, who also sells firewood.

Kassler likes locust wood because 'it gives the most heat.' But for fireplaces, he favors cherry because 'it doesn't pop and it smells good.'

Kassler also sells oak and elm by the truckload. Kassler estimates his truckload is 'three-quarters of a cord to one cord of wood.' He charges $50, and $60 if delivered anywhere within a 30-mile radius of his home.

Since loggers went through his family's 36 acres and several of his uncles' properties, Kassler has plenty of 'leavings' from which to choose.

'Loggers take straight pieces for furniture and veneer and the rest is discarded,' he said. Kassler uses any wood from 13 inches to 2 feet in diameter.

Kassler installs carpets by day and cuts wood in the evenings after work and on weekends. He fills customers' requests for a specific type of wood with a two- or three-day notice.

Magnelli offers seasoned, split, cherry hardwood for $60 delivered or $40 'you-haul' for a 'face' cord measuring 8 feet wide by 2 feet deep by 4 feet high.

About two-thirds of his wood sales are for fireplaces and one-third is for wood stoves.

Magnelli, who owns 50 acres, culls out old trees, damaged or felled by wind and storms. This allows young saplings to take root and established trees to grow. Magnelli also replants trees in his woodlot.

In the booklet,'How to Select, Cut and Season Good Firewood' author John Vivan calls hickory wood 'the best wood there is' because it gives off little smoke, splits very well, and has the greatest efficiency.

'A chunk of hickory that tops 60 pounds per cubic foot will more than outlast two armloads of elm or pine, which weigh less than half as much,' he said.

He said live or green wood can contain up to 50 percent water. Energy is lost as water burns off and a buildup of creosote adds to the problem. Deciduous hardwoods such as hickory, ash, gum, white oak, and beech are good choices and should be thoroughly dry before use.

Fruitwoods such as cherry, pear, apple and plum are also excellent choice for firewood, he advised.

Other homeowners have turned to coal.

Attilio Cicconi, owner of Brownsville Coal Yard, has been selling coal since the 1950s. He heats the building with coal that houses Fashion Cleaners, another business he owns.

Cicconi sells run-of-mine coal for $40 a ton, lump coal for $47.50 a ton, and washed lump for $52.50 a ton.

He said some people still have old coal furnaces and run them along with oil, gas or electric systems. Some people also burn coal in their wood burners.

Pennsylvania does not tax coal used for home heating and never has, said Cicconi.

Another place to purchase coal is from Frank Zoretich at Gillespie Coalyard in Fayette City.

'Some people still have coal furnaces, coal stoves and wood burners with grates that can burn coal,' he said.

Zoretich sells run-of-mine coal for $38 a ton, and screened lump, or nut coal, from $42 to $46 per ton at the yard. Delivery charges depend on distance and can run from $15 to $25 per load.

Homeowners are bemoaning increased costs for home heating oil.

Ed Zappi, vice president at Zappi Oil and Gas in Washington, Pa., said No. 2 fuel oil is selling for $1.30 to $1.35 a gallon.

Zappi has seen a 10 percent increase in the price of fuel oil in the last 18 months.

'Yes, people complain. Everyone would like to see 59 cents a gallon, like it was five or six years ago,' Zappi said.

People who filled their oil tanks last summer saved a few pennies per gallon, said Zappi. In Pennsylvania, there is no tax on home heating oil but there is a 6 percent tax on heating oil for a business.

Kerosene, used in small space heaters and mobile homes, costs $1.56 a gallon.

Prices of natural gas have also risen.

Keith Uhrig, a spokesman for Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, said the increase in natural gas prices, based on the commodity's supply and demand, has been exacerbated by the record cold experienced in November and December, said to be 30 percent colder than normal.

Uhrig urged customers to go to the energy site on the Internet, www.columbiagaspamd.com for tips on ways to conserve.

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