Your Guide to Estimating How Much You’ll Have to Shell Out for Apartment Utility Bills
You’ve been on the hunt for an apartment. Perhaps you’ve even found the perfect place and are considering putting in an application.
But one question has given you pause for concern…How much are utilities in an apartment?
You’d be right to use caution here. Every landlord and property management company operates on their own terms. Because of this inconsistency in operations, you’ll need to figure out what utilities (if any) are covered as part of your monthly rent, and which you are responsible for.
You’ll also need to ‘guesstimate’ how much you could expect to pay for these utilities so that you can appropriately budget ahead of time.
In some cases, the added expenses of utilities may make an otherwise affordable rent for an apartment out of reach. Knowing this ahead of time can save you time, energy and frustration.
But don’t fret. In this guide, we’ll help you figure out what utility bills you might expect to pay for in addition to rent, how to find out which ones are your responsibility, and how to estimate your costs so you won’t get hit with a surprise bill that your wallet can’t cash.
Quick Facts About Apartment Utility Bills
- According to Energy(dot)gov, the average renter can expect to pay between $150-$200 per month in heating and cooling costs, plus electricity.
- In a majority of cases, landlords include the water and refuse bill as part of tour rent
- Most tenants will be responsible for paying for their own ‘optional’ utilities, such as cable TV and internet
What Utilities are Included in my Lease?
When on the hunt for an apartment, one of the things on your list of questions, should be to ask the property manager for details about the utilities prior to signing on the bottom line.
The last thing you want to do is accidentally get in over your head financially and then have to break the lease, likely incurring even more penalties.
Utility Costs Landlords (might) Cover
Before we can estimate what you might have to pay out in utility bills, we need to first establish which bills you’re actually responsible for. Despite what you may have been told verbally, if its not in writing on a legally binding agreement, it doesn’t count.
Review your Lease or Rental Agreement
Step one is to get out the lease agreement and READ IT CAREFULLY. There should be a section labeled “Utilities” or similar. This section should define what is and is not included in your monthly rent payment.
Most apartments include water and refuse (trash) in the rent, however, this may not always be the case. Often a tenant will be responsible for gas, electric, and any other optional utilities.
If something is unclear, or if certain utilities are not listed at all on the agreement, always ask to get it in writing as to who is responsible for what.
What are The Typical Average Utility Costs?
We’ll get down and dirty with the details in the next part of this guide. But for now, let’s take a look at the ‘average’ utility bills for apartment renters across the United States.
According to a 2016 report by the United States Energy Administration, the average monthly energy bill a renter could expect is $112. However, this last report was compiled in 2016 (yikes). Energy costs have increased substantially since then, especially in certain parts of the country.
Depending on where you live (region, state, city) and on the type of energy consumed (gas, electric, etc.), renters could expect to pay as much as $150-$200+ per month on utilities not included in the rent.
Below is a Brief Breakdown of Example Costs Based on Utility Type:
*This is a rough estimate and to be used for illustration purposes only
- Electricity $40-$70 (excludes that used for air/heat and stove)
- Air conditioning $35-$60 (averaged over a 12-month period)
- Heating $50-$65 (averaged over a 12-month period)
- Cable and internet $75-$180
- Trash and recycling $20-$30
- Water $40-$60
- Renters insurance $15-$25 per month
A Closer Look at Apartment Utility Bills
Factors that Can Impact How Much You’ll Pay:
- The size of your apartment (more square feet means more space to heat or cool)
- The number of rooms in the apartment
- The number of occupants
- The number of appliances that run on electricity
- The amount of time occupants spend at home vs out and about
- The level of insulation and type of materials used in the building
- The number of windows and/or doors (over 20% of energy loss occurs at leaky windows and doors)
But doesn’t the property management company or landlord already have insurance on the property? They do, but here’s why that doesn’t help you. If disaster strikes, your landlord’s property policy won’t protect you or your belongings.
Renter’s insurance provides protection for all of your assets in the building. It offers insurance in the event of theft or vandalism, or damage from water, fire, smoke and more.
Although some landlords or companies require that you obtain renter’s insurance, here are a few good reasons do get it even if they don’t:
- Additional living expenses coverage – providing you with funds to stay at a hotel in case of emergency
- Medical costs for any injured guests – accidents can happen anywhere at any time
- Damage caused by small children – such as breaking a neighbor’s expensive statue
- Covers attorney fees – if you are sued due to someone getting injured in your apartment
- Usually cover dog bite accidents
- Covers things ‘in possession’ – meaning any items you’ve borrowed or rented
- Coverage away from home – policies usually cover items even when those items are not at home (i.e. luggage in a hotel room)
No matter where you live, at least part of your residence will be powered by electric, making it one of the most necessary, as well as expensive, bills.
