With much of the buzz about “greening your home” focusing on large-scale projects like solar panels, green roofs, and LEED certification, it may appear that you can only achieve a green home if you are a homeowner. If you rent a home or apartment, energy efficiency projects with long payback periods may not make sense for you. As a renter you probably also experience the “split incentives” dilemma, where the landlord has little financial incentive to invest in making the building more energy efficient because the tenant is responsible for paying the utility bills.
There are still plenty of actions with quick or immediate paybacks that renters can take to reduce utility costs. A full room-by-room list of low-to-no-cost energy saving actions can be found here. In this article, we’ll focus on some of the most important strategies you can implement to make your apartment or house more energy efficient.
Ask about utility costs in your apartment search
When searching for a new place to rent, ask for information about average utility costs in addition to the monthly rent. This will not only help you to find an apartment that is probably already more energy efficient, but will also help create a demand in the housing market for more energy efficient rental properties. If the property manager sees that utility costs weigh heavily in your decision of whether or not to rent from them, they may make energy improvements to remain competitive.
Exercise smart energy actions
The behavioral choices you make – turning off lights when you leave the room, unplugging your chargers, shutting down your computer and entertainment system – can add up to a big savings in your energy bills.
Control temperature wisely
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, space heating and cooling accounts for 43% of residential home energy use on average, so there is a tremendous opportunity to conserve energy through wise temperature control. A good rule of thumb is to avoid heating empty spaces when possible. If you have a manually controlled thermostat, be diligent about turning down the heat when you leave the house. If you have a programmable thermostat, make sure it is programmed appropriately for your schedule. Zone heating and cooling is another simple strategy. Close off rarely used rooms like storage rooms or guest bedrooms to avoid unnecessary heating or cooling.
Use weatherstripping and caulk to minimize drafts and air leaks
You wouldn’t leave a gaping hole the size of a basketball in your exterior wall – but together the cracks in your home may be leaking an equal amount of conditioned air outside. Look around your windows, doors, trim, and baseboards for cracks or any spaces where you can see light or feel air moving through. You can purchase weatherstripping, caulk, and expanding foam at your local hardware store for just a few dollars, and they are quick and easy to use.
Let the sunshine in
When you can, take advantage of natural sunlight instead of using artificial lighting. When you do need artificial light, use compact florescent lamps (CFLs) or LEDs. CFLs have improved significantly since their early days, and are now affordable and give off warm light. Reference this link from ENERGY STAR for guidance on which color and mood to choose for your space.
Conserving water, especially hot water, is one of the most cost-effective and environmentally significant changes you can make to your living space. When you save hot water, you reduce your water bill and electricity used in water heating. Run only full loads in the dishwasher and clothes washer to maximize water efficiency. Making simple changes to your existing plumbing fixtures is another easy way to save. Installing a low-flow showerhead (with flow rates of 2.5 gallons per minute or less) will provide a steady and sufficient stream of water while achieving water savings of 25%-60%. You can purchase low-flow showerhead models at the hardware store for $10-$15 and they are easy to install – all you need is a wrench! For more ways to save water, see the Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures article.
Talk to your landlord
Good communication with your property manager or landlord is essential for collaboration and teamwork on energy projects. Talk to your landlord about the seasons when your energy bills are the highest, and work together to identify feasible energy improvements. You may want to consider volunteering to do some of the labor for a proposed energy improvement. For example, some companies or cities offer rebates that cover the cost of the purchase and installation of a programmable thermostat. Ask for permission to install one, if you promise to coordinate the purchase and installation and take care of the rebate paperwork.
Finally, when deciding whether or not to renew your lease, take the opportunity to ask questions like: “Would you be willing to replace the old, inefficient clothes dryer if we renew our lease?” Similarly, if your existing appliances fail, ask your landlord to purchase an ENERGY STAR model as the replacement.