I just read in a magazine that the average American household will spend more than $1000 on heating this winter. I am floored. $1000? That’s incredible! We live in Chicago, where it is very very cold, but we live in an apartment, and so much heat bleeds into our place from the incredibly overheated hallways (at last check they were hovering at a toasty 83 degrees,) that we don’t actually turn on the heat that often. Before this, I lived in California, where some people believe there is winter but they are wrong, so there was no cause to turn on the heat ever. Thus, these gargantuan heating bills are not part of my experience. I had sort of figured that my $5 a month or so increase in heating costs during the Chicago winter was normal. Seems I was wrong.

This leaves me wondering why heating America’s homes is so expensive. Possible theories:

(a) the cost of gas/electricity/firewood has increased dramatically
(b) American houses are really really big and require lots of heat.
(c) American houses are really really inefficient and leak lots of heat (this is certainly the case in my parents’ house, which is 105 years old and built like a sieve)
(d) both (b) and (c)

My first instinct, on learning this little tidbit about heating costs, was to curse once again the rise of the McMansion and its companion huge utility bills. I can get good and lathered about McMansions. I grew up in a town full of old, gorgeous, sieve-y houses, and these days new owners are tearing them down like its going out of style and building new, bigger houses that extend all the way to the lot line. I am not a fan of this trend. I like my living spaces a little quirky- I’ll always remember the four foot square kitchen in my first apartment, the crooked living room floor in the first house I lived in as a teacher, and the constant hissing and clanking of the radiators in my parents’ house (see “sieve”, above.) McMansions lack these charming quirks. (Rumor has it McMansions are also less costly to keep up and totally customized to the whims of the owner, but I’m choosing to overlook that. I’m making a point here.)

So given my loathing of McMansions, it was natural for me to assume that astronomical heating bills are the fault of these newer, bigger, brighter houses. Upon reflecting further, however, I realize that the real answer is probably (e) all of the above. (I was a teacher, I should have remembered that the answer is always “all of the above!”) There have been all those NPR reports on skyrocketing fuel prices after all, and NPR usually is right about things.

Perhaps I was so quick to blame the McMansions because of a brush with death I had today involving a Hummer. (Hummers and McMansions are both filed under “silly excess” in my grandiose mental filing system, lest you wonder how the one is related to the other.) On the expressway, this Hummer nearly rear ended and ran over my little Prius as I watched, terrified, in my rear view mirror. The driver, cell phone in hand, was totally oblivious to the stopped traffic. Though I’m not a religious woman, for good measure I said a little prayer that she would notice my brake lights before I became part of a Prius pancake. I had visions of really really expensive repair bills. This car could have eaten my car for breakfast. It did not look good. I held my breath…and she came within about an inch of my bumper before stopping abruptly.

Then she honked at me.