Wood Heat

By Nancy Moffett

In the early 1970s events in the Middle East produced an energy crisis that affected the price and supply of petroleum products. Motorists waited in long lines for gas, and people began looking for alternative ways to heat their homes. Stu Ackerman responded in 1975 by founding Wood Heat to sell wood-burning stoves out of his garage in Quakertown, Bucks County. Later, he and Bob Lehman teamed up to open a retail store in Pleasant Valley during what has been dubbed the “rebirth” of the hearth industry. In those days, they imported some stoves from Europe and Stu built his own stove, the Pleasant Valley.

Fast forward to 2012.  People are still seeking ways to save money and energy; and Wood Heat is still here to help them find the best heating solution for their homes. Stu’s son, Todd, now owns the business and has expanded the company to three locations: Route 248 in Palmer Township, Highway 202/31 in Flemington, NJ and its main store on Route 309 in Quakertown.

Todd and his brother, Mark (manager of the Quakertown store), grew up working at the Pleasant Valley store, and Todd ran a Wood Heat stand at the Quakertown Farmers Market, starting at the age of 13. “I left Wood Heat when it was sold to a stove manufacturer in 2001, but I never left the stove industry,” Todd explains. He worked for two manufacturers until 2009 when he returned to the Lehigh Valley and bought back the retail side of the business. The wholesale business stayed with the previous owners.

A visit to the Quakertown store shows just how far Wood Heat has come in the past 37 years. Not only do they carry a full line of wood stoves and fireplace inserts, but they also carry pellet, gas, coal, and corn burning stoves, fireplaces and inserts…all in various designs, materials and sizes. The main brands they carry are Jøtul, Quadra-Fire, Heat & Glo and Heatilator.

With heating oil prices continuing to rise, wood is still one of the cheapest ways to heat, according to Todd, at $200 a cord. “Stoves like these create a comfort area in the house and a gathering place,” he explains. “They go hand-in-hand with heat pumps, which only function down to about 40º. They even supplement geothermal systems and are, of course, much more efficient than electric resistance heating.” And, he adds, today’s products are much more efficient and cleaner burning, benefitting both the homeowner and the environment, than those of the 1970s.

Along with efficiency and cost-savings, Todd finds that people are using stoves and inserts in home renovations to give them that “wow” feature. “We tear out a lot of builder fireplaces,” he explains, “or retrofit them with upgrades.” For instance, homeowners with two-story great rooms are opting to add a fireplace insert within a floor-to ceiling stone treatment. Wood Heat can handle this type of renovation from start to finish because they kept the masonry and landscape supply business when they bought the Quakertown store from what had been Heaveners. Throughout the showroom, you’ll see beautifully designed fireplace treatments that range from El Dorado stack stone to brick to a rustic lodge look done in river rock and timbers. Using these materials adds a natural texture inside the home, Todd explains. Another option shown is a masonry overmantle that adds a dramatic element to an existing fireplace. With 87 units on display, the store is a homeowner’s delight.

When it comes to gas fireplaces, styles are leaning toward more flush, clean simple lines, although traditional is still dominant. There are three-sided models, see-through and vertical styles on display. “We have 11 gas inserts burning,” Todd says, “and a broad array of styles.” He points out that the new gas stoves have no pilot light and work on electronic ignition with remote controls and thermostats. What could be easier?

Outdoor hearths are becoming popular as homeowners opt to spend more time entertaining at home. With their staff of qualified technicians, Wood Heat can handle any type of installation including the masonry configuration chosen by the homeowner. This carries through with any type of stove they sell…all their installers are National Fireplace Institute® and manufacturer-certified.

Another unique aspect of this company is a series of programs that has run on WFMZ-TV 69 since the late 1970s called “Wood Heat Workshop.” The show touches on topics that range from direct vent installation to the difference between natural gas and propane to how to start a fire in a wood stove. It airs at 7:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month from now through March 2013. Or, you can visit www.woodheat.com/workshop.php to view these informative episodes.

As far as the Ackerman family goes, Stu is still involved in the business, working on weekends as does one of Todd’s nephews. The Quakertown location houses all office and warehouse functions, while the Flemington and Easton stores function as satellites. “We offer a whole range of alternatives to fit anybody’s budget and taste,” Todd says, “and everybody deserves the best price. We’ve enjoyed a terrific 37 years, and we hope to be here for another 37.”

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