Friday, February 25, 2011

Lifelong renters, lifelong environmentalists?

Lifelong Renter David Hayes shares his typewriter collection in his Toronto Co-Op

I was just reading David Hayes' latest Lifelong Renter column in the Toronto Star. It struck me as particularly interesting because I recently received an email from a reader whose company is promoting 10 reasons why it's better to buy a home than to rent.

Like most people, I often pine for a little piece of land and a tumbledown shack of my very own. But I'm a writer in a single-income household raising a kid and saddled with debt. I also live in Toronto. The semi across the street just listed for $630,000. Even if I could carry a mortgage on that, I'd never get the down payment together.

One of the reasons why I like David's column is that it reminds me, and others apparently, that there are good reasons to rent rather than buy. Around here, rent is often cheaper than a mortgage and condo fees for an apartment. As renters, if we take a job in a new city, we can just leave. Oh, and replacing the roof or plumbing isn't our financial problem. Also, in some cases people will be better off financially if they rent instead of buying. (According to the CMHC, renters almost always pay substantially less per month.)

But I have another reason to like renters: the environment.

Detached single-family dwellings are, compared to other forms of accommodation, large. In Canadians use a huge amount of energy for space heating, and the larger the house, the more energy it takes to heat it. Single-family dwellings are also exposed on all sides, allowing more heat to escape than in a row house or apartment.

Some people do rent houses. But in major cities, the vast majority are privately owned (about two-thirds in Toronto and Ottawa, more than 80 percent in Calgary and Edmonton).

Conversely, the vast majority of apartments in multi-unit buildings are rentals, as are a large proportion of townhouses. Because these are smaller, they take less energy to heat. Because they have shared walls and less exterior surface per dwelling, they lose less heat.

In other words, most renters are already ahead of the game when it comes to the environment.

Just one more reason many of the people in Hayes' Lifelong Renters columns can feel good about their choice. If you haven't read his column before, I highly recommend it. And if your renting story is one that might help others, then give him a shout. I'll look forward to reading it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's curtains for me!

Inside and outside temperatures in August.
Left: behind heavy curtains. Right: without curtains

I've been wanting thick, insulated curtains for my bedroom ever since I moved into my apartment. The bedroom has big sliding doors that open onto the garden, which is a lovely feature in an apartment. But sliding doors are also big glass areas, and poorly insulated. Even the best new windows perform poorly.

The problems is that I live on a single writer/editor income and prefabricated insulated curtains cost a lot. I contemplated making my own, but there is a limit to how many projects a person can actually get done.

Credit for the solution goes to my parents. Always resourceful, they came across a store selling used hotel fittings while looking for window coverings for their own house. They recently moved into a place backing onto a highway and found thick hotel curtains a good solution to highway noise.

So, instead of buying new curtains, I'm re-using some from a hotel. Now that they're up, I can easily feel the temperature difference. The window side is very cold, the inside nice and warm.

The difference?
Right now, at 9:30 in the morning on Feb. 25, 2011, the thermometer in my bedroom is reading 17.3 C. (I like a cool house.) The thermometer placed between the new curtains and the window is reading 5.5 C.

The curtains cost about $30 and are long and wide enough for a sliding patio door. New ones would have cost at least $90. Were I to make my own, they could insulate better but the materials alone would cost more than my used drapes.

They are not fashionable. They're beige with a floral print. To be fair, none of the inexpensive insulating drapes are particularly fashionable.

What I did to get around this is hang the heavy drapes flush to the wall, then hang my nicer-looking red drape a little higher and further out. Were I ambitious, I could probably remove the decorative fabric from the insulating drapes and sew the thermal layer onto my red drapes. But for now, I'm just enjoying the warmth. And in summer I'll appreciate how much heat they keep out... not to mention sunlight when it's streaming in just a little too early in the morning.