Rules of Thumb for Estimating Apartment Utility Costs
Utilities are a hidden cost: You know you’ll need to plan for them, but when you’re looking for an apartment, they’re not at the top of your mind. So, before you sign that lease, make sure you can pay all your rental expenses, not just rent. It won’t be much fun to sit in a cold apartment, hunting for a neighbor’s unsecured Internet connection, because you forgot to budget for utilities.
Here are some rough rules of thumb for estimating how much you should expect to pay for various utilities:
During winter months, or if you don’t use air conditioning, expect to pay $30-$50 a month for electricity. A lot of your bill will simply depend on how much you’re home, how much you watch television (tube TVs are big electricity drains), how efficient your refrigerator is and how careful you are about turning off lights.
On average, expect to pay about $250-$300 per year for air conditioning. That said, air conditioning isn’t an evenly-distributed expense: Most people only use it about three to five months a year. And, in some places, like Minnesota or Maine, you may only use it a few times a summer, which makes it a much smaller expense.
If you live in a place with average weather, you’ll be running your A/C May-September and spending about $50-$80 a month extra on your electric bill. However, if you live in a really hot place, like Phoenix or Dallas, you’re going to be paying a lot more per month, for more months — $80-$90 a month (plus regular electricity costs), for eight months a year. So keep that in mind. Your silver lining is that you don’t have to worry much about heating costs.
If you are in a multi-unit building with radiators, there will almost certainly be no extra charge for heat. The landlord will pay the building’s heating bill in total and build that cost into the rent. However, if you and some friends team up and rent a house, you’ll be on the hook for keeping an oil burner going for heat and hot water, which could cost more than $300 a month. If you have gas or forced-air heating expect to pay at least $100 a month in the deep winter, though the cost can vary. One good way to find out what to expect is simply to ask the landlord or a previous tenant.
In some buildings, if you have a gas range, you’ll have to pay for the natural gas that you use during cooking. (And in some buildings, the natural gas will also provide your heat.) With cooking, the cost is minimal — $15 a month at most, usually quite a lot less. It really all depends how much you cook at home.
Monthly, expect to pay about $45. Keep in mind that you can split the cost with as many other people as are using your connection, so if you have two roommates, that’s only $15 a person per month. The other thing to consider is bundling your Internet with your cable. You can often get a deal that way, if you decide you want cable.
This is an optional expense. With the new high-definition televisions, and their digital antennae, it’s easy to get great reception on network TV, and then you can use online streaming services for the rest of your needs. This will cost you about $20 a month, if you subscribe to two services.
If you want cable, look for a deal. They come along frequently and can save you some money. But be careful; companies often have add-ons like free premium channels for three months, which will then be charged to your account if you don’t cancel when the preliminary deal expires. So make sure to keep an eye on your account, so you know what you’re being charged for. While it’s nice to have cable, and you can usually find introductory deals that include cable and Internet for about $90 a month, it’s still a lot of money compared to using a streaming service or two for about $20 a month.
Finally, always get renter’s insurance. You never know what may happen, and it’s very affordable, at only about $150 a year. If your apartment is burglarized, you’ll be very thankful you have it.
If you skip the cable, your total utilities cost comes to roughly $200 a month. Keep in mind, though, that this is for the rental as a whole — if you have roommates, divide by the number of people living in the unit. Of course, if you have a very large apartment (say for four people or more) or you are renting a house, the heat, electricity and A/C will be higher, so add 20-30 percent to the estimate, and then divide.
As a rough rule of thumb, expect to spend on utilities an amount equal to about 20 percent of your monthly rent if you live alone, or about 10 percent of your monthly rent if you live with roommates.
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MyFirstApartment.com helps novice renters successfully navigate the first year of living on their own. The blog shares proven tips and tricks for everything from finding the perfect rental or roommate, to furnishing on a small budget or no budget, to dealing with landlords or roommate’s girlfriends.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.