When we talk about the nuts and bolts of greening your home, sometimes it feels like homeowners (as opposed to renters) get all the sexy, good stuff! Photovoltaic solar panels, rainwater tanks, blown-in insulation, radiant floor heating, ENERGY STAR appliances, rooftop gardens, daylighting, salvaged flooring, tax credits and rebates...! The list goes on. And while that is wonderful and certainly something to aspire to, it can sometimes feel a little dispiriting to be a renter, where none of those cool green features are even remotely possible…You can't exactly hack through the wall and replace your insulation. That refrigerator that was there when you moved in? Still there... and still not energy-efficient. And solar power? You're lucky if you get any sun at all in your basement apartment.
So other than lifestyle changes (recycling, composting, cleaning with eco cleaners, line drying), what else is there?
As it turns out... plenty!
1. Seal and/or paint over off-gassing walls. The fresher the paint, the more off-gassing there is. Regular oil or latex-based paint can continue to off-gas VOCs for up to 4 years, depending on the amount of humidity and air flow. To speed up the off-gassing process and quickly improve your indoor quality:
- Increase the air flow in your apartment by using fans and opening windows and doors, because the more air exchange there is, the faster the paint will cure, thus minimizing your possible exposure time
- If the original paint is still off-gassing, then it will continue to off-gas through a new green paint unless you seal it first. See this post for recommendations.
- If it's been longer than 4 years since the apartment was painted with a non-green paint, then you should be able to paint over the walls with a new, no-VOC paint without sealing them first.
2. Get an air purifier. To further improve your home's indoor air quality, get an air purifier. Different air purifiers target different types of pollutants, so it's important to buy an air purifier that suits your needs. But our recommendation is to make sure to get an air purifier that does not produce ozone, and one that does eliminate VOCs that off-gas from paint, furniture, and cleaning chemicals. Check out this Air Purifier Buyer's Guide and our list of the Best Air Purifiers to get started. (I know air purifiers can be expensive, but you can buy them secondhand. I have a Blueair air purifier that I found on Craiglist for $45 — and it was practically brand new!)
3. Switch out the bulbs to LEDs or CFLs. This is one of the easiest things you can do to seriously reduce your energy consumption and your apartment's carbon footprint. LEDs are fast overtaking CFLs at the green light of the future, although they're currently still much more expensive. Wondering what bulb is best for you? It all depends on what kind of light you're looking for. We've had good experiences with the EcoSmart LED light bulbs from Home Depot and the n:vision Soft White CFL light bulbs, also from Home Depot. Here are a few other resources to get you started:
LEDGuide.com: Just click what your preferences are—what kind of bulb you want, your preferred power, the kind of lighting you're going for— and this guide gives you a recommendation.
Eartheasy.com: gives a detailed comparison breakdown of LED and CFL bulbs, including benefits, styles, terminology, and color.
ConsumerSearch.com: Ratings on both LED bulbs and CFL bulbs.
4. Get a power strip to reduce vampire energy. A power strip is an affordable way to help reduce vampire energy and save money on your electricity bills every month. It can be pretty affordable, too. The Belkin Conserve Wireless Switch and Surge Protector ($49-$59) is a great option, and the selection of power strips and energy monitors at Green Depot is also a great place to start. Also see:
5. Retrofit your toilet. Yes, it'd be great to have a dual-flush toilet, but chances are if you're a renter, you just have a regular ol' toilet. But you can retrofit it with a dual-flush converter kit for under $100 and save a lot of water with each flush. Options include the Flush Choice Dual-Flush Toilet Retrofit ($59.95) which is a universal retrofit designed to fit most 2-piece toilets, and installs in 30 minutes; the Simple Flush from Brondell ($79), which is also very easy to install and can save you up to $100 per year; and the HydroRight Dual Flush Toilet Converter by MJSI, which is the cheapest option at only $20 on Amazon, although reviewers note some installation problems.
6. Install a low-flow showerhead. Let me set the record straight: "low flow" does not have to mean "wimpy pressure." You can still have a robust shower while not wasting quite as much water. Check out this guide to 17 of the best low-flow-yet-high-pressure showerheads on the market, as well as a few of our posts on low-flow showerheads.
7. Install a programmable thermostat. Some renters (like me) don't have to pay for their heat and therefore (unfortunately) don't have any control over it. But if you do pay for your heat and have a thermostat that you can control, then installing a programmable thermostat would be well worth your while. Programmable thermostats range from $20-$150 or more. Honeywell's programmable thermostats average around $60 and consistently get good reviews on Amazon. Trane's Deluxe Programmable Digital Thermostat is more expensive at $150, but also offers more features. Worried about how to install it? Don't be. We've got a tutorial on how to do it right here.
8. Caulk or seal up window cracks and air leaks. For better insulation and to reduce heat loss, get some eco-friendly caulk and seal the air leaks around doors and windows. If your apartment has a fireplace, make sure that you keep the damper closed when the fireplace isn't in use. Insulate outlets and switches. You can also make a few draft dodgers.
9. Install a ceiling fan. An effective ceiling fan will circulate air throughout your apartment, hopefully eliminating the need for an extra space heater in your bedroom or an additional window air conditioner in your living room. And the cost of running a ceiling fan is way less than it is to run an air conditioner. There are some beautiful models to choose from, but most are pretty expensive. My favorite, affordable option is the Westinghouse Industrial 3-blade ceiling fan ($47 on Amazon). Fans can be tricky to install, so you might want to have your landlord (or a professional) do it for you.
10. Switch to green power at your utility company. Check with your utility company to see if they offer a "green power" option, which typically refers to electricity supplied from renewable and non-polluting energy resources like wind and solar power. Check out the EPA's Green Power Locator to find out what's available in your area.
(Image: Liz Vidyarthi for Lauren's Tiny 400-Square-Foot Cozy Apartment. Originally published 2010-11-09)