by Cathy Resmer
I haven't been dwelling on it much here, but for the past three weeks, my house has been without heat. That's why Dilly Bean, my adorable but anxious chihuahua mix, is curled up on a sheepskin, wearing her red Fido Fleece in this photo. Our gas-fired steam boiler conked out on November 19, and my partner and I have been scrambling ever since to get someone to install a replacement.
This is actually far more difficult than you might suspect. For one thing, nobody works with steam boilers anymore, so it was hard to find someone who would even come out to look at it, much less replace it with a new, more efficient system. And even the people who know what they're doing are booked solid. One plumber we called advised us to get some space heaters and wait out the winter, because it would be too tough to find someone to replace the whole thing during the busy winter season.
And then there's the issue of cost: we couldn't possibly afford to drop between $9000-$14,000 on a new boiler and pipes. We thought we'd qualify for some kind of home heating program, but no. We now make a little too much for low-income programs (generally a good thing), and because we try to conserve energy, we didn't use enough heat last year for Vermont Gas to give us an efficiency incentive to switch systems.
So we figured we'd get a loan, right? Only we live in a house we bought through a generous low-income Burlington Community Land Trust program a few years back, which means we're not eligible for a home equity loan. And our car is only worth about 2 grand. When Ann-Elise called our credit union to ask if they'd give us a personal loan for $15,000 (at 10.25%!), the loan officer just laughed.
We were getting pretty desperate a week or so ago. Ann-Elise is over 7 months pregnant. This is not how she envisioned the last few months of her pregnancy — huddled and shivering under blankets, emerging to fire up the space heaters so we can keep the pipes from freezing. A few days of this feels a bit like an adventure, but after a few weeks, it's just miserable. These days it rarely gets above 53 degrees Farenheit in our living room — the warmest room in the house. That's only 10 degrees cooler than we usually keep it, but it makes a big difference. Maybe that's because I can see my breath in the bedroom.
But at last I have good news to report! The Land Trust dug deep and found us a 7-year loan at a much lower rate than we thought we'd get. We got approval on Friday. And thanks to our gregarious, well-connected friend Ellen Kahler, we found a reliable plumber, whose crew is starting work at 8 am tomorrow. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ellen.
My point in relating this story is not to ask for help — we've been blessed with an amazing outpouring of support from friends and neighbors, and from people we don't even really know that well, who have offered space heaters, or a warm place to stay. It's been great. I guess I just want to point out that not having heat is really stressful. It's a frightening prospect in icy Vermont. I mean, Ann-Elise and I are resourceful people who have the time and energy to work the system to get what we need, and it took us three weeks (more than four, actually, by the time they're done working, if everything goes as planned) to get things moving. I imagine others must have a tougher time navigating the beaucracy.
If you're looking for a good charity to support this season, I suggest the Vermont Warmth Program, which offers heating assistance to low-income Vermonters. They're fundraising this month through City Market, so it's easy to slip 'em some cash. And when your heat comes on, take a moment to enjoy it and be thankful.