Greening That Outdated Apartment

You may find yourself in my shoes if your home is desperately outdated.

I can almost guarantee that energy efficiency was the last thing in mind when the development company set up shop in what is now my apartment complex. And seeing that many remodeling services are out to make a quick buck, the renovations here are pretty subpar too.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my large kitchen appliances are easily more than 20 years old or that these walls are not fully insulated. And that can be downright frustrating to someone who’s trying to reduce their energy consumption. Sometimes, as a renter, it’s easy to feel helpless; there are just too many things you can’t change.

But I don’t often take defeat sitting down. And being a graduate student, I like to save a penny where I can. So I came up with a handful of things that you can do to your home (and I have largely done to my home) to make it more energy efficient without violating that renter’s agreement or spending big bucks on a temporary living space. I also ask that you bear with me because I’d like to not skip over the basics in case anyone has. I’ve also thrown in a few everyday habits that are great for reducing your energy needs if you’re really looking to cut down on that bill.

Heating and Cooling.

  • Turn it off! - The most straightforward way to cut down on your energy bill is to resist setting your thermostat on mild days. This is especially easy in the Spring and Fall when the weather is relatively moderate. When it gets just too hot or cold outside, try setting your thermostat a few degrees higher than you normally would in the summer and a few degrees lower than you normally would in the winter. And remember, if your home isn’t well insulated like mine, it pays to not keep that AC on full blast all day. You’ll just be fighting the outside temperature at no benefit to you. I even do the same thing with heating in the winter.

  • Door seals - Both of my exterior doors had what appeared to be a half inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. One of the first things I did was buy gap sealers to prevent air exchange during the cold winter and hot summer days.

  • Curtains - Your choice in curtains matters! I picked up a pair of insulated curtains for every window after one of my first winter nights in the apartment. I could literally feel cold spots in front of my windows! And when you finally do decide to turn that AC on for the summer months, you can close these curtains, preventing heat transfer into that preciously cooled air.

  • Water heater temperature - If you’re not against cooler showers, and your water heater is accessible, turn down the hot water setting (there’s usually a pre-marked energy saver setting already on most dials).

  • Got a fireplace? Close the flue - It’s just another opening in your home to the outside air.

Lighting.

  • Turn it off! - Sorry to state the obvious here, but really, when you’re not in a room, the lights don’t need to be on. This also means that there’s no need for outdoor lighting during the day. If you come home late at night and security is a concern, try motion activated lights. And during the daytime, you can further reduce your electricity needs by utilizing natural light! If privacy is a concern, layer those thermal curtains with a pair of sheer curtains underneath.

  • LEDs - Invest in some energy efficient lighting. My apartment was loaded with incandescent bulbs when I moved in. CFLs are an improvement over incandescents, but LEDs have higher efficiencies and longer lifetimes than CFLs if you’re looking to go the extra mile.

  • Lower the brightness of your screens - Not a huge energy saver, but your eyes will thank you!

Water consumption.

  • Unless you’re using it, it doesn’t need to be on - Noticing a pattern? There’s a reason why public ad campaigns tell you to turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth.

  • Dishwasher - That dishwasher may be old, but it also might have a “water saver” option! And if you find yourself running the dishwasher far too often, try to max out those loads. You can always fit a few more dishes in with a little bit of finagling.

  • Install low-flow showerheads - Low flow doesn’t have to mean low pressure. I used to gripe about these showerheads because I could never seem to get all the conditioner or shampoo out of my hair. But newer shower heads utilize some fluid dynamics fun to actually increase the pressure you feel at no cost to your water or energy bill.

    • Click here for a product recommendation.
      I installed this showerhead a few months ago and have loved it! It was super easy to install and I anticipate that I will save 780 gallons of water this year (using some back-of-the-envelope calculations).

  • Faucet Aerators - Think low-flow showerhead, but for your sink.

    • Click here for a product recommendation.
      I have not yet bought these, but they’re in my shopping cart!

  • About the toilet - If your toilet also flushes with what feels like 10 gallons of water, don’t feel like that has to be the case. You can adjust the float on the fill valve so your toilet bowl fills less, or trick the toilet into thinking it’s low flow by placing a weighted container into the tank to reduce the total volume of water the tank can hold. Both are common procedures you can find DIY videos for online.

    And if you’re really serious about your toilet water consumption . . . there’s always that good old trick: if it’s yellow, let it mellow.

Appliances.

  • Unplug! Don’t forget about those random chargers that you left plugged in. Even they draw small currents just sitting there (asking to be unplugged!).

  • Energy efficient settings - When possible, make sure you have your appliances set to their “energy saver” settings.

  • Ice maker - Turn that thing off! Your freezer is already on and could be passively making ice with ice trays. My energy provider (Duke Energy) estimates that doing so can reduce your carbon footprint by 109 lbs of CO2 per year (that the equivalent of driving 133 miles in a car that gets 25 mpg!).

  • Toaster oven - If you've got one, trying using it when possible instead of using your conventional oven. I always try to do this when I’m making something small and not utilizing the entire oven space. And chances are, your toaster oven is newer and more energy efficient than the oven that’s installed in your kitchen.

  • Slow Cooker - Don’t have a toaster oven? The same goes for slow cookers! You could be looking at a savings of up to 177 lbs of CO2 per year (Duke Energy).

Laundry.

  • Hang dry your clothes - When possible, throw your clothes on the line to dry! If you’ve got no yard space, like me, you’ll need a foldable indoor rack. And if you really want to avoid using that dryer, there are indoor clotheslines you can install for bigger items like sheets and towels, and hangers with clips for smaller items like socks and underwear. Your clothes will thank you.

  • Clean out that dryer vent - If you find yourself running your dryer for your sheets and towels, like myself, make sure your dryer vent isn’t clogged. Clogged vents prevent humidity from actually leaving the dryer, making it impossible for your dryer to run efficiently.

  • Do the wash on cold - Again, your clothes will thank you.

  • And remember, max out those loads if you want to get the most for your money.

Plants.

  • Air purifier - Sure it’s a nice to have. But if you’re looking to use less electricity, I’d switch over to potted houseplants. Houseplants not only remove CO2 from the air, but they are also great at eliminating volatile organic compounds (commonly abbreviated as VOCs) that are commonly found indoors, such as formaldehyde and benzene.

And in general, I’d recommend checking with your energy provider to learn if they offer any energy savings programs. Duke Energy sent me a free LED lightbulb kit when I moved into my apartment that was large enough to replace every single incandescent bulb. They also offer a reward program for customers that opt to reduce their heating and cooling demands during peak usage times by limiting the settings on their thermostat. It’s very possible that your energy provider offers similar products and services, all you have to do is check!

Although I tried to cover the basics, I’m sure there are a few helpful tips I left out. Please comment below if there are any energy saving tricks you’ve used to mitigate the energy inefficiencies in your home!


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