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Throwback Thursday: How to be a Smart Renter (circa 2014)

A former intern, Ian Champ, wrote this vignette for me when I was still heading up sustainability programs in at the City of Bloomington, Indiana. I'm sharing it here because renters can often do more than they realize to make their rentals safer and more sustainable. You can tell it's from a while back because people were still using CFL bulbs :)

Since I became a renter six years ago, I’ve constantly heard from friends and fellow renters that we have little control over our apartments. And for a long while I believed that. I’ve had great landlords in the past, but like most renters today I’ve also had pretty bad landlords. Especially when it comes to upgrading my unit’s aging appliances. So, I get it. It’s easy as a tenant to feel like you have very little, if any, control over how your apartment is maintained and when your super-inefficient appliances are going to be replaced with more efficient models. But stick with me through these short paragraphs and I’ll tell a true story about how you can make those changes, helping yourself and future tenants.

I recently moved into a five bedroom house with four friends and we’re all fairly energy conscious for various reasons. Regardless of that, however, we’re all pretty standard renters in that we want to keep our utility bills as low as possible. So, the first thing we did when we moved in was do some digging and find out what the previous tenants had spent on energy bills. Seeing a $200 average bill, and being pretty competitive people, we took it as a challenge to see if we could spend less. We started small, installing CFLs instead of incandescents and working on our water heater (which was set to the highest temperature). All of our windows had insulation that looked like it was from the mid-90s. This is where we took matters into our own hands and simply bought new window weatherstripping. For about $15, we put weatherstripping and insulation in every window and wall power outlet we could find. As it’s gotten colder, we still have yet to spend over $120/month on energy and have noticed our furnace doesn’t kick on too often now that the house has a better seal. So, that was $15 well spent.

Building on this win, we turned our attention to our biggest user, the furnace. Noticing it had not been serviced since 2012, we started by calling our landlord, politely pointing this out and asking then to check it out and change the filter. Which they did and we even had one of the maintenance guys thank us for taking an interest in the house. Knowing that two years without servicing had probably messed with it though, we called a local specialist and set up an appointment to have it tuned up. $69 was pushing it for our budget, but we had a feeling it would pay off. And it definitely did. The specialist found not only a loose wire (which could have shocked us if we touched the furnace while it was on) but also that the motor had collected a large amount of dust and had become out of balance. When we asked if that’d make the furnace use more energy, he said “oh yeah!” with wide eyes and everything. Having our quote in hand, we took it straight to our landlord; asking the landlord to fix the problem since we had paid to find it. Win-win for everyone! We’ve spent less than $100 on increasing the energy efficiency of our house and already seen more than that in savings.

So, my message is this. We renters may feel helpless when it comes to upgrading our apartments and cutting utility bills, but if you put in a bit of legwork and take some ownership of your place and its maintenance then the landlord is much more likely to help you get what you want. This may not be true with every landlord, but I’ll definitely be doing this in every apartment I have from now on.

-Ian Champ

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