Presuming you are renting a 1-bedroom apartment, with no electric powered heat or cooling, you can expect to pay around $30-$50/month.
The Cost of Air Conditioning
Air conditioners are power hogs. Be it electricity or gas, these machines take a lot of energy to keep you feeling crisp and cool no matter the season. Because of this, costs can add up quickly depending on where you live and how much you need to use it.
Typical costs can be as much as an additional $45-$95 per month.
Gas Utility Bill
Your gas bill can be tricky. In some areas of the country, gas is cheaper than electric (such as in some east coast states). In other areas, such as the Midwest, electric can be far cheaper than gas.
Always ask which appliances run on gas vs electric and what type of gas is used so you can look up local costs in the area to evaluate how much you might be spending monthly.
The cost of heating for an apartment may be billed separately and will vary throughout the year. The biggest factors impacting cost are the size of the apartment, the height of the ceilings, and the type of energy used.
Overall the monthly cost may vary between $40-$150+
Cable and Internet Bills
This is one of the most often overlooked bills you’ll encounter when renting an apartment. VERY few apartment complexes include cable or internet in your rent.
This may be a relevant time to re-evaluate your specific needs. How much time you’ll be spending at the apartment, whether or not you’re a homebody who enjoys more digital media, or whether there are some things you could cut back on.
In some cases, cutting the cable bill altogether might be the right more. With the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon prime, you might have everything you need elsewhere (and for cheaper).
Similarly, is your cell phone capable of being a hotspot for free? If so, do you even need the internet at home?
Ways to Lower Your Apartment Utility Bills
All this talk about money have you feeling nervous? We get it. Bills can add up fast, and unless you’ve hit the lotto, you’re likely on a tight budget like the rest of us.
Below are a few quick and easy ways to save on your apartment utility bills. After all, who doesn’t like saving a few bucks and making their hard-earned green go further.
1. Optimize Your Thermostat
If its possible, see if you can have a smart thermostat installed. Although you’ll incur an initial cost here, these intelligent thermostats use everything from the projected weather report, to your personal preferences on comfort and even when you’ll be away at work to optimize temperature settings throughout the day.
Can’t install a smart thermostat? You still have options. According to Energy(dot)gov, lowering your temperature by 7-10 degrees for ONLY 8 hours a day can save residents 10% or more on energy bills yearly.
Similarly, setting and leaving your thermostat at 68 degrees during the summer and winter can offer a perfect blend of cost savings and moderate comfort no matter the season.
2. Turn Down the Heat on the Water Heater
Did you know that the hot water heater accounts for up to 16% of energy costs in an apartment? If you have access, see if you can turn it down. Most hot water heaters are set too hot anyway. You want to find a temperature that is hot enough to be comfortable but not scalding. As a general rule, 120-degrees Fahrenheit is a good starting temperature to test. And don’t worry about your dishwasher. It has its own internal heating element to heat up water when needed.
3. Consider Smart or Energy-efficient light bulbs
You might not realize it, but lighting costs account for up to 12% of the energy used in apartment life. This can really add up over time. Smart bulbs are more expensive, but over time can save you big. Not only are they LED and energy-efficient (using up to 75% less energy when ‘on’), they also know when to turn off, making sure the rooms are only lit when they need to be.
Can’t afford smart bulbs? Stick with LED energy-efficient ones and you’ll still save 75% when in use.
4. Shop Utility Providers (and/or negotiate)
If you are allowed to choose who you purchase your utilities from, you may have several options to choose from in that neighborhood. Once you find out who the gas and electric providers are, call them, get a quote from each and then tell each what the other offered and try negotiating for the lowest price.
Similarly, cable and internet can almost always be negotiated for a better rate. Not very good at negotiation? There are services online that will do this for you (for a small fee).
Utilities: the hidden cost of apartment living
As a renter, it can be easy to forget about the additional costs of apartment life, including utilities. Even seemingly small utility bills can quickly add up, representing a significant portion of your disposable income.
One of the best things you can do when apartment hunting, is to pre-emptively research the cost of utilities in each neighborhood. Once you’ve done this you can work out a rough estimation of how much it would cost to live there. Use this sum and add it onto your allotted budget for each neighborhood.
Doing this (arguably tedious) yet highly valuable exercise, will help you find an apartment that not only meets your needs, but won’t have you living paycheck to paycheck. It’ll also help save you time and aggravation, wasting your energy on apartments that only meet your requirements at the surface but are later found out to be too expensive.
We hope you enjoyed this guide and learned a few things about how you too can effectively plan for utility bills at your next apartment. Don’t forget to tell us about what you did with all of that extra money!
Looking for more information about renting? Read our Blog article about How to Rent an Apartment.