Tips to make your rental home more energy efficient

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If you’re an environmentally conscious tenant, it might seem impossible to make your space more energy efficient without breaking your lease or pouring money into a house you don’t own. You probably won’t want solar panels or an Energy Star certified water heater if you’re just renting.

But there are simple and relatively inexpensive steps you can take to reduce energy use in your home, help the environment, and likely save you money on your utility bills. “Using less energy means the distribution system has to produce less energy,” says Lizzie Rubado, manager at Energy Trust of Oregon. “And since a lot of the energy sources we use still come from fossil fuels or other energy sources that emit greenhouse gases, when you use less energy in your home, that means that this reduces our greenhouse gas emissions overall.”

Here are seven ways to reduce your energy consumption while renting.

Change your bulbs. Rubado says it’s time to ditch those 60-watt incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs use 75 to 80 percent less energy and could save you between $60 and $125 for each bulb installed over its lifetime, according to Consumer Reports. If you feel overwhelmed with all the bulbs you need to replace, Rubado recommends starting with the five bulbs you use most frequently. Bonus tip: store the stock bulbs in a bag, then swap them out when you move, so you can take your LEDs with you.

Conserve water. It takes energy to pump water into homes, so reducing usage saves both energy and water.

Kathryn Kellogg, founder of Going Zero Waste, a platform promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle, recommends switching to a low-flow showerhead that dispenses less water. “We were just adding a new showerhead that we brought with us to each apartment,” she says. Look for the WaterSense label on fixtures; the typical showerhead passes through 2.5 gallons of water per minute, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but WaterSense heads use no more than two gallons per minute.

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Meanwhile, Manuela Barón, founder of Girl Gone Green, suggests putting a plastic water bottle in your toilet tank. Each time you flush, the tank fills with more water than is needed for the next flush, Barón says. Placing a filled water bottle inside the tank means it will take less water to reach the fill line and conserve your water intake – while still providing enough to flush the toilet.

Another tip: if your apartment has a dishwasher, use it. It uses less energy and water than washing dishes by hand, says Rubado.

Don’t go crazy for the thermostat. “Making sure you’re not heating or cooling your home when you don’t need it is one of the best ways to save energy,” says Rubado. “Even small changes can have a big impact on your bills and your carbon footprint.”

If your rental has a thermostat, Rubado recommends setting it to between 65 and 68 degrees during the day in the winter, then lowering it to 58 or 60 at night. During the summer, don’t set it below 70 degrees, she says. And don’t go home and immediately turn up the heat or air conditioning. It won’t heat or cool your home any faster; it will only force your system to work harder and use more energy, says Rubado. If you have a programmable thermostat, such as a Nest, she recommends taking the time to set it up and learn how it works, so you don’t unnecessarily cool or heat your home while you’re away.

Insulate and cool. “You lose a lot of your heating, cooling, and energy through your windows,” Kellogg says. She recommends tenants put up heavy curtains and close them during hot summer months to keep rooms cooler and darker, as well as close them at night during the winter to trap in heat. Meanwhile, make sure your ceiling fan spins clockwise on a low setting in the winter, so it pushes the warm air that’s risen upwards, Rubado says, and counter-clockwise in summer to create a downward draft. Most ceiling fans have a switch or chain that changes the direction of the blades.

And you can fix drafty, energy-wasting spaces without expensive construction. “The typical house has enough little holes and cracks that it’s the equivalent of leaving a window open year-round, winter or summer,” Rubado says. She recommends placing removable windbreaks under your doors. (You can take them with you when you move.) Or, if there is a gap between your window sash and the sill, buy a piece of foam at the hardware store, place it on the sill and close the window above to seal the crack.

Don’t forget the fridge. Even if it doesn’t make sense to opt for an energy-efficient refrigerator as a tenant, you can still help yours use less energy. Step one: Vacuum behind the refrigerator and clean the coils, Kellogg explains. This will help the refrigerator distribute heat better and operate more efficiently. Also, if your refrigerator has an ice maker, she recommends turning it off after the ice bucket is full to save energy. Do not turn it back on until it is empty.

Check your cords. Unplug items when not in use. Phantom power — or power used by devices that still draw power when plugged in and not in use, such as phone or computer chargers — can account for up to 20% of your bill of monthly electricity, according to Duke Energy. “On average, each home has about 40 of these phantom energy users,” Rubado says. “That energy consumption can add up.”

She suggests plugging nearby devices into a power strip, which makes it easier to turn everything off at once. And smart plugs are also a good option, she says; they can connect to a smart home assistant or app to let you turn devices on and off remotely, so you’ll never accidentally leave your light on while you’re at work again.

Wash and dry smartly. Again, a tenant is unlikely to opt for an Energy Star certified washer and dryer. But it takes energy to heat water, so wash your clothes in cold water whenever you can, Barón says. And while air-drying your clothes using a clothes rack or line is the most energy-efficient method, you might not have the space to do so. If so, Barón recommends throwing a dry towel in the dryer with your wet clothes. “It helps reduce the total time the clothes spend in the dryer,” she says.

Mimi Montgomery is a writer and editor at DC

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