It’s Utilities, Not Me-tilities

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Today I talked to frequent commenter ThatJenn about utilities.

Nicole:  So utilities! You live in Florida, yes?

Jenn: I do! Inland, so not in the part of Florida people usually picture.

Nicole: So wait, where is that? Like, up at the top of Florida? Not near the coast?

Jenn: It’s the mostly-rural part where the panhandle meets the rest of the state; kind of right in the center.

Nicole: Got it. So what’s the weather like in the South?

Jenn: About what you’d expect, most of the year: hot, humid, rains every afternoon. In January it does usually get pretty cold (for Florida) in this area—highs below freezing for a few weeks, but it only gets cold enough to freeze pipes once every few years.

Nicole:  Are you already running your air conditioner?

Jenn: My air conditioner runs from about March to October, sadly (to keep it around 78 or 79 in the house) So yeah—it’s on right now.

Nicole:  So in terms of utilities: what bills do you pay (separate from rent, if you’re renting)?

Jenn: My town—Gainesville—has a publicly-owned utility company that manages and bills for most of my utilities: trash, water, sewer, electric, and gas. So that’s all one bill, which is a relief after juggling those separately in the last town I lived in! I also pay separately for internet. I used to have another, separate phone bill for my house, but I canceled my land line so I’m down to just a mobile phone now.

Nicole:  Oh wow, that’s a really great system!

Jenn: It really is!

Nicole:  For my apartment in Seattle, water and heat are included in rent (and, I guess, trash?) but I pay electric and phone/internet.

Jenn: Is the heat all gas there?

Nicole:  I have one of those old-timey radiators. I think that runs on hot water. I don’t know what heats the water. Maybe gas heats the water?

Jenn: I had a house in upstate NY that used a boiler and got oil delivered to heat the boiler.

Nicole: Yeah, I lived in a house like that in grad school. I hung my clothes next to the boiler which might not have been the world’s best idea?

Jenn: And I just had to hope the oil company came out in time to refill it before it ran out. I wasn’t a fan.

Nicole:  Yup, we also had some oil-less days. Lots of blankets. My sister came over one weekend when there wasn’t any heat and she was appalled. So do you feel like you pay “too much” for utilities? Or are you cool with the money you pay and the services you receive?

Jenn: I’m very happy with the rates I pay, though I have to say I don’t have a realistic personal basis for comparison other than my utility bills from Portland ten years ago (and I know time and geography are factors in that). I guess my city has done a good job marketing to me about how my rates compare to other cities in the region that don’t have public utilities. My internet bill is stupid, but aren’t they always? How about you?

Nicole:  I feel like I’ve paid the same amount for utilities forever. Like, for a decade. It’s always “hey, $40 bucks!”

Jenn: That’s impressive!

Nicole:  And then there’s internet, which is insane. That’s like “hey, surprise, we raised your rates this month!” Right now I’m paying $75 a month for internet only, no landline.

Jenn: That’s almost exactly what I pay.

Nicole: I think that’s the market price, because I checked for lower rates elsewhere.

Jenn: I did move into a little (compared to my house) apartment for a year a few years ago, then back into my house, and it was kind of painful to compare the main utility bills. Really highlighted how horrifically inefficient my house is. I’ve done a lot to improve it since then, but there are limits to what I can do to make it better.

Nicole: Oh, that’s a good point! I know that when you live in a house you’re supposed to do stuff like… insulation and um… cleaning your air conditioner vents or something and… caulk on windows? Plugging up the cracks so your hard-earned money doesn’t escape out the walls?

Jenn: Lots of “or something” goes into it, that’s for sure. I put in a new HVAC system two years ago, which was expensive but made a major difference, replaced a couple of really bad windows, and put in insulation in the attic – somehow, in the first 60 years of this house’s life, nobody thought to insulate it at all. I know it’s Florida, but seriously: insulate your houses. I’m pretty certain that’s behind most of the drop in my utility costs over the last few years. And it cost me, like, $300. Not nothing, but basically chump change compared to new windows or the HVAC system.

Nicole: I was never seduced by Joe Camel as a kid, but I have to say: the Pink Panther made insulation look really cool. Glad that you both knew how to insulate your home and that you actually did it! I feel like I’ve been way spoiled by living in apartments forever. Someday I’m going to move into a house and have no idea how to keep myself warm.

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