For the college-aged crowd (and those who really don’t want to purchase a house), it’s inevitable that the only other alternative available is renting. Renting certainly has many benefits – someone else is primarily responsible for maintenance, the landlord may pay some utilities – but in some ways, it’s also a drawback, especially if you’re eco-conscious.
Sean’s written recently on discovering an inefficient refrigerator and replacing it, showing some rare initiative in asking his complex to replace his refrigerator. There is certainly an obligation on the part of the landlord to replace appliances that are dead or close to dying, but Sean was particularly lucky in his ability to discover the problem before the unit actually died. But what about other, less obvious savings? For instance, my rent includes water, sewage, and garbage charges, as well as lawn maintenance charges for my townhouse. What’s obscured because I don’t see those bills?
Paying my energy bills makes it fairly easy to see the price increases or decreases over particular time periods, and a breakdown provided by Puget Sound Energy’s online utilities can help me isolate areas where energy efficiency might be affecting my bills. But I don’t pay my water bills, and I am definitely a high consumer of water due to my daily habits. Water can also be a significant chunk of the homeowner’s monthly bill payments, but it’s hard to know whether requesting upgrades – say, to my showerhead – might lower the water bills. The other gotcha is that this really doesn’t matter – my rent doesn’t fluctuate, since my landlord only ever signs yearlong leases. But what would happen if I suddenly started paying for more utilities? This would definitely make me more conscious of my usage and more willing to make upgrades.
There is, in fact, one apartment complex in this area that I looked at the last time I was apartment shopping that requires its tenants to pay water bills in order to reduce the amount of water used across the complex: Montair at Somerset Hill. The cost of the apartments themselves, at the time, was outside of my price range, but the philosophy intrigued me. What would happen of a lot of the apartment complexes in this area adopted such a policy? The cost of living might temporarily rise, but I’d wager that, overall, costs might actually decrease a bit. It would be interesting to see another apartment complex in Olympia try such an experiment and report back on the results.