Rental Guide: How to save cash and keep warm

By Gwenn Barney

True winter weather is taking a slow march to Pittsburgh this year, but as the temperature… True winter weather is taking a slow march to Pittsburgh this year, but as the temperature continues to drop, heating bills for students renting housing off campus will continue to rise.

It’s around this time of year that students put in place their unique tricks for keeping their heating costs low. Whether it’s achieved by ratcheting down the thermostat and piling on clothing or by finding alternative heating methods, the goal is not to break the bank. Gas bills, which can include costs for things like heat and stove usage, can run students anywhere from $40 to $100 in the winter, depending on the size of the house and its residents’ preferred temperature.

Sometimes the best defense against high heating bills is to simply rent a smaller piece of property. That’s the method sophomore Alex O’Neill adhered to when choosing to rent a place in Webster Hall on North Dithridge Street.

“It’s only two bedrooms. It’s not a large place,” O’Neill said. “A small place is ideal to heat.”

Larger rental properties pose a greater challenge for students hoping to keep their heating bills low. Pitt senior Kayla Minor rents a three-story house on Dawson

Street with four friends.

“It’s a big house, so it sucks up all the heat,” Minor said.

After some investigation, Minor and her crew decided to buy space heaters for each of the bedrooms in their home.

Students looking to purchase these heating devices can find them at big-box construction and appliance stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. But safety and fire concerns do surround the heating units.

“They actually make the room warmer than heating,” Minor said. Minor also said that she and her roommates always make sure they turn down the thermostat before they leave their home for the day as an added measure against excessive heating bills.

Sophomore Tom Forsythe is one student who knows how to deal with cold winters and keep the heating bill down.

During a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Forsythe was stationed all over the world. The coldest place he ever spent a winter in was at the Sembach Air Base in Germany. When it comes to winter not-so-wonderlands, Forsythe said Pittsburgh matches Sembach’s frigidness to a T.

“It’s exactly the same,” he said.

Forsythe practices a two-word solution for keeping cold air out of a home or apartment: window film.

“It’s this heavy double-sided tape you can buy at any Home Depot,” he said. “You tape it over drafty windows.”

Forsythe became a believer in window film after first using it while living in a North Carolina apartment one winter.

“I was poor and lazy, and you can use it on any window,” he said.

This year Forsythe plans to use his tried-and-true method in his new home, to keep his new wife Cassandra Forsythe and 10-month-old baby warm. He plans teach Cassandra, a California native, the wonders of window film.

“She doesn’t know about the cold,” Forsythe said.

But battling landlords who keep heat requirements in their leases can pose a problem.

Junior Zach Liss rents an older townhouse on Dawson Street with his roommates.

“We have a required heat so that the water pipes don’t freeze,” Liss said. “We can’t let it go below 65 degrees, so these couple of months [the heating bill] spikes.”

But the required heating rule doesn’t bother Liss much.

“It’s still more affordable than living on campus, so I’m not stressing out about it too much,” he said.

Scott Waitlevertch, external communications and government relations director for Equitable Gas, provided some extra advice for students hoping to reduce their winter utility bills.

He said that students should have their apartments’ or homes’ heating systems inspected professionally each year.

“Making sure your heating system is running at top efficiency and safely are two key things,” Waitlevertch said.

He also advises that students replace their furnace filters monthly during the winter season, keep their hot water tanks below the maximum temperature and take advantage of sunny days by keeping the blinds open, allowing natural heat to warm up off-campus homes.

For a simple solution, Waitlevertch recommends turning the thermostat down a few degrees.

“Throw on a sweatshirt,” he said. “By creating lower demand, [students will] be surprised how much gas they can save.”