Owning a home yields many opportunities to increase overall energy efficiency. This is because even if technically a large corporate bank owns your mortgage, you are the master of your own domain and can change things and renovate on your Sims-like whims. But what if you are one of the 39 million households in the United States that rent instead of own? You may feel like you don’t have a lot of control over making the changes necessary to lower your energy bill. However, there are many short-term and impermanent changes you can make to an apartment to save you money on electricity, water use, and gas use.
Behavioral Electricity Use Changes
No matter if you live in a dorm room, apartment, or a house, you can always make changes to the way that you use electricity in order to lower your costs.
- Unplug your appliances when they are not being used because they still draw electricity from your outlets. The most convenient way to accomplish this is by plugging as much as possible into one or two power strips and unplugging the power strip before heading to work or going to bed.
- Institute a digital-free evening or day. If you cannot go completely without television, cell phones, or anything electric (save for the refrigerator), then try television-free days or evenings.
- Wash clothes in cold water only.
- Close blinds/shades before leaving for work during the summer months to decrease the internal temperature in your apartment. During the winter, shut the blinds/shades at night in order to keep heat from escaping.
- Periodically vacuum your refrigerator coils clean, as well as move your refrigerator a few inches away from the wall to increase efficiency.
- If you are in an area with deregulated electricity companies, then you can choose which company you want to go with. Take some time to sift through all of the offers and make a good choice. Remember that in the winter months you will get a better deal than in the summer months. So if your contract expires in the summer, consider signing onto a six month contract so that your next chance at renewing will take place in the wintertime (after the next expiration, sign onto 12-month contracts to keep your renewal times during the winter).
- Call your energy company and ask if they conduct free apartment audits to reduce energy consumption.
- Cook once and eat several times. I used to use the oven on average about three times per week and then heat up leftovers in the microwave, toaster oven or stovetop the rest of the time.
- Plan meals a day ahead so that you can defrost items over time in the refrigerator instead of using the defrost button on the microwave.
Tools to Purchase that You Can Move With You to the Next Apartment
There are inexpensive products you can purchase to decrease your energy use within your apartment. The great thing is that these products are all transportable, so you can take them with you to your next home. Just make sure to keep all of the old parts you are replacing so that you can switch everything back when you leave.
- Change out your light bulbs to energy efficient ones.
- Insulate your water heater (be careful when doing this, as your water heater may be hot to the touch if it has recently been in use).
- Install a low-flow shower water head.
- Purchase insulated curtains/shades (or make your own), and close them during the day when you are at work.
- Purchase dryer racks and use them to dry your clothes. Note that you can also dry clothes on a balcony, but only if your apartment complex does not forbid this in your contract (all of mine forbade this).
- Purchase a draft guard (or make your own) to place at the bottom of your door leading to the outside where temperature-controlled air can escape from your apartment.
- Check to see if there are threads on the inside tip of your faucet. If so, then you can install a low-flow aerator to decrease the amount of water flow. If there is already an aerator installed, check to make sure it is 2.75 gallons per minute (gpm) or less (the gpm should be imprinted on the aerator). If not, replace with a newer model.
Adjusting Appliances to Make them More Energy Efficient
You may not have a choice in the type of appliances at your disposal. Even if they are from the pre-energy efficiency age, you can make adjustments in order to increase their efficiency and decrease the money leaking out of your bank account.
- Turn your freezer/refrigerator up a few degrees (just be sure that your refrigerator temperature is still optimal for slowing bacteria growth).
- Play with the temperature setting on your water heater by turning it down a few degrees until you find the point at which it is no longer hot enough for you.
- Ask your landlord to check the filter on your heating/cooling system to make sure that it is being properly maintained. If you have a window A/C unit, you can typically find and clean the filter yourself.
- If you have more than enough ice in your ice box, make sure to turn the ice machine off. Periodically you will run out of ice, in which case you can turn it back on until it fills up again.
- If you have an older toilet that uses a bowl full of water, try converting it to a low-flush toilet for free.
I rented a total of four apartments after graduating college and before moving into our first home. While I was very good with monitoring my electricity use, I wish I had put in the research to figure out other ways to turn my apartment into an energy efficient home.
One last piece of advice: if there is anything on this list that you are unsure of, make sure you receive written permission from your landlord before making the changes. Better safe than sorry!