One question that comes up occasionally in Boulder’s discussion of housing cooperatives — and residential density more generally — is the potential impact on utility systems, and overall energy & water consumption. We took a look at this issue a couple of years ago.
Since then, the Picklebric Cooperative was forced to move into a different house. They’ve had a chance to collect a year’s worth of utility bills — and have finally gotten their rental co-op license — so we thought it might be fun to look at how the new house is doing, energy and water wise. The following summary was compiled by Picklebric member Ethan Welty.
Picklebric has nine members, and is located in Boulder’s University Hill neighborhood – one block from Chautauqua. Xcel Energy reports our electricity and natural gas use alongside those of our neighbors, allowing us to evaluate our consumption against the average.
Neighbors are 100 households within 1.4 miles with these characteristics:
- Single family houses with about 3 occupants
- About 2770 square feet (like us)
- Natural gas heat (like us)
However, unlike our neighbors,
Picklebric has 9 occupants, which significantly decreases our per-capita consumption. Overall, each member of Picklebric uses only one fifth as much energy and one quarter as much water as our average neighbor. And since we only have 3 times as many people in the house as our average neighbor, this means our overall household resource use is still lower than theirs.
From 2016-10-16 to 2017-10-22, neighboring households used 816 kWh of electricity per month, while Picklebric used 536 kWh per month (66% of the neighborly household average). Per capita, Picklebric used only 22% (~1/5) as much electricity than our neighbors. Incredibly, this is true even though we have three refrigerators (one is just for making cheese), as well as two freezers and an electric dehydrator (all of which we use for preserving fresh bulk foods). The large spike in August 2017 is due to neighbors using air conditioning. Picklebric does not use air conditioning in the summer, only windows and ceiling fans.
When we first moved into our new home, we immediately invested in LED bulbs to replace the thousands of watts worth of incandescent bulbs that we found upon moving in. Over the last month we also audited the individual electricity usage of every appliance we could get at in the house and found that the single largest power draw is likely our electric dryer, even though many of us choose to use the zero-energy alternative…
From 2016-10-16 to 2017-10-22, neighboring households used 77 therms of natural gas per month, while Picklebric used 45 therms per month (59% of the neighborly average). Per capita, Picklebric used 19% (~1/5) as much natural gas as our neighbors.
From 2016-10-16 to 2017-10-22, neighboring households used 11,000 gallons of water per month, while Picklebric used 9,000 gallons per month (80% of the neighborly average). Per capita, Picklebric used 27% (~1/4) as much water as our neighbors.
Note – Picklebric continues to operate the automatic sprinkler system that keeps the lawns on the property green throughout the summer. The expectation of lush lawns accounts for half the water used by the neighborhood; we hope that the neighborhood will someday embrace the dry climate and let lawns go dormant over the summer. Either way, we hope to get the permission from our landlords to replace our lawns with low-water landscaping.
Winter household water usage is used by the City of Boulder to estimate overall domestic water usage. This is the water that the City’s sewer system and waste water treatment plants need to be able to accommodate. Some people have suggested that housing cooperatives should be required to pay more toward those systems, since with 3-4 times as many people in a household we must place more of a burden on those systems than a “normal” household. The past year of data at Picklebric suggests this is not — or at least it need not be — the case, since even in the dead of winter, we’re still using less water than our average neighbors. Admittedly, we were surprised by this too. In January 2017 when our old washing machine conked out, we decided to shell out an extra $250 as a house to replace it with a super energy & water efficient one (which we found, used, on Craigslist… and bought for $500 from from a CU grad student working on climate change… coincidence?).
But maybe the stereotypes are right, and we’re just a bunch of dirty hippies that just don’t bathe that much…
Trash, Compost & Recycling
While we don’t have any data on the overall hauling associated with our house from Western Disposal, based on the collection of bins in our alley, it doesn’t seem like we’re generating dramatically more waste than most of the neighboring houses — we have one large trash bin, one large city compost bin, and two large recycling bins.
It appears that sharing space and being conscientious about our energy and water use is more than enough to offset the utility impacts of having a larger number of people in our home. We combine these savings with a self-imposed cap of three cars, all of which are available for use by all the Pickles. As a result, we continue to believe that this way of life is a very affordable, effective way to dramatically reduce our personal impacts on the earth, with little if any additional impact on the neighborhood beyond what one might expect from a traditional single family household.