Archive 2018

The Burj Khalifa

If you happen to check in to the Grand Hyatt San Francisco on a windy day, you’ll receive a friendly note at the front desk advising you that the 35-story skyscraper may creak a bit as it moves gently back and forth in the wind. Though the hotel assures guests that this quirk is not an indication of any structural problem, the issue has nevertheless prompted complaints from visitors.

“The building CREAKS!” exclaims one exasperated and sleepless customer in his review of the hotel.1 “It sounds like you’re on an old ship,” writes another.2

The Burj Khalifa, formerly the Burj Dubai, is the world's tallest buildingFrom the disconcerting to the dangerous, wind has always been an important consideration when constructing skyscrapers. Since the 10-story steel-frame Home Insurance Building, the world’s first skyscraper, opened in Chicago in 1885, architects have had to think about wind stress, or “wind loading,” as they’ve built higher and higher.3 Today, wind engineering is an integral aspect in the design of any new tall building, especially the very tallest of them all: the Burj Khalifa.

At 2,717 feet, the Burj Khalifa, formerly known as the Burj Dubai, rises like a bolt of lightening into the sky, dwarfing the surrounding skyscrapers. The tower, which opened on January 4th, became the world’s tallest building, outdoing the previous record-holder, the Taipei 101, by a staggering 1,046 feet. (The Burj is about as tall as the Taipei 101 with the Chrysler building stacked on top.) Over half a mile from the base to the tip of its spire, the tower redefines the term “supertall,” a name often applied to skyscrapers over 1,000 feet.

The Burj Khalifa is specially designed to conquer the wind, a goal that becomes more and more important as altitude increases. The building rises to the heavens in several separate stalks, which top out unevenly around the central spire. This somewhat odd-looking design deflects the wind around the structure and prevents it from forming organized whirlpools of air current, or vortices, that would rock the tower from side to side and could even damage the building. Even with this strategic design, the 206-story Burj Khalifa will still sway slowly back and forth by about 2 meters at the very top.

The Burj Khalifa’s talent for “confusing the wind,” as chief structural engineer Bill Baker calls it, is just one of the methods used to help supertalls resist wind stress.4 Over four thousand miles away near the coast of Taiwan, stands the Taipei 101 tower, now a distant second at 1,667 feet. Inside, between the 88th and 92nd stories, a giant pendulum, known as a tuned mass damper, does quiet battle with deadly windstorms and typhoons. The gold-colored, 730-ton orb swings gently back and forth, balancing the tower against the forces of the wind and ensuring the comfort of its occupants.5

The tuned mass damper, also used in Boston’s John Hancock Building and New York City’s Citigroup Center, is a commonly employed mechanism for reducing the wind’s action on a skyscraper. The size and shape of the damper is “tuned” based on the height and mass of each particular tower. As the wind pushes the building in one direction, the damper swings or slides the other way, reducing sway similar to the way shock absorbers on a car soften bumps in the road. “You’re adding a component to the building that’s going to take the motion rather than the building itself,” explains Jason Garber, a wind-engineering specialist at RWDI, a leading wind tunnel testing firm.6

When constructing a skyscraper, consideration of the wind is paramount, says Carol Willis, director and curator of the Skyscraper Museum in New York.7 Throughout the design process, structural engineers and wind specialists work meticulously to alleviate wind stress, ensure structural stability and guarantee the comfort of occupants. Using both structural solutions, such as the Burj Khalifa’s method of “confusing the wind,” and mechanical ones, such as the tuned mass damper, designers do constant battle against the tireless wind.

The Burj Khalifa, says Bill Baker, is like a Swiss watch, every part working together to “resist the forces of nature such as wind, seismic and gravity.”  Yet forces like gravity are comparatively simple to deal with. Gravitational forces pull the skyscraper in only one, quite predictable, direction: down. But high-altitude winds swirl and jostle in complex and uncertain ways, whipping into eddies and vortices that put all different kinds of stress on the structure.

