Get Rich and Save The Planet By Living In An Apartment
I grew up in a single family ex-urban house of about 3,000 square feet with a massive yard. I can still hear my Dad’s voice on a Saturday morning when I was a teenager, “I’m gonna need a couple of hours of work out of you.” He was referring to yard work, since there was a lawn to be mowed, maybe bushes to be trimmed, a porch to be washed, etc. All of this manual labor has instilled in me a great work ethic, but my enthusiasm for home ownership of the single-family variety was perhaps forever ruined. I have lived in apartments for my entire adult life, and it it bliss.
My first inspiration for enthusiastic apartment dwelling was borne out of necessity. I was a college student and a young professional living in cities. I loved that the only significant household work was to vacuum the floor and wipe down the bathroom ( although some of these tasks went undone in my first bachelor pad apartment). However, as I grew older and considered the prospect of owning a single family home, I realized that there is a host of other reasons why living under a shared roof with somewhat less space is beautifully efficient.
In America, it seems that the dominant cultural value is “bigger is better.” In housing, that translates into people living in houses with rooms that they rarely use. I have friends living suburban lives with 1 or 2 adults, and maybe a child, who live in houses with 3 or 4 bedrooms. This is not an unusual situation in middle class American households. Despite shrinking family size, US household square footage has increased by about 50% in the past 40 years. This space has costs besides the extra purchase price. Increased taxes along with heating a cooling that space add up. A single friend moved into a 3,500 square foot house and was caught off-guard by the $700 per month electric bills when the temperatures plunged this past winter. He also spends significant amounts of time cleaning the inside of the house and maintaining the outside.
Contrast this with my experience living in 1-bedroom apartments. We make use of all space in our apartment with 1 bedroom, a living room, foyer and kitchen. We do not have an extra guest room or office. The desk for working at home is in the foyer; and when guests come we take the tall, queen-sized air mattress out of the closet and turn the living room with French doors into a guest room. Our apartment is about 850 square feet, which means that cleaning is a breeze. My partner and I can do a thorough, deep clean in about an hour on a Saturday morning, and all exterior maintenance, heating, and air conditioning are centralized for the building and handled by the professional staff. We have the rest of the weekend to visit friends, go to dinner, go to the museum, or host dinner parties.
We can also afford to live close to work, which means we don’t have long, expensive car commutes or any of the costs associated with owning a car. We both ride bikes or walk to work, and we take public transportation when the weather is bad. This creates great time savings, since most of our exercise is taken care of in just getting to and from work. It’s incredibly efficient.
All of these efficiencies culminate in our ability to save much more money than our friends with large, suburban, single family houses. While we do pay rent, we save the mortgage payment, high utilities for heating and cooling the home, unexpected maintenance costs, the cost of owning and running two cars, high taxes, and our time (better spent working on our professions). Because we are financially disciplined, we re-invest these savings into our investment accounts each month, allowing our money to compound in productive investments rather than being burned up literally by a furnace, real estate taxes, etc.
Saving The Planet
The idea of saving the planet and stopping climate change is typically associated with high-tech home energy technologies like solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, high-tech water heaters, etc. I don’t think this is any coincidence, since the green-washed marketing machine stands to profit handsomely from selling these technologies. To be clear, I think these technologies have a place, but there is a much more low-tech, and much more financially-savvy way, to reduce your carbon footprint.
Besides the embodied energy and carbon emissions inherent in building a home, most home energy use goes into heating and cooling the air inside the home. This is where multi-family housing shines. By sharing floors, ceilings, and walls, multi-family apartment buildings are much more thermally efficient. In essence, each apartment only has one or two exterior (cold or hot) facing surfaces, rather than a single family home with four walls, a roof, and a foundation all touching the frigid winter air or earth. Further, apartments generally allow single people, couples, and small families a home which is more appropriate to the size of their family, with little wasted space.
The carbon emissions calculators confirm this. Nature.org’s free carbon calculator http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
shows that a 1-bedroom apartment in a large apartment building produces about a third of the carbon dioxide as a 1-bedroom single family home, let alone a 3- or 4-bedroom home. This also means that the apartment uses about a third of the energy to heat and cool the home, and about a third of the money spent to purchase that energy (heating oil, gas, electric, etc.).
Living The Good Life In An Apartment (or condo)
Besides the obvious environmental and financial benefits to living in an apartment, there are great lifestyle benefits to living this way. I’ve already mentioned the time and stress savings of having a small space to clean and no exterior maintenance. Additionally, apartments are more affordable and generally allow one to live closer to work, a walkable neighborhood, community parks, etc. This all makes for a healthy, happy walking lifestyle without the stress of being behind the wheel.
Lastly, living in an apartment does not mean that you will forever be “throwing your money away as rent.” While I don’t necessarily agree with that financial characterization of renting, living in an apartment and owning a home are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of condominiums to be purchased, and these have all of the benefits of both owning a home (mostly tax benefits) and living in an apartment.