Inclement winter weather across the Northeast, Midwest and parts of the South is driving up the cost of propane as the winter inventory diminishes, but more customers are showing interest in the seasonal hearth complement of the pool and spa business.
Governors in 31 states have issued relief orders to allow truck drivers transporting propane to drive longer hours as they battle snow and ice to bring the fuel to rural customers.
While retailers are seeing some effects of the shortage, the limited propane reserves won’t cause adverse conditions for pool openings and the pool season with customers whose pool heaters run on propane. As the weather warms, propane prices will drop along with demand, and fuel will become readily available again. Industry professionals anticipate that happening before customers book their pool openings.
The price per gallon for propane at that time is, of course, yet to be seen, but historically prices see the significant drop in April or May. With costs reaching $5 per gallon in some areas, the price drop will be welcome.
At Bassemiers Fireplace, Patio & Spas, propane prices are affecting the tank exchanges and refills the store offers customers, said James Bassemier, secretary/treasurer of the family-owned store in Evansville, Ind.
In a one-week period, the price jumped from 85 cents per pound to $1.85 per pound. “Up until that point, it was just a thing we did,” Bassemier said. “It’s the most significant increase of my lifetime.”
In Avon, N.Y., business owner David Coyne isn’t charging more for tank exchanges — yet. “We’ve absorbed it for our customers,” he said. But if it goes up much more, he’ll have to raise the prices at his store, New Way Equipment Home & Pool Center. His contract is for 7 cents per gallon above the commodity wholesale price, meaning it’s climbed from $1.82 per gallon to a little more than $2.
Like many other retailers with fireplace and hearth sales, Coyne is fielding more inquiries from customers interested in alternative heating sources to offset the cost of propane. Usually by Christmas, interest in stoves wanes until the next fall.
Not this year.
“We’re still putting stoves in,” Coyne said. “This winter has been a harsh winter.”
The Midwest was the region hardest hit by rising propane prices and limited supply, partly because of the fall harvest. Farmers faced a rainy season, meaning they didn’t harvest fields in stages and, instead, burned through large amounts of propane to dry crops before storage. With a propane pipeline being closed for repairs, not to mention increased propane exports and several winter storms with subzero temperatures, it’s small wonder demand grew.
“This is our slowest point [in the year], and we have about five people a day coming in looking at stoves that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Toylene Jones, owner of ComforTec in Massillon, Ohio, which sells hot tubs, grills, and home heating and pool supplies. Customers are citing the propane situation as the reason for their interest.
But when winter ends, propane supply will be back to normal for pool season.
“I don’t really see where there will be any short-term or long-term effects,” said Scott Rolenc, owner of Aqua Palace Spas & Pools in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He encounters a price increase every winter, but anticipates it dropping by April, when weather will warm and demand for propane for heating homes will lessen.
“This is nothing more than a commodity market,” he added. “Propane is readily available; you just have to pay more for it.”
Kim Caruso-Carvalho said she’ll have to wait for the season to see what she and her customers will have to pay for the propane to heat their pools. If the price is higher than usual, curbing costs won’t be too difficult, though. “You can kind of control the use,” said the owner of Cut Price Pools & Spas in Swansea, Mass. “On a hot day, you don’t heat it.”