Winter heating costs in historical perspective

In earlier times, so I’ve heard, a normal house on Cape Cod used forty cords of hard pine firewood a year. That was back before chain saws or splitting machines, so felling the trees and cutting them to fit a fireplace or stove was largely handwork, even before getting around to stacking. My muscles and back ache just thinking about it.

Mind you, a typical Cape was not a large dwelling – two over two, as they say – or two rooms downstairs and two under the rafters above.

Like many New Englanders, we heat part of our house with wood. It also functions as backup for energy outages, just in case. Since we live in a small city not far from forests, obtaining firewood is rarely a problem. I have no idea what it’s like in a city like Boston or Providence, but the going rate here, delivered, is $300 a cord.

Imagine needing forty cords to get through a year – that would cost $12,000 a year … for a small house! And we think $2,500 a year for natural gas is excessive? I’ll have to ask around to see what folks using fuel oil or propane are shelling out, but it’s still bound to be cheaper than the Colonial alternative.

Two cords of new firewood sit stacked inside a seasoned shell in early September/ Stacking it was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as earlier generations put in on their yearly supply.

5 thoughts on “Winter heating costs in historical perspective

  1. I cannot breathe wood smoke. It isn’t so bad if the fire is burning brightly and I am hearth-side, but if it is a neighbour’s chimney emitting particulates my lower airways’ function is reduced to 56 %. (measured in hospital) We moved to escape neighbours’ burning and since then I have been able to dispense with inhalers. One whiff of that smell makes me run! Maybe I am sensitive, but I reckon I am like the canary in the mine- I detect noxious emissions which harm not only myself, but everyone’s lungs around me.

      1. Yes, I wish people would get the message. The gas effect Living Flame appliances are so realistic and yet don’t bother asthmatics etc All the cosy ambience with none of the particulates… If people are not sensitive the don’t realise that it is still causing their lungs problems. I now know quite a few people with lung cancer who have never smoked. We don’t live in a perfect world, but I try to protect myself as much as possible after being brought up in the late 1950s with coal fires all round me, creating pea soupers (smog) There were no inhalers in these days. The nostalgia brigade didn’t have experience of that and are trying to recreate a sentimental past, with no knowledge of respiratory problems. Will stop there!

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