A renter’s guide to making your energy bill greener

Analysis paralysis — being overwhelmed by choices you can’t decide on your course — has new meaning thanks to climate change. Making the “right” decision has never been more complicated, but we’re here to help. This is Impact, a new sustainability series from PopSci.

A lower utility bill at the end of the month can be a nice thing. But reducing energy consumption is not only good for our wallets; It can also help us reach various state and federal emissions reduction goals. According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, personal lifestyle and behavioral changes “could lead to a 40-70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”.

However, taking steps to reduce emissions bills related to homes and utilities significantly is out of reach for many renters in America, who represent 36 percent of American households.

The homeowner must undertake the most impactful energy efficiency projects for the home. And as any renter can tell you, many landlords don’t want to use a nail to hang a picture frame or paint the walls, let alone replace large, inefficient appliances or old water heaters.

“You probably can’t pretty much see the energy equipment in your building,” says Maggie Kelly Riggins, project manager for the built environment at the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that advances energy efficiency goals in southeastern states. Anything that involves heating, cooling, or pumping gas into the home is beyond the tenant’s ability to do on their own. However, these are the products that cause the most emissions in the home; Massachusetts utilities’ collective energy efficiency efforts indicate that heating and cooling account for about half of a home’s energy needs alone.

Additionally, many tenants cannot take advantage of various state or federal financial incentives to make energy-efficient swaps since many of these target the actual owner of a home or property. And even subsidies aren’t always enough to lure landlords to undertake weather projects or buy expensive power appliances before the appliances die because the landlord will pay for the upgrade but won’t benefit from lower utility bills.

[Related: Energy costs hit low-income Americans the hardest.]

So what can renters do on their own? Not much, energy efficiency experts say. But while many of the purchases or projects a landlord has to undertake are relatively expensive, many of the projects you can do on your own are fairly budget-friendly or even free.

Upgrade your light bulbs and buy removable weatherproof materials

“One of the easy things you can do is to replace your old incandescent bulbs with more efficient ones,” says Lily McVitie, program assistant at Efficiency Maine, a quasi-governmental agency that manages energy efficiency programs in New England. “I was able to get three sets of soft white 60-watt LEDs for just three dollars—which is a buck light bulb, and that will help me save more than $20 a year.”

When you leave the rental, you can take the bulbs. Keep non-functional items in a box to replace them again when you leave or ask the owner to take them away.

Additionally, Kelley Riggins suggests adding weatherproofing, or various materials used to insulate doors and other areas of the home with retractability, as a “low-cost, low-skill” way to insulate doors and windows, preventing heat or cold air from escaping from your home and helping you Lower the thermostat while maintaining your comfort. Window inserts do a similar job, and you can sometimes be snag-free or low-cost from local efficiency advocates, says McVitie.

“There are some companies and nonprofits that will actually come into your house and will design custom window inserts to try and reduce drafts,” McVitie says. “In winter, they reduce drafts. In summer, you can just take it out without causing any damage to your existing window frame.” Volunteers with Window Dressers, a Maine-based nonprofit, build and install low-cost custom window inserts.

Change your energy use behaviors

Making small adjustments to the use of energy-hungry appliances can save money and regulate your home’s temperature. For example, washers and dryers generate heat during operation, so avoid using them at home or on a hot afternoon. Partially closing blinds or window coverings when you’re not home can help keep the room cool on hot days. According to Efficiency Maine, opening them overnight and first thing in the morning helps bring naturally cooler air into the home.

If you can make changes to your utility account, reach out to us and ask about demand response programs that put a little money in your pocket. From small rural electric cooperatives in Minnesota to investor-owned power providers serving major metropolitan areas, there are utility-run initiatives across the country to cut electricity use spikes at times of common power consumption — such as when everyone is cooking, watching TV, or reading articles. on the Internet.

Utilities use huge amounts of data to determine in advance how much power their customers need at any time of the day. But with some demand response software, the tool can tell you when periods of high power demand occur so you can either manually limit your power consumption or let the utilities do it for you. These programs take advantage of the utility by helping them reduce the number of times they need to run cost-peak plants that are only needed to meet high demand (such as on a hot summer day). This helps you and your utilities save money.

[Related: What you need to know about converting your home to solar.]

Your utility may have the option to pay a little extra each month to support renewable energy developments that add electricity to their system. Whether you do this through your local utility, power supplier, or other intermediaries depends on the state in which you live. In Pennsylvania, for example, you can shop for clean energy suppliers through a website approved by the state’s utility regulator. In the Indianapolis, Indiana area, local utility customers can add a premium to their monthly bill to support green energy.

Talk to your landlord

Kelley Riggins suggests that if you really want to reduce the environmental impact of your rental home, try talking to your landlord or property manager about energy efficiency and weather impact topics. Ask questions about building maintenance and equipment replacement plans, such as the efficiency of light bulbs in the common area or how often the heating and air conditioning system equipment will be changed.

“[Renters] Pay the bills, so have candid conversations with your property management companies, and sometimes with them [an individual] “Owner is possible,” says Kelly Riggins. “I’m not saying it’s necessarily always productive, but it’s possible to have those conversations where you say ‘Now my energy bill is 10 percent of income, and I’d like it to be reduced. ”

And while you may want your landlord to do his homework, it won’t hurt to find information about the different discounts or subsidies available in your state or municipality. Even strategically planted trees can help mitigate extreme temperatures by naturally cooling a home in hot weather, thus artificially reducing the amount of energy needed to do so. In Washington, D.C., for example, a city-run program notes that the free trees it plants for residents can help “reduce heating bills.” [in the winter] Up to 15 percent and cooling bills reduced by 50 percent [in the summer]. “

McVitie points out that renting or purchasing an electricity usage monitor to determine which appliances use the most energy is another option. She explains that in Maine, you can borrow one of over 60 libraries, so check with your local library or other community organizations to see what’s available in your community.

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