As Garber explains it, a building is like “a giant sail” with a great deal of area that the wind can push against. “The wind is blowing on the building causing it to sway and twist,” he says. “For certain shapes, the wind can form a wake similar to what you’d see behind a boat with vortices shedding off, alternating on either side and pushing the building from side to side.”8

“This causes a regular, or periodic, force,” continues Garber, “that pushes the building side to side across from the wind flow. The frequency at which that happens will vary with wind speed and if those vortices can align with the frequency that the building wants to oscillate at then you can get some very larges forces developed.”

Like a guitar string, buildings have a natural, or resonant, frequency at which they are inclined to vibrate. Wind vortices will only have a significant effect on a building when their frequency lines up just right, just as an opera singer has to hit the perfect pitch to shatter a wine glass. If by chance the vortices happen to push back and forth at the same rate as the structure’s resonant frequency, they can generate huge forces, as was the case in the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940. As a result of this effect, a key goal in skyscraper design is to disrupt the organized flow of wind around the building.

“What they’ve done on the Burj Khalifa deliberately,” explains Garber, “is keep introducing changes to the shape of the building with height so that the flow pattern can’t organize itself. It’s almost like you have several different buildings with height and each one of them has different vortices shedding at different winds speeds. All of those things can’t happen at the same time so what you’re left with is very little vortex shedding.”

If not properly addressed, wind stress from vortex shedding could theoretically cause major structural damage or even collapse. No need for queasiness though, as today’s skyscrapers are strong enough to withstand the most extreme winds speeds, making true structural failure a near impossibility. Skyscrapers are engineered according to a 50- or 100-year return rule, meaning that, on average, engineers expect winds to reach structurally dangerous speeds only once in a half century or more. Just to be safe, designers then increase the strength of the structure by an additional 60% or so to account for uncertainty in their measurements. When all this is taken into account, says Garber, “you’re talking about something along the lines of a 500- or 1000-year event.” The bottom line, he says, is that these buildings aren’t in any risk of falling over.9

Still, wind stress can still cause all kinds of problems in tall buildings. It can break windowpanes, damage the outer façade, stress building joints, cause leaking, crack walls and create myriad other issues. In addition, it can result in unnerving, even nauseating, swaying.10

“If the building’s moving too much, sometimes you can hear it creaking,” says Garber. However, “the most common concerns are of excessive motions. You might get people complaining that they feel the building moving or they might even feel sick.” Such was the case in the former Gulf & Western building in New York City. As a result of wind stress, the 44-story building developed cracks in stairwells and interior walls. In addition, office workers on the upper floors frequently complained of motion sickness on windy days. To fix these problems, owners invested over $10 million to add a massive steel brace to steady the structure.11

Indeed, measures to counteract the wind are undertaken as much for comfort as for safety. The happiness of occupants is an especially important issue to structural engineers, says Willis. “People are more sensitized than structures are to wind. Tuned mass dampers, for example, are used to address acceleration and peoples’ queasiness and response to the sway of buildings.”

Wind stresses grow dramatically the higher you build. Not only do wind speeds increase with height, but the force of the wind also increases with the square of its velocity. That means rapidly growing wind stress as the height of the building increases, which can cause even the most rigid skyscrapers to sway slowly back and forth.

“In any building,” says Garber, “the amount of motion you’d expect is on the order of 1/200 to 1/500 times its height.” For the Burj Khalifa, this translates into about two to four meters. “It’s not much, but certainly enough to make residents queasy if they can sense this motion. That’s why one of the chief concerns of architects and engineers is acceleration, which can result in perceptible forces on the human body.”

In carnival rides, cars and planes, physicists often think about forces in terms of “g’s,” multiples of the force of gravity. “When we are looking at buildings,” explains Garber, “we’re talking about milli-g’s of force.” As long as the occupants can’t feel the building moving, a certain degree of sway is acceptable and even expected. Humans can sense acceleration as small as about 5 to 25 milli-g’s, far less than what the structure can actually withstand.12 In most cases, such as the John Hancock building and Taipei 101, tuned mass dampers are installed not to ensure structural stability but to prevent queasiness.

