Thursday, April 01, 2010
Rent w/utilities included, or pay them ourselves?
When we were looking at apartments in Ithaca, the complex we ended up settling on offered units with heat included, at a higher rent, or units in which we'd have to pay our own gas bill, but with a lower rent. I did a cursory search on the internet at the time to see if there was any general consensus out there on which was more cost-effective in the long run, but I didn't find anything. We took a leap of faith and went for an apartment with the heat not included.
The monthly rent discount for a pay-your-own-heat apartment is $100. So to break even on our "extra" utility costs, our gas bill would need to be less than $100/month, on average. But it wasn't that simple - gas costs during the summer would be close to nil because we'd only be paying for minor usage, like our oven. During the winter, however, we'd depend on gas to heat our house. We knew that the winter months were the ones that would make or break the success of our little gamble.
Well, I think spring is really almost quite just about here, and though the heat still kicks on now and then, I think we're out of the heavy winter usage. So I took a look at our utility bills to see how the numbers worked out.
Allowing for relatively low summertime gas usage, I figured we had anywhere from $150 to $175 to burn, per month, on gas bills in order to keep under our cost limit. During each of the five coldest winter months (yes, I just decided that winter lasts five months here), we spent an average of $88.50 on our gas bill. That means we came out way ahead in the cost-effectiveness part of the utilities included vs. pay your own way contest.
However. There is a big however. We usually kept our thermostat at around 61 degrees. Sometimes it crept up to 62 or 63 degrees, but to my knowledge it was never higher than that. Oh - except for when a family stayed in our apartment for a week while we were out of town at Christmas time and the bill for that month was much higher. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Bottom line: The pay-your-own-heat apartment ends up being cheaper only if you're willing to keep the thermostat fairly low. Although it looks like we actually ended up with quite a bit of cushion room in our monthly bills, so maybe we could have set the thermostat higher and still come out ahead. Aside from cost, I can think of two other reasons someone might want to opt out of an apartment with heat included:
1. You want to control your own thermostat. As I understand it, the apartments with heat included have little to no control over the thermostat setting. And it is set for HOT.
2. You don't want to breathe air that has circulated from another apartment. This is something the apartment company mentioned but I don't know how that works. She said something about us having our own self-contained system. Who knows what exactly that means.
I hope someone out there finds this post helpful, or even interesting. I also hope I've done my calculations correctly. The bills we get from NYSEG are not especially easy to read and electricity is lumped in there with the gas in some places. I did my best to sift the charges out correctly. Please let me know if you think I've made a mistake somewhere.
(Besides the mistake where I set the thermostat at 61 degrees, because it wasn't one.)