House & Home Edition

Perhaps my office shed could look like thisAccording to the New York Post, some analysts think we’ll be paying $10 a gallon within 2-3 years. The Freakonomics blog wonders if this’ll encourage people to ride the bus. I’m wondering what effect rising gas prices will have on housing. Will this increase the number of people working from home (and thus needing a home office)? Will people move from rural to urban areas so that they can take advantage of public transit? Will smaller urban areas (like Bloomington) start creating nice, smaller houses and apartments so that more people can live close to town?

Since Maggie and I are on the lookout for a house again, we find ourselves rehashing these questions again. Even if a larger place further out from town is good now, rising gas prices might make it much less attractive. Although equity isn’t our most important qualification when looking at houses, it sure seems like downtown property has much better potential to increase in value over the next few years.

The “country mouse” home (only about two miles away from downtown, so still within biking distance) has enough space around it that we could definitely have a large garden plot, chickens, and maybe even a goat. Even if we had to pay more for trips around town, we might make up for it in savings on food! The cost of fertilizer has tripled, so farmers aren’t growing more corn even though corn prices have doubled in the last year. Part of this is the weird weather we’ve had for the past year, but part of it is also the long-term rising cost of transportation and cultivation. I’m not as interested in raising chickens and goats as Maggie is, but it would be nice to be able to set up a little “office shed.” I could either buy or build a little shed and toss a 165W solar system on top (only $1100 after federal tax rebates) for an awesome work space that feels separate from living space.

On the other hand is the “city mouse” home. Actually a duplex, it’s more expensive and has less land (and less appealing land for farming, since it’s very shady). A duplex makes sense to me as both an investment and as a way of reducing impact since we’re fitting two families into the same space as we would otherwise be fitting one. Although I might be able to get away with an office shed, chickens are probably out of the question. It sure would be nice to be able to wander around downtown and see people whenever I get the urge, though.

The middle-of-the-road option is a smaller place near the duplex that also has a little land. I’m worried that the space will be hard to divide the way we’d like, but 37signals had a timely entry today pointing to a NYT article on making a tiny space work well. You owe it to yourself to at least skim the article even if you don’t watch the slideshow. The highlight is the raised floor they added to one end of the one-room apartment. Not only does it create a separate-seeming living room area, the bed can be pushed underneath the floor when not it use! When we visit the middle-option house again, I’ll have to look at it with an eye towards creating spaces that we can expand and shrink as we change what we’re doing during the day.

This has been a long post without much new info in it, but house stuff has taken over my mind recently, so I’ve been seeing appropriate links everywhere. If you got this far, I’d love to know what aspects of your current living situation you really like and really dislike. Maybe that’ll help make this choice a little easier!

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Gini said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 2:41 am

    I love being able to walk to work and to take the bus downtown to museums, etc. I can even bus to the mall– though I generally try to avoid the mall. I like having space for gardening– I wonder if we’re allowed chickens (probably not goats) where we are?– though for the past few years I haven’t had time to garden much.

    Inside, I like having a connection to the outside– now satisfied with our ‘natural’ area in the front yard. I like having the whole house fan that allows us to bring in cooler evening air quite well. Unfortunately, much of the year the cooler evening air is still 80 degrees and 90percent humidity. I like having a pantry and a freezer so I can store food. I like sunlight & cross-ventilation. We currently have way too much space (and stuff), though renting a one bedroom downstairs apartment has been good. I like being able to close off portions of the house to conserve heat/air conditioning. I like our low flush toilets.

    I’m sure there are other things, but I need to get to bed.

  2. 2

    Andy said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 4:00 am

    Really like:
    + I can see a lake from my kitchen; I can’t see a road or any cars
    + I have the space I need and no more (no room for junk, no space for clutter, but enough to live in without feeling cramped)
    + I live in a community including some environmentally minded people and events (ok, I know that’s difficult to find other than ecovillages, but I did look at a house the other week that I am contemplating renting a room in; it’s 10 bedrooms and the owner is looking for environmentally-minded people to occupy it, and it’s cheap, 2.5 acres, and 2 miles from downtown)
    + I can easily go for a walk or hike or swim or paddle without needing to drive anywhere

    Really dislike:
    – There are absolutely no stores within 4 miles, downtown is 7 miles away (it is fairly flat here so it is bike-able)

    But in 4 weeks I am moving to downtown Ithaca, NY where almost all of these aspects will flip. I will be walking distance from most everything (hoping for a job nearby too) and I will have to bike/ride/drive to get to parks.

    -Andy

  3. 3

    Amy said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 4:37 am

    You can also get a property tax exemption in Indiana with that solar cell: http://dsireusa.org/

    I like that I can easily be without a car in Seattle – we bus pretty much everywhere, and have a car share membership when we need to go pick someone up at the airport. We live in a residential neighborhood, so it’s still pretty quiet, even though I have three different buses chugging around nearby. I wish Seattle had more than a bus system, but I appreciate it.