Skyscrapers undergo rigorous wind tunnel testing during the initial design phase. Rowan Williams Davis & Irwin Inc. (RWDI), one of the world’s leading wind engineering consulting firm, has handled the testing for numerous projects around the world including the Burj Khalifa and Taipei 101.

At RWDI, wind-engineering experts collaborate with the building’s structural engineers early on. Prior to construction, wind-engineering specialists are given complete architectural drawings of the building and the team at RWDI then gets to work constructing a complex, rigid scale model for testing. These models are covered in small holes, called pressure taps, used to measure the effects of the wind. The 1:500 scale model of the Burj Khalifa, for example, contains 1,140 separate pressure taps for collecting wind data.13

These elaborate replicas go through several rounds of testing in a specialized wind tunnel. Unlike the tunnels used to test airplane wings, sporting equipment and other small projects, these boundary layer wind tunnels are designed to simulate changes in the wind speed with height and can replicate the variable wind environments in which the buildings will ultimately be constructed. Inside the tunnel, the model is rotated at all different angles and wind effects are sometimes visualized using smoke. All of this data is then fed into computer models in order to perform additional analysis. In the case of the Burj Khalifa, wind tunnel testing led to a dramatic design change: the entire building was rotated 120º to reduce wind loading. Ultimately, this process of wind testing, provides structural engineers with a nuanced understanding of wind loads.

Tallest buildings in the whole world

This list of the world’s tallest buildings includes only those with continuously occupiable floors, as opposed to non-building structures such as TV towers. Roof or spire height is taken into consideration in this ranking, but not antenna height.

1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE. (2010), 828 m, 163 floors.

Has held the title of world’s tallest building since 2010.

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2. Shanghai Tower, Shanghai, China (2015), 632 m, 121 floors

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3. Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel, Mecca, Saudi Arabia (2012), 601 m, 120 floors

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4. Ping An Finance Centre, Shenzhen, China (2017), 599 m, 115 floors

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5. Lotte World Tower, Seoul, South Korea (2017), 554.5 m, 123 floors

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6. One World Trade Center, New York City, USA (2014), 541.3 m, 104 floors

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7. Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre, Guangzhou, China (2016), 530 m, 111 floors

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8. Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan (2004), 508 m, 101 floors

World’s tallest building 2004 – 2010.

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9. Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai, China (2008), 492 m, 101 floors

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10. International Commerce Center, Hong Kong, China (2010), 484 m, 108 floors

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11. Lakhta Center, St. Petersburg, Russia (2018), 462 m , 86 floors.

12. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumper, Malaysia (1998), 451.9 m, 88 floors. World’s tallest building 1998 – 2004.

13. Zifeng Tower, Nanjing, China (2010), 450 m, 89 floors

14. Willis Tower, Chicago, USA (1974), 442.1 m, 108 floors. World’s tallest building 1974 – 1998.

15. KK100, Shenzhen, China (2011), 441.8 m, 100 floors

16. Guangzhou International Finance Center, Guangzhou, China (2010), 437.5 m, 103 floors

17. 432 Park Avenue, New York (2015), 425.5 m, 85 floors

18. Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago, USA (2009), 423.4 m, 98 floors

19. Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China (1999), 420.5 m, 93 floors

20. Princess Tower, Dubai, UAE (2012), 414 m, 101 floors

21. Al Hamra Tower, Kuwait City, Kuwait (2011), 412.6 m, 90 floors

22. Two International Finance Centre, Hong Kong, China (2003), 412 m, 90 floors

23. 23 Marina, Dubai, UAE (2012), 392.8 m, 89 floors

24. CITIC Plaza, Guangzhou, China (1996), 391.1 m, 80 floors

25. Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, China (1996), 384 m, 69 floors

