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Apartment Hunting with an Eye to Energy Savings: Part I

August 10, 2010 - 5:30pm


Apartment hunting can be a long and stressful process. Finding that right place is difficult, let alone finding the right place with the right price. What's rent? What's the neighborhood like? How big is the closet? How long will my commute take? Was the kitchen recently re-finished? Are there hardwood floors? We think about so many things in hopes of finding the right fit.

I recently went apartment hunting. After a few days and 15 apartment complexes, I finally found the right fit at the right price.

Despite what my brothers say, I don't think I'm cheap. I'm frugal. Or better yet, I'm cost conscious. When looking for an apartment I didn't want to overspend, so I asked myself three main questions:

  • How far is it from public transit and community businesses?
  • Can I keep my utility bills to a minimum?
  • What's the rent?

In this first of two entries on apartment hunting, I'll talk about community connectivity and living (nearly) car-free.

Community Connectivity

I've had a car for the past 10 years. Driving gives us the freedom to go where we want, when we want. But it can also be more expensive than we realize. Gas, oil changes, car payments, routine maintenance, and insurance costs quickly pile up. So, when apartment hunting I decided to look for a place where I wouldn't have to drive.

I wanted to be connected to my community—including parks, schools, nightlife, shops, libraries, cafés, and everything else—but I didn't want to drive. My new apartment would have to be within walking distance of a grocery store, a gym, and other community businesses like a bank, dry cleaner, and retail stores. Every place I visited was within five blocks of a subway station and multiple bus routes, too.

I eventually settled on a building less than six blocks from just about everything I could need and only three blocks from the subway.

Car-Free Living

With so much nearby, I sold my car; it was a financial drain on my wallet that only cost me more while losing value over time.

Now, I no longer have car payments. I no longer pay for expensive gas. I no longer pay for maintenance or parking. My insurance rates have dropped. And, importantly, since the subway has a stop a few blocks from my office, I no longer have to battle rush hour traffic. That alone gives me an extra hour and a half of free time every day (and I can read during my commute). What's more, my job provides a public transportation subsidy, so I won't have to pay to go to work. And if that weren't positive enough, by selling my car, I even generated income.

The savings I see every week and every month add up. They add up so much that it's affordable to rent a car or to participate in a local car share program. Though, I typically just borrow a car from a friend when I need one.

I walk and bike more, which is good for my health and makes me feel better. I see my community up close instead of through a windshield at 40 miles per hour. I'm helping reduce America's demand for foreign oil. We import over 11 million barrels of oil every day, paying huge sums of money to foreign governments—not all of whom are friendly to the United States. I'm reducing harm to the environment, too. Transportation accounts for about 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (about 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). It causes poor air quality that can trigger conditions like asthma.

By not driving, I'm reducing the pollution in the environment around me and making my community a healthier place. Most importantly, I'm saving money by saving energy. Without having to pay for all of the fuel a car consumes, I don't have to pay for all of the other added costs that come with owning a car.

Choosing to stay connected to my community and living car-free saves money, helps improve national security, and slows environmental damage. It's a win-win-win. So when apartment hunting, consider connecting with your community more, using public transit, and saving money without having a car.