    I do wish we had more green space of our own – we live in a mother in law apartment, and the yard is our landlords. All our gardening is taking place in containers right now…

  4. 4

    Andy said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

    I wanted to mention something about the solar panels before, but didn’t have the time last night. As someone who has looked into buying similar systems, installed similar systems, and installed grid-tie systems, I just want to make a few comments.
    1. Conservation always comes first. Unless you have made as many changes in how you use electricity, buying a small photovoltaic system could be minuscule compared to your usage.
    2. 165 watts is enough to power a regular 15″ laptop for about 10 hours a day, which sounds good, but not enough to power a regular fridge, which sounds bad.
    3. A system for $1,100 with electricity rates at 13 cents would take 49 years to offset the money spent.
    4. I would very highly recommend looking into a solar thermal water preheater instead of photovoltaics if you aren’t considering a big investment. These are 4 times more efficient at heating water, and in some states the same incentives work with both kinds of solar energy. In New York State for example, a household could ge one of these systems for around $2000 after rebates, with a 5-8 year payback period instead of dropping $20,000 on a solar electric system with a 15-20 year payback.
    *5*. If you hate the fact that you can’t see where your power comes from and you don’t care for West Virginia and Pennsylvania ripping apart mountains and polluting the waters of poor communities with acid mine drainage, then forget anything to do with payback periods and buy as much solar as you can. As someone once said o me, “When was the last time your power company paid you back for anything? Who cares how long it takes!” :)

    Essentially if you are worried about money, I would not recommend buying a small solar setup, but if you are worried about all the negative aspects regarding coal and nuclear power, then I would recommend it.
    -Andy

  5. 5

    Linnea said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

    I always like living close to people, it makes me feel better knowing that if I were away and my house were to be broken into or something, someone would see. And I can walk everywhere. Gardening is nice to, tho. I’m going to a workshop next month about raising chickens in the city, I’ll send you my notes.

    *Amy, do you Zipcar? I had trouble with them, so I ended up canceling my membership. I think it would be better if they had some competition to keep them honest…

  6. 6

    Will said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

    Great thoughts, everyone! It’s interesting to hear what makes people happy about where they live.

    Amy: Unfortunately, the IN tax exemption is only for solar heaters, not for PV.

    Andy: Very true about conservation! One of the things I like about PV systems is that they force you to monitor your electrical usage continuously. As it is now, it’s very easy to miss high energy changes because you just don’t notice until the end of the month when you get your bill.

    Around here, electrical rates are less than 8c/kWh, which is the lowest in the country. Unfortunately, it’s all coal. If you assume that electrical prices will rise, there’s a shorter payoff, but it’s still not less than 20 years (in IN) even with a projected 7% annual cost increase.

    Here in IN, geothermal heating/cooling (both space and water) is the most efficient. There are also more local subsidies for geothermal than for solar. We’ll definitely be looking into geothermal once we find a place. The only difficulty is if you hit limestone before you get far enough down!

    I don’t think PV makes fiscal sense around here because electrical costs are so low. A small PV system is relatively cheap (less than ten years’ worth of not using GoGreen, even excluding any energy savings) and provides a good way of testing the waters. I also very much like the idea of promoting local energy sources as a type of independence.

    Linnea and Amy: I’d love to have a car share. They almost got one in Bloomington through the university, but the insurance issues ended up being overwhelming. I really only go downtown, so living close enough to at least bike would let me get rid of my car, no problem. Maggie does a lot more driving for her job but I’m not sure a car share would help much with that.

  7. 7

    Jessica said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

    I totally know where you’re coming from in your home search. My mother and I are buying a house together right now, and I have the same fears as you. She wants to buy way out in the suburbs, which on the one hand appeals to me, because I know the schools here are good and its not going to be that long before I’m sending my baby off to kintergarden. On the other hand, my fears reguarding rising gas prices and the looming spector of peak oil makes me terrified to purchase something so far away from everything. The house we just made an offer on I know is a great investment by todays standards (which are still much the same as 10 years ago’s standards) but in a couple of years maybe not so much. The whole idea is an investment, my mom says, and we can get more bang for our buck swooping up a forclosure in the suburbs, but this house is on the outskirts of the outskirts of the suburbs. Seriously. Theres not even a strip mall shopping center within walking distance. You have to go through probably four miles of neighborhoods. Okay, four miles is walking distance, but its a long walking distance just to get to a strip mall.
    If we had better public transportation, it would be a big plus. As it stands right now, it would be impossible for me to drop my son off at day care and get to work on a bus. I can’t drop my son off before 6:30 in the morning, and I have to be to work by 7:30, its a two hour commute from home to work on a bus. I also have to pick my son up from daycare by 6 in the evening, and I get off work at 5. So you see my dilema.
    I would love to work from home, but I’m not sure how productive I would be. Maybe I would be, I don’t know. I’ve been looking into a carpool organization, but I’d have to keep my car a lot cleaner! That might be my best solution, as it stands.
    I wish I could get my mother to understand my concerns. She thinks if peak oil were that close, there would be a ton of publicity about it. Yeah. Just like there was all this publicity about global warming before An Inconvieniant Truth came out? I swear, Al Gore needs to make a movie before my mom believes its real. Does anyone know a good documentary about peak oil? She won’t believe it until she sees a documentary.

  8. 8

    Maggie said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 11:52 pm

    Jessica –
    You might check out “The End of Suburbia.” I haven’t watched it but it’s all about peak oil and why suburbs just don’t make sense anymore. Good luck with your house search! I would definitely look into carpooling with folks from your daycare or workplace and see how that goes. Transportation is a huge challenge for us all so don’t give up!

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