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Find the Best Place to Live: Relocation in the Information Age

Aug 17, 2007
When we move, we generally focus on the residence, the neighborhood, taxes, schools, and the like. There are occasions, though, when we want something specific in a location. Recently, one of our visitors asked for help finding a locale with very specific and unique attributes.

She and her husband live in southern California and wanted to move somewhere less expensive, near woodlands, not too hot, not too cold, and not too much snow. Seems like looking for a needle in the haystack, right? Not necessarily--thanks to all of the data available on the web.

We broke the request into three components: cost of living, climate, and forest cover.

Determining the cost of living for all locales across the state could be very complicated, so we made some simplifying assumptions. First, housing, food, and energy costs account for most of the average household budget. Second, food and energy costs tend to be consistent across regions. That left us with housing costs.

We then broke down housing costs into its major components: mortgage/rent and property taxes. The US Census collects housing value and property tax data as part of their decennial survey, so we decided to use that data to calculate a housing cost index by county. The results were interesting. While California as whole is one of the most expensive states, we found a lot of variance in housing cost by county within the state.

Based on our calculations, Modoc, Kern, and Kings Counties were the least expensive. Marin, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz Counties had the highest housing costs. In general, northern counties not on the coast were looking most affordable.

So far, so good...at least we could recommend less expensive areas. Now, how to find areas with moderate temperatures?

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--the branch of government that includes the National Weather Service) provides maps of "Heating Degree Days" and "Cooling Degree Days". Exactly, what are "Heating Degree Days" and "Cooling Degree Days"?

One heating degree day occurs for each degree the daily mean temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. So if the average temperature is 63 on a particular day, that's two Heating Degree Days (2 degrees multiplied by 1 day). It indicates fuel consumption to heat your residence.

One cooling degree day occurs for each degree the daily mean temperature is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. So if the average temperature is 67 on a particular day, that's two Cooling Degree Days (2 degrees multiplied by 1 day). It indicates electricity consumption to cool your residence.

So all we had to do was compare those two maps with our housing cost map to find areas that weren't too hot, weren't too cold, and weren't too expensive. Heating degree days are at moderate levels in the central valley and along the central coast. Cooling degree days are at moderate levels in the northern half of the state. Putting it all together, we were now focused on a few counties: Shasta, Tehama, Glenn, and Colusa.

Step two complete.

Next, we turned to the US Geological Survey for a forest cover map of California. Each of those counties had areas of forest cover, specifically pine, fir, spruce, and hardwood. Comparing the forestry map with the other three maps allowed us to identify areas within each county that would meet their needs. The western sections of Colusa and Glenn counties; the east and west ends of Tehama county; and everywhere except the south-central area of Shasta county.

Problem solved. Knowing what areas would meet their general needs, they could now focus on finding the best place to live in any one of those areas.
About the Author
Glen Franklin is a partner in Community Insight LLC, which operates www.MyDreamLocale.com.

MyDreamLocale.com helps you find the best place to live and provides real estate, school, demographic data, cost of living comparisons, by city, town, neighborhood or zip code for relocation/moving.
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