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October 12, 2016

Paying for Boston Utilities

You find the apartment of your dreams, but it's at the top of your budget. You're ready to apply, but something inside you tells you to first ask about what utilities are included, and that's when you find out that heat isn't included. What does that mean from a cost perspective? Can you even still afford this apartment? Should this worry you? The truth is, not all apartments are equal when it comes to utilities. We've put together this article to help you navigate the sea of confusion regarding utility payments on your Boston apartment or condo.


What am I responsible for?

We've taken into account all the typical utilities you might have to pay for in a Boston apartment, and compiled this graph to show you what utilities you are most likely going to have to pay, and which ones you are less likely to have to pay for.


What utilities can you expect to pay?


As you can see, you are most likely going to have to pay for your electricity bill, as well as your cable TV & internet costs. However, utilities like water/sewer, hot water, and cooking gas (if applicable) are more likely to be included in your rent.

In Boston the most important utility to consider is your heat. It gets cold in Boston, so when Boston is at it's coldest, utility costs are at their highest. The type of building you choose to live in could also determine whether this cost would be included or not.


Brownstone Buildings

Brownstones are 50/50 when it comes to paying for your heat. A lot depends on when the building was converted, and whether it's condominiums or apartments. A lot of brownstones still have a single building-wide heating system, in which case heat would be included. Some have converted to individual systems for each unit, either electric baseboard or individual boilers or HVAC units. In these buildings you are most likely going to have to pay your own heat.


Newer/High Rise Buildings

Newer buildings are more likely to work on a central heating & cooling system. Many times the building will provide the heat and the A/C, and your unit would have control over a small fan that will draw the hot or cold air into your unit. You would pay electricity to run this fan, but that is minimal compared to the building's cost of heating & cooling the air to begin with.

Note: Some brand new buildings are beginning to meter water usage to the tenants. It's still not common to pay for water usage, but it's something we are seeing in new construction buildings.




Apartments that include heat are a better deal.

Real estate myths

Not exactly. It seems logical that the more utilities included in the rent, the better the deal. However, most landlords adjust their prices accordingly. When more utilities are included, the rent price will be slightly higher. On the other hand, if no utilities are included, a landlord may price their apartment slightly below market value to account for the tenant's added utility expenses. Don't let an apartment where you pay for utilities scare you from renting it, chances are it will appear to be a good deal because the utility cost is already reduced from the market price of that apartment.


There are plenty of apartments in Boston that include all utilities.

The reality is that < 1% of Boston apartments will include all utilities in the rent. And the ones that do are usually priced at the top of their market value (see above). Your best bet is to make peace with the fact that finding an apartment that includes all utilities is like finding a needle in a haystack.


I get to control my own heat.

This is a strange one for some because in most cases, when heat is included in the rent, you don't have any control over hot hot/cool it gets. By law landlords need to keep all units in the building at a minimum 64-68 degree temperature. This means there will be colder apartments and hotter apartments (remember, heat rises) in a single zone building, but the coldest apartment in the building needs to be minimum 64-68 degrees. All other units would be equal to or greater than that temperature. How do you regulate your heat if you are in a hot apartment? Crack a window! (yes, that's what we do, and no, it's not efficient) If you want complete control over your heat you may want to consider a unit where heat is not included. In these units you will have your own thermostat that you can dial in the exact temperature you want your unit to be.



Ways to save

It's normal to be concerned about how much utilities are going to cost each month. Fortunately, though, there are many ways you can control your utility costs. Here are a few tips to help you save money on utilities:

  • First, check out our previous blog post "Tips to help you stay warm (and save money) in your apartment this winter."
  • If you haven't rented yet, ask yourself some questions about the apartment if it doesn't include heat. Does it face the sunny or the shady side? What floor is it on (top floors would require less heat)? Is there another unit above/below you (this would help insulate you above, and provide residual heat from below)? What type of heat is it (electric heat is usually more expensive than gas heat)?
  • Change your electricity supplier. Since 1997 Massachusetts residents have had the ability to choose where their electricity comes from, which can often result in savings on your electric bill just for signing up online or making a phone call. Information here on changing your electricity supplier.
  • If you pay your own heat you can turn it down during the day when you're at work or school, and turn it back up when you return. This will save money by not heating a vacant apartment during the day.
  • Change your light bulbs to LEDs to save on electricity costs.
  • Unplug vampire appliances when not in use to minimize electricity loss.
  • There is always the choice to cut the cord, and cut your cable bill as well.




Lastly, you can also call the local utility providers and give them the address you are interested in renting. They will usually give you the high, low, and average bills from the previous tenant(s) to help you budget! Here are the 3 most likely providers you will need to set up:


Eversource Electricity


Electricity Provider


National Grid Gas

National Grid

Natural Gas Provider




Cable TV, Internet, Home Phone & Home Security Provider





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