It takes all kinds of folks to stay warm in New England. Take a humorous look at how we heat.
The Wood Bore
This wood-burning connoisseur delights in regaling you with an exhaustive description of his stove’s twin-engine, four-on-the-floor, ultrasonic secondary-burn technology, which results in fewer emissions than the average baked-bean dinner and heats his house all winter with three sticks of wood. His small carbon footprint (size 6) tends to make him smug, if not downright self-righteous. He doesn’t get invited to many cocktail parties.
The Heater Hermit
Most Yankees disdain space heaters because they use electricity, which in New England is like burning caviar to keep warm. Those who do use them generally heat only a small area where they camp out; the rest of the house is basically an igloo. The hermit’s favorite space heater is the cat, which can be used to apply heat wherever needed: lap, feet, or top of head. Cats are also self-cleaning and safer than other heaters: If you drop them, they always land right side up. Of course, electric heaters rarely leave a dead mouse on your pillow.
Propane Patrons & Oil Aficionados
Some people like to keep warm without any more exercise than turning up the thermostat. That’s especially appealing to seniors, who generally prefer to keep the living room at the temperature of Waikiki Beach. Environmentalists sometimes look down on these oil and propane users. They don’t care.
The Pellet Partisan
When people leave the Church of Wood—generally because they get tired of all the chopping, stacking, and carrying—they often convert to pellets, which gives them the comfort of burning wood, with just enough effort to feel as though they haven’t left the true faith. Of course, pellet stoves need power to operate. Come the first power outage, pellet lovers can be seen knocking on the door of a wood-burning neighbor, while holding their rapidly thawing pizzas— which, as it happens, can actually be cooked on top of a woodstove.
The High-Tech Hotshot
Generally, Yankees are too cheap to heat with solar power, aside from opening the drapes on the south side of the house during the day. But the high-tech enthusiast installs solar panels all over his McMansion, in the mistaken belief that the sun actually shines in New England during the winter. He also brags about his geothermal system, an amazing technology that draws heat directly from his checking account. However, thanks to a credit from the power company, he estimates that the system will pay for itself in roughly 1,000 years.
The Hardwood Diehard
Meet the person still using Grandma’s cast-iron woodstove, which has the fire-safety rating of a Ford Pinto. Of course, diehard wood burners don’t worry about the occasional chimney fire. They’ve even been known to start a chimney fire just to clean out the flue—a great idea if you really, really hate paying property taxes. Back in the day, diehards who ran out of wood sometimes burned old furniture. If they’d known how much people from away would pay for that Mission-style dresser these days, they would’ve put on another sweater.
The Fireplace Fanatic
This character still heats with an open fire, which provides ambience, cheer, and about as much heat as a good waffle iron. Fireplace lovers are mesmerized by the sight of dancing flames, glowing embers, and money pouring out of the chimney at the rate of several hundred dollars a cord. You can always tell folks who use fireplaces by the fragrance that permeates their clothes: Essence of Burnt Oak.
The Coal Convert
Once upon a time, everyone burned coal, generally in furnaces that looked like Soviet-era spaceships. But these days coal burning is practically a cult. Those who do it tend to be frugal, tenacious, and not too worried about black-lung disease. They convert to coal because burning wood is too easy. Coal, on the other hand, is the hair shirt of home heating, with a reputation for being tricky to burn. “Nonsense,” says the coal convert, who also enjoys performing his own surgery.
All photos/art by Mark Brewer