A year ago today, I left Calgary behind and moved to the mountains. To be specific, I moved to Sentinal, Alberta, just outside of Coleman, Alberta, about 3km East of the BC border on Highway 3. The house sits on an acreage, backing onto the Crowsnest River and it is absolutely beautiful.
I definitely was misled before I signed the lease, and part of that was my fault for not looking into it myself. The house is on propane for heat and hot water (as well as a propane stove) and I asked how much propane was compared to natural gas. I was assured that it was cheaper. I should have wondered when I was told that, because if propane is cheaper than natural gas, why don’t we ALL use propane? Well, the simple reason is that propane is far more expensive than natural gas, somewhere between 4 and 5 times as expensive as it turns out. I have never looked at a place and signed a lease immediately before, and I never will again.
Last winter was, to say the least, expensive. The propane company that owns the tank wasn’t overly accommodating. They would not setup a payment plan for propane, for anything I wanted, it needed to be paid, up front. Also, the minimum order was $500, which is a little over 1000L. The first filling put the tank at about 30%. I was told that should last “months and months” – well, apparently, people either don’t know what they are talking about, or they flat out lied, but it didn’t last “months and months”.
I got the initial fill of propane in the middle of August. For the next month, I only used it for hot water and the odd time that I would use the stove. Around September 15 or so, I had to turn the furnace on – imagine, it’s still summer and I needed heat. Anyway, in mid-October, I checked the fill level of the tank and was shocked to see that it was down to about 5%. I didn’t keep the house overly warm (around 18C) and it wasn’t all that cold outside, temps were generally in the single digits. I ordered more propane and realized this winter was going to be VERY expensive.
I did some research online, research that I wish I had done prior to signing the lease. It turns out that propane doesn’t burn as well as natural gas and converted to gigajoules, it is around 5 times the cost of natural gas. I figured, based on having the furnace on for only a month in relatively mild conditions that it might cost me more than $500 a month to heat my place, depending, of course, how cold it got that winter. I was NOT looking forward to that, not at all.
I decided that I would try to heat with wood in the wood-burning stove instead of using propane. Well, that would have worked not too badly, had I been able to source wood. After several attempts with people “selling” wood, I was able to purchase ONE cord, in total, all winter. That was it. There were all kinds of ads for wood, in BC, and you aren’t allowed to import BC wood into Alberta. So, unfortunately, the wood didn’t really work out.
I looked for portable space heaters and saw some oil-filled radiators that claimed they would heat 500 sq feet of space. So, I purchased a few. The claim of 500 sq feet was greatly exaggerated. They barely heated anything. It was true that they’d pump out a bit of heat, but a few feet away, you’d feel nothing. I was able to make due with them until I got the wood in November. Between wood and the space heaters, my place was fairly comfortable. The wood lasted until January.
In February, we had the first real cold of the winter. We had about 10 nights where the temperatures dropped down to -40C and below. Man, that was cold. My house, during these times, was about 9C. Now, that is almost 50 degrees warmer than outside, but still damn cold, for inside of a house. The only time I was really warm was when I was sleeping, typically with all three dogs, I think we kept each other warm last winter.
When my February electric bill came in, I was shocked. Using 3 portable oil-fille space heaters and 2 “blower” type heaters, the bill was $525. That’s for one month of power. That was insane. March was warmer and I was able to dial back on the space heaters, the bill dropped by over $150, but was still nuts. At this point, I had decided, and I think very understandably, that I would not be spending another winter in this house.
I did speak to the Property Management Company about the cost of propane and what were the possibilities of getting the house connected to natural gas. I was told they would speak with the owners of the property, which I don’t think they ever did. Even if they had, I doubt the owners would agree to pay the over $8000 that ATCO wanted to connect to gas. Now, you might be thinking they needed to run a long way to connect… Nope, there is a gas line at the road. So, ATCO was out, so was natural gas. The Property Management Company told me “no one else here has ever had an issue with heating”, well, my answer to that is either they were independently wealthy, or you’re spewing BS at me.
I asked about other properties this company had available and there was limited supply, unfortunately, and they were all full anyway. I also discovered that leaving a lease early there were a few fees. I’d be charged around $200 for them having to re-rent, PLUS, I’d still have to pay rent until the place was re-rented, so that really wasn’t an option. I was stuck, until the end of July.
Well, it got warmer and May 1, I turned off all of my portable heaters. May can still be an awfully cold month at night so there were some chilly mornings, but we made due. The sun in the afternoon would warm the house up. I started looking, in earnest, for a new place to live. The bump on this road is that I have three dogs and many people don’t want to rent to someone with three pups.
I thought that I wanted to stay in Crowsnest Pass as I liked the small-town life, how quiet it was, so little traffic and generally, friendly people. I did go to Calgary and look at a few places, nothing really looked good to me and rents had gone up significantly since the last time I had looked for a house (2.5 years) so I was looking at $1700-$1800 a month, which really isn’t too bad. I looked at a few places in the Pass as well and applied for one place, I didn’t get it, unfortunately, it went to someone else. In May, I looked at another place and thought it would work well for the dogs and I.
I applied for it and was told someone else was looking at it a few days later and that a decision would be made on the Friday evening. On the Saturday, I was going to Calgary to have lunch with a friend, do a Costco run and look at a couple of places. I was pretty sure I would take the second place, just based on its location and the pictures. As I arrived in Calgary, I received a text message and was offered the place in Coleman. I happily accepted and canceled my appointments.
So, at the beginning of July, we moved into the small town of Coleman, Alberta, population of about 1400 people. The house has natural gas and cable internet – I didn’t even mention the lack of internet at the old place… We’ve been here for about a month now and it’s great. I think it’s an awesome fit. I get to stay in the mountains, but have the conveniences of a small town. Talk about a win-win.