26. Eton Place Dalian Tower 1, Dalian, China (2015), 383.1 m, 81 floors

27. Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2014), 381 m, 88 floors

28. Empire State Building, New York City, USA (1931), 381 m, 102 floors. World’s tallest building 1931 – 1970.

29. Elite Residence, Dubai, UAE (2012), 381 m, 91 floors

30. Central Plaza, Hong Kong, China (1992), 374 m, 78 floors

31. Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong, China (1990), 367.4 m, 72 floors

32. Bank of America Tower, New York City, USA (2009),365.8 m, 55 floors

33. Almas Tower, Dubai, UAE (2009), 360 m, 68 floors

34. JW Marriott Marquis Dubai 1 & 2, Dubai, UAE (2012/2013), 355.4 m, 77 floors

35. Emirates Office Tower, Dubai, UAE (2000), 354.6 m, 56 floors

36. OKO – Residential Tower, Moscow, Russia (2015), 354.1 m, 85 floors

37. The Torch, Dubai, UAE (2011), 352 m, 86 floors

38. T & C Tower, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (1997), 347.5 m, 85 floors

39. Aon Center, Chicago, USA (1973), 346.3 m, 83 floors

40. The Center, Hong Kong, China (1998), 346 m, 73 floors

41. John Hancock Center, Chicago, USA (1969), 343.7 m, 100 floors

42, ADNOC Headquarters, Abu Dhabi, UAE (2015), 342 m, 65 floors

43. Chongqing World Financial Center, Chongqing, China (2015), 339 m, 73 floors

44. The Wharf Times Square, Wuxi JS, China (2014), 339 m, 68 floors

45. Mercury City Tower, Moscow, Russia (2013), 338.9 m, 75 floors

46. Tianjin Modern City Office Tower, Tianjin, China (2016), 338 m, 65 floors

47. Tianjin World Financial Center, Tianjin, China (2011), 336.9 m, 76 floors

48. Shanghai Shimao International Plaza, Shanghai, China (2005), 333.3 m, 60 floors

49. Rose Rayhaan, Dubai, UAE (2007), 333 m, 72 floors

50. Minsheng Bank Building, Wuhan, China (2008), 331.3 m, 68 floors

Innovations in lighting technology

From healthier brains to a deeper sleep, embracing the benefits of LED lights

By now, many of us are aware of the benefits of LED technology: its superior energy efficiency, long life cycle, and soaring returns on investment. But what about the intangibles, those that are not so easily calculated but deliver other substantial benefits like return-on-health, return-on-knowledge, and return-on-positivity?

Research from LightingEurope, amongst others, found evidence that LED bulbs provide an array of health benefits. This is largely due to the fact that LED light more closely mirrors the spectral wave of natural daylight, whereas fluorescent lights emit large spikes in color that is disorienting to the brain.

Measured benefits for older adults include:

  • Increased motivation
  • Increased performance
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved concentration and energy
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • “Mood support” in wellness and dining areas
  • Enhanced drug efficacy
  • Reduced therapy times and capacity requirements

Return-on-health: Physical utility

LED’s even distribution of colors results in more saturated, vivid, discriminable color rendering and effortless visual acuity. Fully directional down-lighting also provides more illumination on working surfaces, rather than the diffuse glow produced by gas-filled fluorescent tubes. The color temperature, color rendering, and efficiency of LED lights combine to improve visibility and create a better environment, as vision is a major contributing factor to the ability to receive and respond to treatments.

LED lighting engineers have also focused on eliminating the light flicker commonly seen in fluorescent lights. Light flicker has been linked with headaches and other health problems that reduce both productivity and a general sense of well-being.

In addition, seniors who are known to experience “yellowing” of the eye lens find it difficult to discern differences in color and colors become less vivid. Bulbs like LED with a higher color rendering index will improve visibility and clarity, which increases safety and creates a sense of happiness.

