This past May, my family and I downsized from a detached single-family house to an apartment townhouse. We were able to cash in before the housing market began to come back from the stratosphere, clear out all our debts, and move into something that would allow us the mobility to move out of town with only a month’s notice. As I have been very closely tracking our utility data, there’s been some dramatic changes that we’re just starting to see. Those changes each come with new challenges that we now have to face, with fewer options to circumvent.

About the Single-Family Home

Our old 2000 sq. ft house was, well, turning 100 years old in just a few years. To say it was showing some of its problems is a bit of an understatement. There was very little insulation, the windows needed replacement, there was improper venting in the attic, mould, cracks in the foundation, and a long laundry list of other things.

When we first moved into the house, we replaced the cement front steps with pressurized wood, fixed the foundation because the cement steps were collapsing into the house, tore down an 800 sq. ft. two-story rotting garage and replaced it with green space, built a gate and a new fence.

While it was a water-heated home, it had a methane furnace. Several rooms (bathrooms, storage, basement bedroom) had no registers, so we had to use electric space heaters to supplement the heat. One door completely failed to seal properly, and we had to close it off every winter effectively. We’re pretty sure there was a water leak somewhere, causing our water bill to be quite high regardless of actual usage.

There was a lot that wasn’t quite right, but we could choose to fix it. Add solar panels, rain barrels, insulation, electric heaters, etc. We could make the changes and had already begun doing so.

Average Usage in the Single-Family Home

We had separate bills for Water, Methane, and Electricity. Electricity in our area is almost entirely via hydro, and we often refer to it by that name. Methane and Electricity usage varied by the season, with Methane being particularly high in winter months while Electricity would spike in the summer.

UtilitySummer AverageWinter Average
Methane1 m3/day15 m3/day
Electricity35 kWh/day25 kWh/day
Water0.7 m3/day0.6 m3/day
Gasoline (Car)3.95 L/Day3.95 L/Day
Propane (BBQ – 2021)0.5 L/Day (Mar-Sep)0 L/Day
Based on 3-years of data, except Gasoline which only has data since Jan 1, 2022.

During the final winter in our home, Electricity did increase to between 35-40 kWh/day, as I spent more time working in the basement due to work-from-home conditions. This required me to turn up the heat when previously I would have let it run cool.

Downsized Apartment Townhouse

The townhouse we moved into is about 800 sq. ft in size, although not all of that is livable space. The layout sucks, there’s no green space outside as it’s just a cement pad, and we aren’t allowed to make changes to electrical, heating, etc. We aren’t allowed to make any changes.

Still, this place is heated entirely by electric baseboard heaters. Yay, no more methane, but boo, not nearly as efficient. Being a 3-floor unit (basement, main, and upper floor) means all the heat goes up to the kids’ rooms. This results in it getting very hot in the summer, requiring some additional A/C use. With the weather turning, we’ve noticed the windows & doors leak air like crazy, so we’ll need to find a way to compensate for that.

We’re a little further from my spouse’s work, but as I am home on a full-time basis, we’re currently using less fuel than we did at the old house as well.

Downsized Utility Usage?

As it is a smaller place, one would expect it would require less heat. However, the old house was on methane, while we use electricity, so it’s hard to compare apples to apples. I also don’t have real winter numbers (yet), but I’m starting to get an idea of what to expect.

We also have no idea what kind of water utilization we have, as it’s included in our rent, and the building doesn’t individually track usage. We may be using less, as any leak in the pipes should not exist. Or we may be using more, as we can’t see our usage.

Here’s what the (known) numbers look like:

UtilityAverage Usage
Methane0 m3/year
Electricity40 kWh/day
Gasoline (Car)3.95 L/Day
Propane (BBQ – 2022)0.2 L/Day (Mar-Sep)
Based on data since May 2022, except where noted.

Methane is Zero, so what is the issue?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that we’ve downsized our methane use to 0 m3/year. That’s fantastic, especially considering the power grid in Ontario is typically between 90-99% hydroelectric & green energy (solar, wind, etc.). That means the environmental impact of our home’s energy use is a lot lower than it was when we had a detached single-family home.

However, some limitations come from being in a rental. There’s no compost, and we aren’t permitted to make changes to the electrical system. This means any smart home functions are quite limited, and we can’t add solar, switch to a heat pump, or convert to a more effective heating system. We aren’t permitted to upgrade windows & doors, nor can we open up the walls to add additional insulation.

Almost the only thing we can do is try to limit our use of appliances, like the dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer. That’s all well and good, but there’s only so much of a difference that can be had there.

Next Steps

Given these issues, I’m going to need to take a good look at what other steps can be taken to reduce our energy requirements. 40 kWh/day is a 60% increase over last winter’s usage and a 14% increase over the previous summer. This number may even go up further as we have yet to hit winter this year (it’s amazingly mild for November).

I’ll have to take some steps to “winterize” the doors & windows and do some more research on what options exist for apartment dwellers. There may be some way that I can, say, charge a battery with a portable solar system and then run my computer off of it in the evening. Or perhaps I need to look further into reducing the distance my food, clothes, etc., travel to get to me.

There’s a lot of stuff I’m going to need to look into now that we’ve downsized to a rental, where we are not permitted to make any of the large changes. I’ll keep tracking the utility usage, keeping the temperature dials a little lower in the winter, and higher in summer, but this change necessitates thinking beyond personal utility usage.

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