Southwest Community Services typically serves approximately 4,000 clients each year through their fuel assistance program. This year, they received 4,600 applications before the technical opening of the program on Thursday, according to Keith Thibault, director of development.
“What we are seeing now is an indication of a much more intense need to come,” he said. “I don’t want to get too dramatic, but we’ve never seen this before. This is unprecedented in terms of cost.
Thibault said CAP agencies have been working to prepare for the difficult season ahead and hope more people will connect with them asking for help.
“We tried to be really realistic about what it’s going to be like,” he said. “I think we hit the ground running.”
Ryan Clouthier, chief operating officer at Southern New Hampshire Services, said his organization is also seeing an increase in need. They also saw people applying for the new state emergency energy assistance programs approved in September, which raised the income cap for Granite Staters seeking help with heating costs.
Last winter, New Hampshire received significantly more money from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also called LIHEAP, than it did in the winter of 2020-2021. The state received less money from the federal government this year, but it still has about $19 million from last year, according to the Department of Energy. That means there’s more money available through the LIHEAP program this year than the state has spent in each of the past winters, the department said.
Additional funding for LIHEAP and the state supplemental program helps, Clouthier said. The state’s recently approved Weatherization Assistance Funding can help households reduce their long-term costs.
“But there’s always a need for more,” Clouthier said.
Granite Staters can apply for help with heating and electric bills through their local community action agency; you can find your local CAP agency here.
Timber banks, where Granite Staters can obtain extra timber for the winter, also expect additional demand this year.
According to the Energy Information Administration, approximately 1 in 14 households in New Hampshire uses wood as their primary source of heating. This is four times the national average.
Melissa Gallagher is Executive Director of the Grapevine Family and Community Resource Center in Antrim. She says most people come to their wood bank before the state fuel assistance program begins — or after it runs out.
This year, she says, more people are stepping up to help their neighbors get through the winter.
“More people have contacted us than usual to offer wood. And I think it was just this recognition within the community that this is going to be a tough year for heating homes.
About 80 volunteers showed up in Hopkinton for a volunteer day in support of Sean Powers Wood Bank earlier this month, said Mary Congoran, who runs the project.
“It was just beautiful,” she said.
Congoran says even residents who use other heat sources could start using wood as the price of other heating fuels rises. According to federal data, the price of fuel oil — the most common heating source in the state — is higher than it has been in at least three decades.
“We’re just worried going into fall because I feel like anyone with the ability to burn anything will,” she said.
The Congoran Timber Bank has started bringing cords of timber to transfer stations in Andover, Salisbury, Sutton and Bradford, saying visitors can take an armful and donate according to their ability.
New grants are available from the US Forest Service and the Alliance for Green Heat to support firewood banks this winter.
Preparing a fireplace
As more Granite Staters look to save money burning wood this winter, companies that clean and repair chimneys say they are seeing an increase in demand.
“The busy season started very early and we haven’t been up to it for months,” said Matt Mair, owner of Black Moose Chimney and Stove. “We book at least two months in advance now, even with extra people and extra trucks on the road.”
Mair says he’s seen customers turn to alternative heat sources like wood-burning stoves as the price of fuel oil becomes unsustainable for many, and heating sources like propane, natural gas and electric also increase.
The influx of people turning to wood burning this year has brought particular challenges.
“We see a lot of people trying to make functional fireplaces that are going to take a lot of work,” he said. “A lot of people are just trying to resuscitate pretty old, sketchy systems.”
Ensuring chimneys are clean and in good repair is important, Mair said, because the chimney protects a home from the heat produced by a wood stove. The dirtier and neglected a chimney is, the more likely it is to catch fire in a home.
Mair, who is vice president of the National Guild of Chimney Sweeps, said businesses across the state and nation are seeing the same surge in demand, which comes at a time when hiring is also a challenge.
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