by: R.J. Cohn
Clark Fairchild, Rob Pluid and Tom Oxford know how to bring in heat that has staying power.
The owners of North Idaho Energy Logs – who purchased the 22-year-old compressed-wood log and pellet manufacturing company in Moyie Springs last October – are cranking out a whopping 100 tons of their eight-pound energy logs and 30 tons of wood pellets per day.
The company that was started in 1986 by Fairchild’s and Pluid’s fathers – Jim Fairchild and Bob Pluid, along with Al Farnsworth and Lowell Anderson – not only manufactures logs so high in combustion that they produce clean, hot fires leaving little or no creosote and deposits on the interior of fireboxes; they are also made entirely from dried wood shavings and sawdust by log machines that have been recycling wood waste since the 1930s.
With their reputation for burning hotter and longer than firewood and other manufactured logs, North Idaho Energy Logs has created a huge consumer demand throughout Idaho, Montana, Washington State and the rest of the western United States.
“There is really very, very little ash left over to clean up when you burn these logs which, along with the hot-burning fires they create, is part of their strong appeal and popularity,” said Pluid. “Until hard-core wood-burning users try the energy logs once, they don’t believe they are that good. But they become believers real quick.”
The demand has also created a strong local workforce at North Idaho Energy Log’s 17-acre site on Roosevelt Road, which now has 21 employees working two shifts that are currently turning out 24,000 logs per day.
“Most people think we work mostly in the winter to keep up with the demand, but it’s the summer months that we’re really turning them out to build up our inventory,” said Fairchild, the company’s plant manager, who spent most of his summers as a boy working at his father’s business. “We’ll put out 100 units of logs (240 logs per unit) in two shifts. Out of all that, only about a half of one percent is breakage. That’s a pretty amazing statistic.”
So is the annual sales growth from the once-little company, which started with just two former Presto Log machines built in the 1920s, that has since added seven more machines producing a half-ton of energy logs per hour per machine. Fairchild said production ran slightly higher than the previous year.
“Sales have been up for several years because home heating costs have soared,” said Fairchild. “People are looking for an alternative.”
For many throughout the West who heat their homes with wood, North Idaho Energy Logs has been that alternative. Tested extensively against other manufactured wood heating logs, Fairchild said that pound-for-pound their logs burned twice as long as other manufactured logs.
“They also weigh eight pounds compared to others on the market that are five to six pounds in weight,” he said. “One eight-pound energy log contains 68,800 BTUs, and one unit of them has approximately 16 ½ million BTUs. It’s pretty hard to beat what they can put out in heat for the price.”
Log comparison tests done in both a conventional uncertified wood stove and a phase 2 certified wood stove also demonstrate what Fairchild is talking about. The high-density and low-moisture content of the North Idaho Energy Logs allows them to pack a whopping 8,600 BTUs per pound, which translates into some serious heat.
With the introduction of wood pellet stoves as an alternative to wood stoves, North Idaho Energy Logs also jumped into the pellet-producing market and is now turning out 30 tons per day.
“The demand for pellets has been growing so much over the years that we are considering adding a second pellet machine,” said Pluid.
The overall growth of the company, which was sparked from an idea Jim Fairchild had more than two decades ago that has since morphed into one of Boundary County’s largest manufacturing companies, is just short of phenomenal.
“Dad was a mechanic for Sims Implement and Foust Logging who just wanted to create something where he could be his own boss,” recalled Fairchild. “Back in the 1980s, you could get sawdust and wood shavings for next to nothing. Dad wanted to created a job for himself in the winter and have summers off, but it didn’t quite work out that way. It just kept growing and growing.”
But three years after production and demand began to peak, the plant burned down when sparks flew into a pile of sawdust. Now with six buildings – including one that covers 24,500 square feet – and four warehouses, North Idaho Energy Logs is busier than ever.
While getting raw materials – sawdust and wood shavings – was once easy, Pluid says those days are long gone.
“It’s definitely a problem because the demand for shavings in manufacturing particle board, animal bedding and for Missoula pellet mills is real high,” he said.
Still, close to two acres behind North Idaho Energy Logs’ production plant are filled with pre-mixed piles containing different species of sawdust – hemlock, fir and others – hauled in by mill trucks.
“We’ve found that by mixing a percentage of different species the logs hold together better and burn slower and better as well,” said Fairchild.
The partners have added new updates and improvements to make the process of manufacturing their energy logs more efficient, especially with the drying process. Moisture contained in sawdust that is shipped from the mills runs around 50 percent, said Fairchild. They try to get it down to about eight percent moisture content so it will carry more BTUs per pound.
“Everything we do we’re always trying to improve on, make it better and become more efficient,” said Fairchild.
North Idaho Energy Logs’ markets have been primarily throughout the western states and some in Alaska. Though there has been a lot of interest in their logs back east, Fairchild said shipping costs are too high right now.
“We know we have an outstanding product that gets high marks from everyone who uses them,” said Fairchild. “We’re quite proud of what we’re doing here. As far as I know, there is no place around producing 8-pound logs with the quality that North Idaho Energy Logs makes.”