The proposal by the Governor of Utah to ban the wintertime use of wood and pellet stoves was met with intense opposition from a large majority of Utah residents and the wood stove industry. It also underscored the need for Utah state agencies, the media, and the public to better understand the role of wood heating and its prevalence in the United States. This short paper compares census data of wood heating in Utah compared to the rest of the country.
As of 2013, 10,500, or 1.2%, of Utah residents use mainly wood and pellets for their primary heating, far less than the national average of 2.1%, according to the US Census. There are likely to be an additional 40,000 to 50,000 who use it as a secondary heat source, though the US Census does not track secondary heating. The EPA however estimates that there are about 93,000 wood and pellet stoves in Utah, some of which may not be used at all or only occasionally.
Utah is one of the states that buck the national norm, in that far more homes heated with wood and pellets in 1990 compared to 1940. Utah residents gave up wood heating faster than the United States as a whole, with the number of homes mainly heating with wood hitting a low point in 1950, two decades before the rest of the country. But between 1970 and 1990, Utahns embraced wood heating far more aggressively than the rest of the country. The number of Utah homes mainly heating with wood rose from 0.3% in 1970 to 3.2% in 1990, a high point that the state has not hit since then.
The rapid growth of wood and pellets in Utah since 1970 is likely due to many of the same reasons it has grown so quickly elsewhere: both gas and oil prices had been climbing, until gas prices finally dropped in 2008 and oil prices just starting dropping in 2014. And, the increase of wood and pellet heating may also be linked to an increased desire for household energy security by both conservative and liberal households, but for different reasons.
Median household income remained relatively static in Utah for most of the 2000s before they began falling in 2008 and rising again in 2012, compared to the US where incomes first decreased in 2007 and only started recovering in 2013. Often, more households turn away wood heating as incomes rise and this is likely a factor in Utah since 2012 as well.
Since 2005, the percent of Utahns using wood or pellet as a primary or sole heat source has ranged between 1% and 1.4%, and since 2010 has remained steady at 1.2%, significantly below the national rate of 2.1% that has remained unchanged since 2009. Wood heating peaked in 2009, at the height of the recession and dropped slightly as the economy has picked up.
Wood and pellets are the fastest growing heating fuel in Utah, followed by electricity, as it is the US overall. Wood and pellet heating as a primary heat source had increased nearly 40% in Utah from 2000 to 2013, slightly less than the nation overall.
Utah is quite different than national heating trends when it comes to gas and oil. Gas heating has grown 30% in Utah since 2000, yet has only grown by 4% nationally. This increase in gas heating may be tied to slower growth of wood heating in areas with gas lines, while wood heating remains robust in areas without gas lines. Accurate county data could confirm this. And oil heating has dropped far quicker in Utah than it has in the nation overall, although it has not been a very widespread form of residential heating in Utah.
Utah has the lowest percentage of homes heated primarily with wood in the West. The Census does not have county level data of wood heating in Utah, but typically rural counties have far more wood heating than more urban ones. And, lower income counties typically have more primary wood heating and higher income counties have more secondary wood heating.
EPA Estimates of Fireplaces, Stoves and Boilers in Utah
The EPA figures, above, estimate nearly a quarter million wood fueled devices in Utah. A majority of those are fireplaces and studies show that a large percent of fireplaces are never used or only used once a week, unlike stoves which are often used every day. About 93,000 units are stoves, nearly 16,000 of which are pellet stoves, 48,000 uncertified stoves (most made prior to 1990) and 26,000 are EPA certified stoves, made since 1990.
As this chart shows, 84% of Utah residents heat with gas, one of the highest percentages in the U.S. The second most popular heating fuel is electricity, which heats 11% of Utah homes, followed by propane, which heats 2%. The fourth most common heating fuel is wood and pellets which account for 1.2% of homes.