The Fear of Turning on The Heating in Massachusetts

Last night, I had a dream that my roommate had a bulbous, rubbery, steam-powered, steam-emanating steampunk clock hanging on the wall. It looked a bit like an Adipose. I was so freezing cold that I decided to carefully take it down and put it on the right-hand side of the air mattress. I was fully aware that the steam might have been dangerous, but in the dream I was so cold and my sinuses were so congested that I didn’t care. It took a minute for me to get the thing to stay upright (it was kinda floppy – shut up), then I lay back down, pulled all four blankets over my head and tried to enjoy the heat.

What felt like seconds later, I woke up, feeling cheated that this dream had everything depicted exactly to the letter, from the placement of that one Target bag with the various toiletries, to the colour of the air mattress. I woke up to a leaking face (eyes, nose, soul) because the drafts were actually gusting through what looked like a window, but wasn’t acting like one.

I had placed the air mattress directly in front of the radiator, thinking that the closer I’d be to the heat, the warmer I’d feel. This is wrong. The radiators are directly under the window, which blows in cold air much faster and at much greater volumes than that tiny little radiator can eke out. So not only do they cancel each other out, but the window’s cold air takes the radiator’s heat, bitch-slaps it, insults its mum and then leaves a flaming bag of dog poo on its doorstep.

My roommate keeps the thermostat at 61F. I assumed that was a large number, but still never having bothered to learn the conversion from Celsius in my head, I thought nothing of it and went to sleep. Only I couldn’t.

I recognize the difference of warmth between sleeping on a soft, thick mattress at knee-level and sleeping on a plastic air mattress (while still extremely comfy) at Talus-level. And I have fallen sick(er?) again, so maybe I’m not the best gauge for temperature. But I recall staying with her for a week or so a few years back – same time of year, same air mattress – and I was nowhere near as cold. In fact, it’s colder here than where I was before, and I was moving from there to escape the cold!

I wondered why she kept the heat so low when in England, most people I know keep it between 18-20C (64-68F), or even up to 21C (70C) when it’s extra cold. I thought it might have been because she grew up in a colder climate than this (gorgeous NY state mountains), but my husband, who has lived in New England his whole life, always dictates that we try to keep it maximum 68-70F.

I then remembered that, during my previous stay with her, she said that her gas bill was over $200 (£127) a month. To get it to just 16C in the winter, she has to pay that muchOutrage! I remember the first apartment the husband and I got, with “new efficiency windows” that were designed to hold in heat so the bills would be low, but the first gas bill I got was over $380 (£242). Converting it to pounds looks like it lessens the blow, but Americans view dollars in the same way Britons view pounds – there’s a 99p store and there’s a 99 cent store. The values are appreciated in the same way. Would you fucking pay almost £400 a month just to HEAT a tiny, tiny 2-bedroom FLAT?

My father lives in the UK, in a 5-bedroom, two-floor home which also has an attic. The rooms are fairly large, and for his gas and electric COMBINED, it comes to less than £80. Yep, utilities are cheaper in the UK.

Here, in the summer, if you have an air conditioner on, be prepared to face up to $120+ a month, and if you’ve got a tumble dryer and washing machine, expect to add an extra $70 a month on top of that. I’ll say it again – this is an outrage!

So why are gas and electricity so expensive in Massachusetts? The first time I rented an apartment here, the landlord said “call Keyspan to set up the gas, and National Grid to set up the electricity”. I just did as I was told and thought nothing of it – had no idea how expensive it would turn out to be. It even gets Martha Coakley mad.

The prices were enough to turn me off the companies entirely, worse so when National Grid ended up buying out Keyspan. Whatever, they bought another company. I’d go somewhere else! It’s the reason that websites like Uswitch and Moneysupermarket exist. Well, I went to a website called MxEnergy, who supply gas in my area, and entered my potential zipcode. I got this:

It’s somehow telling me that my zipcode has already been reserved for another gas company? It was probably a glitch. So I went on the company’s online chat and virtually spoke to a lovely lady called Carolina, who told me this:

So there you have it. It doesn’t matter what energy supplier I choose, the “delivery” will always be through National Grid, because they “own” the lines and meters…?!

National Grid themselves have even addressed this complete lack of choice by spamming search engines with pages talking about how they actually do offer a “choice” of companies. How exactly is it a choice when my money will still be going to the same company? It’s like being given a used pink pacifier to suck on and being told it’s not a pink pacifier, it’s a giant blue gummy bear lollipop.

In the UK, there are a ton of gas and electric suppliers, and they all have to compete with each other to get customers. How do they do that? By lowering their fucking rates. There is also not one company who automatically get “dibs” on all the fucking power lines and meters – it’s the gas company that YOU CHOOSE (at least as a homeowner) to give your money to.

I would like this for Christmas, please.

When a company like National Grid imposes a monopoly of not only gas but also electricity, it’s not exactly a healthy market. And they can do as they like and charge what they like, because there is no-one there to stop them, no-one to stand in their way, and no-one to offer an alternative. They’re sitting pretty. And it doesn’t matter whether you have forced hot-air vents, electric radiators or space heaters or normal gas radiators – it’s still expensive to run, and your money is going to go to the same company. You can pretend it says “My Little Pony Gas” but at the end of the day, it’s a company that’s still owned by National Grid, a company so greedy they had to monopolize both gas and electricity.

In my opinion, 61F (16C) is just a little bit too cold for my liking, but not uncomfortable. You can get used to the temperature – bundle up in comfy blankets, flannel sheets and fleece pyjamas – that’s what the snuggliness of winter is all about. It’s the drafts, though – they’re just so unpredictable. And after the first night here where I killed a huge spider (and thought about leaving its carcass on the wall as a warning to its mates), it’s discomforting to wonder whether or not it was actually a draft.

Typical English repression dictates that if something makes you feel uncomfortable, you must suffer through the discomfort and avoid bringing it up, whether it’s something as small and relatively insignificant as this, or something actually detrimental to yourself (like a shark attack or a deficiency of Nutella). If I want the heat as high as I want it, I’ll just have to get my own place. It’s like when you’re in a car and the person who’s driving gets to pick the music. Although I really hope she’s not hiding some Michael Buble fetish.

Much like healthcare and  higher education, heat is expensive, and rightfully so, because they are all privileges; luxuries, if you will. The easiest way to stay warm over here is to do it on the cheap – fill up on Twinkies, Devil Dogs, peanut butter and fast food to create a snuggly, toasty layer of excess fat. Try to be creative if it’s already winter, so you can put on the weight as fast as possible. You can brush your teeth with milkshakes!


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