Return-on-knowledge: Cognitive utility

Not only does LED provide emotional benefits via higher quality lighting, studies have also shown LED lighting can enhance surgical, procedure, and diagnostic settings as well. Most healthcare providers encourage patients to get a full eight hours of sleep to help their recovery. A healthy sleep/wake cycle, especially in older adults, is crucial to mental cognition and physical health. Our bodies’ 24-hour cycle is governed by hormonal responses triggered by full-spectrum light, light that is provided by sunlight and LED but not by fluorescent lighting.

Return-on-positivity: Psychological utility

We have all experienced the relief of leaving a fluorescent-lit room and stepping outside back out into the natural sunlight. The spectral output of fluorescent lights is to blame for this drastic physiological response. In winter months, many people are known to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), while many more self-diagnose their yearly “winter blues.” LED lighting is used in the treatment of SAD and has also been shown to improve mood, decrease stress, and create a generally healthier and happier environment—all because the lighting spectrum mimics that of natural sunlight.

Human-centric lighting

These studies and more are lending themselves to a new movement called human-centric lighting (HCL). It centers on the relationship between light and levels of well-being, where the effects on circadian rhythms—mental, physical, and biological changes—can be correlated to specific light conditions.

The discovery created two distinct purposes for HCL: biologically effective lighting to improve cognitive performance, and emotionally effective lighting to create stimulating environments. These important discoveries elevate the importance of LED lighting beyond the accepted benefits of energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and operating expense cost reduction, and into as-yet-uncalculated improvements to healthcare, education, and overall happiness.

Affordable Apartment in Los Angeles

You made it to LA. Now it’s time to find your first Los Angeles apartment.

Maybe all your possessions in the world are still jammed into the backseat of your car, and you still don’t have a job, and your cash is diminishing quickly.

But you made it.

Now… how do you find an affordable apartment in Los Angeles?

Well — now lies before you the simple task of finding establishing headquarters to fight broke and create a career.

In other words: you need a place to live.

Where Do You Belong?

In case you didn’t notice, Los Angeles is a huge, sprawling city. Each neighborhood has it’s own feel, taste, and merits. Derek Sivers explains it so well in his post about Los Angeles:

“So if you go just understanding it’s a bunch of adjacent towns, each quite different in character, and don’t go expecting a city, then it won’t be so frustrating. When someone says they hate LA, you have to ask, “Which neighborhood?” Because Santa Monica is not like Silverlake is not like Van Nuys is not like Hollywood, but they’re all inside that circle called LA. It’s completely de-centralized. (And “downtown” is just another neighborhood. It’s not the center of things, like most cities. Most people have no need to go there.)”

The Bold Italic has this amazing and hilarious breakdown of Los Angeles neighborhoods by Jessica Gao you should read before forking over your first downpayment. It’s generalized and of course, there are huge exceptions, but the post definitely captures the feel of various neighborhoods. Take Hollywood, for example:

“And let’s just get this out of the way: The major movie studios are not in Hollywood proper (Paramount Studios sits on the border, so fine, that makes one). But what Hollywood does have are tourists, crackheads, and expensive clubs frequented by B- and C-list celebrities and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd who line up for said clubs.”)

The idea of picking the right neighborhood can be absolutely daunting when you first arrive in Los Angeles. Like, if you pick the wrong neighborhood, you’re going to be surrounded by people you hate, you’ll have the worst experience ever, and you’re going to be stuck there forever.

This never happens to anyone.

Yes, it’s a bit intimidating, but take a breath. I mean, jeez, you just moved to a new city to start a new journey. You’re tough. You can handle this. After all, let’s say you did make the wrong decision and hate where you’re living:

  • Your neighbor plays the electric accordian at 2 a.m. every night
  • The neighborhood pimps get busted in the alley outside your window every second Thursday
  • You have to drive 15 minutes to find a decent cup of coffee #firstworldproblems

You know what happens then?

You move again.

Los Angeles is the never ceasing ebb and flow of transplants. New vacancies sprout like weeds, and the longer you’re in town, the more people you know. The more people you know, the higher chance you’ll hear about that “fantastic, cheap rental that literally just came on the market and it’s not listed yet but I know the guy why don’t I give you his number?”

