How to green your home (as a renter)

I know. Who wants to invest in the house or room that you’re renting? It’s not your property, your landlord is a scrooge and if you’re living with housemates, they’ll probably just undo all of your efforts. Plus if you’re renting, money is probably tight and forking over $20 or a couple hundred bucks could mean that you’re short on rent or don’t get to buy groceries. So we’re going to break down the suggestions into Free, Little Investment, Big Investment. Now just as a disclaimer, make sure to tell your landlord about any changes that you’d like to make to the house and explain that you’re trying to be more sustainable and improve the efficiency of the house. It also wouldn’t hurt to let them know the benefits that they’ll be getting out of the changes including lower utility bills and improvements to the property. If you think that they’d be open to it, maybe even ask if they would be willing to invest in some changes or give you a discount on rent for any improvements that you make.

Good luck and thanks for trying to make some great changes!

FREE Changes: 

Open the windows. Rather than using AC, close all of the windows and blinds during the day when the sun is hottest and shining directly in and then open everything up at night when the breezes are cool. I did this in my little place while in university and although we were still dying on the hottest days, just opening and closing the windows and blinds each day kept the house at a reasonable temperature. 

Turn down the temperature at night. This is obviously a tip for the winter. If you’ve got a programmable thermostat, make sure to program it to go down to 10-15 degrees (or colder if you can handle it) at night and then heat up again in the morning right before everyone has to get out of bed. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, maybe ask your landlord if they’d get one or set an alarm on your phone to change the temperature every night. You’ll freeze every morning when you scurry to turn it back up, but that’s a great chance to just snuggle in bed a little longer while the house warms up. 

Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater. Definitely make sure to get permission from your landlord before doing this, but turning down the temperature will save a lot of energy otherwise wasted on keeping the water boiling hot and probably save them a bit of money on utilities. If you’re not sure how to do this, google the manual for that brand and model of heater. Or maybe get some help from a handy friend.

FREE Behaviours:

Have cold showers or short hot showers. Oh man, showers are the best destressor and I am very guilty of having showers that are so long that the hot water runs out. But heating water takes a massive amount of energy, plus all of that water is being needlessly wasted. So if you’re brave, try picking a favorite song or two and shower only for the duration of those songs. If you can’t wash and scrub and shave in that little time, maybe turn off the water while you’re doing those things and then turning it back on to rinse. Or if you’re amazingly brave, then challenge yourself to have cold showers. Apparently there are a ton of health benefits to doing this. I have not experienced any of them because I am far too much of a chicken…

Wash clothes in cold water. Sorry, so many water tips! But we take hot water for granted so much and don’t realize that we’re wasting two resources when we don’t use it properly. The water and the energy used to heat it. So save one of them and just turn your washer to tap cold. Your clothes will thank you for it because cold water is better for them too. 

Hang clothes to dry. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt but hanging your laundry not only saves the electricity used by the dryer, but it also makes your clothes last longer. Plus, no static! If you don’t have a drying rack, just hang clothes over chairs, doors, railings, shower rods, maybe grab some thin rope and tie it in the basement. Your house will smell like delightful clean laundry! If the laundry has a bit of a crunchy texture, you can give it a good shake to loosen the fibers or toss it in the dryer for 2-3 minutes to shake it all up.

Little Investment:

Change out taps. Taps, faucets, and shower heads are another place where resources are wasted, especially if they have a leak. You can save water by checking all of the taps and pipes and making sure that they’re tight and not leaking. But if you’d really like to save some serious water, swap out the tap and shower heads for low flow faucets. If you want to hold onto the little investment of buying the faucets and use them in your next place, make sure to store the old ones and replace them again when you move out. Or you could just leave a little trail of more water efficient rental places in your wake!

Check for airflow leaks and use caulk to seal them. Houses can lose a lot of heat in the winter and chill in the summer if there are cracks and there is airflow from the outside. Doing this step is a little tricky but check out this video for instructions on how to find air leaks in your house and this video for how to use caulk and seal them.

Give your hot water heater a blanket. It’s one of those things that we don’t think about because it’s usually tucked away in a dark dingy corner, but hot water heaters get cold and lonely too. Not really haha. But they do lose heat and a lot of that heat can be recaptured and kept doing it’s work of keeping your water hot by giving the tank a blanket. But please! Don’t use just any old blanket since these can turn into fire hazards and burn your house down. Buy a “water heater blanket”, which is made especially for this job. Before buying though, just run down to whatever dank corner the heater is and check to see if it already has one of these blankets and also, check with your landlord!

Get a smart power bar or timer for electronics. We all do it. Plug our phone in to charge before bed so that it will be ready for us in the morning. But chargers draw power even after your phone is fully charged. In fact, they draw power all the time, even if your device isn’t charging. A smart power bar or a timer lets your charge your device for a set time and some of the fancier models can be controlled with a smart phone app to help you save even more energy.

Big investment 

Insulate the house. Just like the heater, without being properly insulated, houses can waste a lot of energy trying to stay warm (or cool in the summer) since the house is essentially wearing just a long sleeve shirt on a cold winter day. This is a big project though and can get into the thousands of dollars if a lot of work needs to be done. Places to check include the attic, walls and flooring. Insulating the attic properly means that you could 20-50% of the heat that was previously lost. Sealing and adding insulation to the walls can save another 10-30% of heat (or coolness if it’s the summer) If you’d like some more help and support from your landlord, mention to them that there are rebates available through Energy Efficiency Alberta and that they can get up to $3500 if they use a contractor to do the work. If your landlord doesn’t want to make the improvement but you’re still determined, here are some videos to help you insulate your attic, insulate the walls, and insulate the basement.

Change out light bulbs. Old incandescent light bulbs use up a lot of energy and a big fraction of it is wasted in heat (which is a useless use of energy for a lightbulb). That’s also why they’re always so hot when you touch them after they’ve been on for a while. So save your fingertips and some energy by swapping these out for some LED lights. Make sure to bring the old bulb with you to make sure that you’re getting the right output and plug size. Even though it can be relatively cheap to switch out a few of these lights, replacing every light in the house can get expensive. So feel free to tackle it a few lights at a time if it helps reduce the strain on your budget

Change the toilet. Depending on how many people live at home and if any of you are working from home, this glorious throne may be used more than 20 times a day. Plus if you’ve got an oldie, there’s a good chance that it is extremely inefficient with water and uses 13 liters or more for every flush. Now there are very efficient toilets that come in at a few thousand dollars, but don’t be intimidated by those. There are many others that will do a great job and cost a few hundred dollars instead. Again, ask your landlord if they’ll contribute or give you a discount on your rent for making these improvements. Replacing the actual toilet is quite easy and here’s a great video showing you how.

With renting, it can be a little discouraging to make sustainable changes when you know that you’re not the one that will be benefiting. Well.. other than a happier conscience and hopefully a longer and healthier future for the planet. But if you’ve got a reasonable landlord, try talking to them, explaining what changes you’d like to make in the house, how you’re going to do it, how they’ll benefit from the changes, and then see if they’re willing to negotiate for some help, financial support, or a reduction on rent or utilities. We’re so proud of you for making improvements and positive changes!

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