People are trying to do their part to make sure their dwellings are environmentally friendly. But this can pose a challenge for apartment dwellers, due to the little control they have over the building. Megin McDonell, program director of the Tenant Resource Center, says she finds renters are concerned about the environment, especially when it comes to weatherizing and energy savings.
"One problem people run into in multi-unit complexes is only one person has control over the thermostat for the entire building. A lot of energy gets wasted that way, especially in older buildings. We do have questions from tenants trying to figure out how to deal with that situation," says McDonell.
She recommends talking it over with your neighbors and landlord to see if you can come to a compromise on heat usage. She also says it's reasonable for tenants to do weatherizing tasks. "Usually I recommend that the tenant talk it over with the landlord first, since he or she may provide the tools," and maybe the rest of the supplies, too, so they're the products the landlord wants in place.
McDonell once had a landlord who provided a big roll of rope caulk weatherstripping in the fall, so that she and roommates could seal up spots where drafts leaked in. While they had to do the work, they were provided the supplies free. This is a fix that will keep heat in during the winter, but will also make air conditioning more efficient in the summer.
Ask your landlord about installing a ceiling fan. These help save energy in both summer and winter by circulating air. Many models come with a remote control, too, so wiring is minimal.
Sometimes you may have to be willing to spend some extra money in order to further "green" your apartment. Here are 15 ways you can, each under $50.
- Location, location, location. One of the most important things you can do with regard to renting and saving energy is choosing where it is in the city you rent. Is the apartment near your school or job? Can you walk to places you go to often? Is it on a bus route?
- Replace old showerheads with a low-flow model. These range from $12 to around $50, depending on features.
- Put low-flow aerators in your faucets, which will help reduce how much water you are using at the sink. These usually cost between $5 and $10.
- Run your dishwasher or washing machine only with full loads.
- Wash clothes in cold water.
- Reduce the water you're using in your toilet. Placing a brick in the tank works to displace 80 ounces of water or more a flush, or you can use products like "The Toilet Tummy" that achieve the same result.
- Check the toilet's effectiveness with leak detection dye tablets, which reveal if your tank needs to have its flapper replaced to prevent water loss.
- Use eco-conscious cleaning materials. Seventh Generation and Method brands are some toxin-free cleansers on the market. You can also make your own combinations of vinegar and water for sanitizing and baking soda and water to scour.
- What's at your window? White shades or blinds help in reflecting heat away from the building.
- Close your windows and window coverings when the sun's coming in the window (east in the morning, west at sundown) to keep heat out of the room. This is especially good when your apartment is in an older building where the walls are thick plaster. If you can keep heat from coming in, the room should stay cooler.
- Simple rubber self-adhesive weather-stripping tape (about $2 and up, depending on the length of the roll) can be placed around windows and doors, even old-fashioned mail slots, to stop hot air from escaping in the winter and from coming in during summer.
- Door sweeps (usually under $15) serve a similar purpose at the bottom of doors. These are often needed in apartment buildings where your apartment door opens onto an interior hallway.
- Hang your laundry out to dry. A retractable clothesline (about $20) will keep the yard neat; a simple camping clothesline costs about $3.50. Wooden clothespins run about $1.50 for 50.
- If you live in an older building with radiators, buy or make yourself a radiator reflector (about $5), an aluminum-covered shield placed behind the radiator that will lessen heat loss to the outside and reflect heat back into the room.
- Buy natural-fiber sheets, which are cooler. Try bamboo sheets, the latest in natural bedding. These are made from a renewable resource and are biodegradable. Bamboo also wicks moisture away. Said to be 2-3 degrees cooler than synthetic sheets in summer. Sheet set prices vary, but if you're sleeping in a single or a twin, you can probably squeak in under $50.
Landlords do their part
Seth Keel, a Madison landlord and environmentalist, recently put in compact fluorescents in his four-unit apartment on the East side. Keel has made several more green modifications to his apartment complex, including new insulation, having pressure checks done to make sure everything was sealed up well, replacing all the windows because of drafting issues, replacing the boiler and putting in Energy Star-rated appliances. He is also looking at changing the water heater to a more efficient model and will soon be in the market for more energy-efficient air conditioning units. The current units are covered with sealed insulating boxes to prevent leaks.
For landlords looking to do more to their properties, Focus on Energy is the place to turn. It will provide a free site assessment, where an energy adviser walks through the building, and makes recommendations on how efficiency can be improved. The group will provide a report outlining measures to be taken, savings potentials, and available incentives.
Besides site assessments, Focus on Energy offers programs to install CFLs, replace showerheads with low-flow/high-pressure showerheads, and put faucet aerators in kitchen and bathroom sinks.
Recycling sites for fluorescents and compact fluorescents have been established throughout the city. See www.cityofmadison.com/streets/recyclingLampoutlets.cfm for locations.
Tenant Resource Center
Rental rights, 608-257-0006; administration, 608-257-0143;
MGE's energy-saving tips for renters