The process of finding your new home is a big step. But it’s far from permanent. So take a deep breath. 

Everything’s going to be okay.

The Wrong Approach To Find Your Apartment

This is an email I got from “Sarah,” who was looking for advice when moving out to Los Angeles:

“I know your dad from singing/eating at his restaurant in Delmar.  I just got moved to California on Monday… I’m temporarily staying in an apartment in Glendale until I find a job either in Huntington Beach or in Los Angeles…

“I don’t exactly know how to describe the feel that I’m looking for, but I’m hoping to find somewhere that’s artsy, but also consists of young professionals in their mid-late 20s.  It would be a plus if there were a few families w/children around too.  It would also be a plus if I could get to the beach easily.  I’m hoping for a place that has access to nature b/c I’m a big nature girl, maybe someplace that has a big park to hike in.  I’m also looking for a safe place that I could get for under $1,000.  I’m willing to have a bachelor or a studio apartment.  I also don’t wanna get stuck in a pocket of people that are too snotty or not friendly at all.  Is there a place that fits these things or a place that has most of these things I’m looking for?”

So… she’s looking for safe place with a lot of yuppies, a lot of families, neither of whom are snooty or unfriendly, where beaches and parks are easily accessible, for under $1,000 a month.

This is the wrong way to find your new home. 

It’s nice to think about all the trappings you’d “like to have:”

  • By the beach
  • Close to nature
  • Friendly neighbors who preferably have a dog I can play with and also know how to cook Chinese food the way my father does

I would love to have these things. 

But in the grand scheme of things, those are not factors in play when it comes to finding your first apartment in Los Angeles.

The 3 Factors That Matter For Your First Apartment

Let’s break into these:

Your Roommate 
If you are new to Los Angeles and strapped for cash, do yourself a favor and get a roommate. If you think, “ugh, I can’t live with a roommate! I need my own space!” seriously, get the fuck over it. When you’ve just moved to LA, the benefits of a roommate (whom you get along with — you don’t need to be BFF’s or anything, but you should be able to exchange pleasantries without too much aggravation) are ridiculously awesome:

  • You cut rent in half
  • Other costs of living: Internet, electricity, gas, etc — all cut in half
  • It’s safer
  • Save time when you need someone home because the plumber or AT&T guy is stopping by
  • You double your network by association
  • You double your rate of exposure to Los Angeles, by association

If you find a roommate(s) you like and think you can live amicably with — that sort of makes your decision for you, doesn’t it? It no longer matters if the apartment doesn’t have all the trappings you initially said you wanted (central AC, close to the freeways, a walk-in closet, etc) — you’re going to take the place with good roommates.

Where You Work

If you have any inkling of an idea about where you’re going to work in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor: find an apartment close by. Even if you know the general area: west side, east side, downtown, the valley… you’re saving an immeasurable amount of time, money, and stress by living in the general vicinity.

I can’t stress this enough. If you can, (and for a lot of people, I know, you can’t) Live. Close. To. Work. 

I lived and worked on the West Side. It was wonderful. I loved it – I could bike to work three times a week. Because of traffic, sometimes my bike commute was faster than driving, and even at the worst of times, the commute was only 25 minutes. I managed to squeeze in a workout, enjoyed the SoCal sun, saved time, and prevented wear and tear on my car, all because home + work were so close.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend wife didn’t have it so good. Her place of work (which she loved) was in Orange County. It was a 40-mile commute one-way, and could take anywhere from 45-90 minutes. In one week, she traveled 400 miles and spent 10 hours in her car.

  • That’s 400 miles of wear and tear she puts on her vehicle
  • 400 miles worth of gas money
  • 400 miles of the headache and stress of Los Angeles traffic every morning and night
  • Most importantly, that’s 10 hours a week she could spend writing, reading, going to the gym, or just resting

But she loved her company and did fulfilling work, so she made it work. It didn’t make it easy, though.

