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Stove changeout program benefits local businesses

| December 5, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

After 20 years, Lee Disney's business has turned into an overnight success.

The owner of Hoo Doo Pellets and Hoo Doo Mountain Stoves south of Libby can thank increased costs for home heating oil and propane, and the local wood stove changeout program.

"The business is finally solvent," said Disney, whose wood pellets are now remaining in Libby instead of being shipped elsewhere at wholesale prices.

With home heating fuel selling nationwide for an average of $2.38 a gallon and propane at $1.94 per gallon, wood stove and pellet stove sales also have increased. There's also an increased need for the wood pellets.

Two years ago, Disney could almost give away pellets.

"With gas and oil prices, it's gone through the roof," he said.

In addition, Disney used to sell 15 to 20 stoves a year. He sold 38 just in October, including to those attempting to make the Dec. 4 deadline to buy a new EPA-certified wood stove or other clean-burning heating system.

It's hoped the new heating systems will help the area comply with federal air quality standards that weren't met due to wood smoke.

Starting Jan. 1, only EPA-certified stoves will be legal in the area that goes up Highway 37 almost to Canoe Gulch, west along the Kootenai River to Bighorn Terrace, up Pipe Creek Road to the Red Dog Saloon, and south to Libby Creek.

Ongoing monitoring will show if the new stoves are having the desired effect, and if they aren't, the next step could be a total ban on wood heat.

A grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided funding for 850 vouchers to cover about half the cost of buying and installing a new stove.

Local businesses benefited from the funding.

"That will be a one-time boost for dealerships," Disney said. "People were being forced to do something. It's better to lead them with a carrot than to beat them with a stick."

Rick Gullingsrud, owner of Rick's Rental, sold 200 wood stoves this year, which is twice as many as normal. Normally, wood stove sales make up 40 percent of his business; this year they made up 65 percent.

"People bought them and have signed up to get them, but we haven't had time to get them in," Gullingsrud said.

He also sees a downside to the project.

"I did five years worth of business in one year," Gullingsrud said. "I like steady growth, not bust and boom. I hired three extra guys just to do this and will have to get rid of them."

"I'm not saying it's a bad thing," he continued. "I'm a little leery about what's going to happen this year."

David Muniz with Glass and Home Innovations in Libby said his business benefited from the changeout program.

"We sold twice as many stoves," Muniz said. "We had a problem getting stoves from some of our dealers, but that probably wasn't created from this market. I've got one company that's 2,000 stoves behind in orders and another company not taking orders."