You should, to the best of your ability, make your first work commute a short one.

Get Lucky

For all the gyration of planning, of trying to pick the perfect area and all the amenities we think we need, of having our checklist of must-haves, luck plays a large role in determining your first apartment. There’s a time constraint. You’re new to the area. To some extent, you’re gonna have to get lucky:

  • You overhear someone at the coffee shop whine about not being able to find the right tenant
  • A friend of a friend heard their cousin in the entertainment business is looking for a roommate
  • The assistant at your internship is moving to NY and needs someone to take over their lease

When this happens, the list goes out the window. You hope you have a decent roommate, and the place is close to your work. And you take the apartment.

The thing about chance is you have to give it the opportunity to work for you. This means not just relying on different great online tools to find an apartment (we’ll get to that below) but also:

  • Getting out there and hitting the pavement. In, like real-life, not just flicking through images on Flicker or exploring the neighborhood via Google Maps.
  • Putting in the shoe leather is also when you’ll stumble on gems that never made it to the Internets (hard to believe, but true).
  • Telling people you’re looking for an apartment, and seeing if they have leads. No, this doesn’t make a good conversation starter. Hopefully you’re able to connect with the person at a deeper level first. But the offhand referral can lead to awesome results.

How to Look for an Apartment

Here are the tools that’ll help you find your first apartment. First, though, you have to make sure you’re moving forward with:

The Right Mindset

Strike a balance between comfort and cost. Yes, this place is going to be your home, and I believe with every iota of my being that a huge part of happiness is making your home a refuge. It should be your sanctuary, your place to decompress, and a barrier between you and anything negative in your life. If you’re not comfortable in your own home, happiness is difficult to achieve.

With that said, besides your car, your home is your biggest fixed cost. Which is a bitch of a thing.

So finding the right balance between comfort and cost comes down to goals, which change year to year (and even month to month). When I first got to Los Angeles, I did not care how big or how nice my apartment was. It didn’t need to have character or hardwood floors or a dishwasher. I had three criteria: close to work, cheap, and relatively safe. (Pimps regularly conducted business outside my window, and there was a shooting once, but two out of three wasn’t bad.)

I nearly always worked on the west side, so my commute was never awful. I had two roommates, which cut my cost of living dramatically. (I was often between paying gigs, unsure of when I’d find steady employment, which made low rent a huge help.)

After two years of that, Amy and I decided to move in together. The goals had shifted a bit — I wanted a bit more comfort, and I was willing to pay for it. Understand where you are on the spectrum of comfort versus cost. Tactically, it helps when you:

  • Know your price range. This includes a security deposit of one month’s rent (sometimes two: first month, last month, and security deposit).
  • Can wait. Either you’re able to crash with friends, family, a motel, or Airbnb. Essentially, anything that isn’t sleeping in your car, parked in a Wal-Mart or next to the homeless in Venice Beach.

Apartment Search Tools

Here are the four best apartment search tools:

West Side Rentals

People either swear by WSR or swear at it. It charges a $60 fee to use their service. If you can “borrow” someone’s account for a month, give it a try. Or, try it for a month and if you’re out $60, then so be it. The potential reward (e.g., finding a place you love) dramatically outweighs any cost.

Craigslist

The obvious choice – but did you know you can also create RSS feeds with your search criteria, so your reader of choice is automatically populated via a filtered search? I suggest doing general searches as well (so you don’t miss any diamonds in the rough) but CL RSS’ing can be a huge time saver if you’re having trouble sifting through all the crap that’s out there on CL.

Rent

I’ve found this engine to be a bit broader and not updated as frequently. However, it’s still useful to get a general feel for demand and prices in your area.

The Rental Girl

Fewer listings here, but they’re curated by a group of real estate women, by area.

Finally, if you’re going to be a renter from now into the unforeseeable future, you should really know your Renter’s Rights.

Conclusion

For all the sophisticated online tools available to help you in your apartment search, the best methods remain: walking around neighborhoods yourself and referrals.