Energy Adviser: Tips for those who rent a house

When renting a house, how long you intend to live in it can affect how much effort you put into saving energy. If the home systems and appliances waste a lot of energy, we often weigh how many higher utility bills we’re willing to bear before proposing upgrades.

“For energy savings during shorter periods in rental homes, renters should consider no- and low-cost choices,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor and energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. “Even when renting for just a few months, these changes can pay off.”

No-cost solutions include making behavioral changes like turning off lights and electronics when not in a room, unplugging appliances and chargers when they’re not being used, running dishwashers and washing machines only when full, and adjusting the thermostat. In the summer, set the thermostat to 76 degrees if the home system includes cooling, and in the winter adjust to 68 degrees. Additionally, whenever you’re away for a longer stretch, adjust the thermostat further or program the thermostat not to waste energy when no one is home.

“A water heater is one of the bigger consumers of home energy, and turning it down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can help a renter’s utility bill,” Dunham said.

To decrease water use and cut back on the cost of heating water, install flow restrictors for the shower and for other faucets around the rental. They can cost as little as a few dollars and are easy to install and remove. Other low-cost fixes to decrease energy demand include swapping out any existing incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs. Not only do LEDs use less energy, they have such a long life that you can swap them back when you move and take the LEDs you’ve purchased with you to your next home.

Renters planning to stay up to two years in a rental home should consider all the no- and low-cost approaches, and perhaps talk to the landlord about investing a bit more to decrease their utility bill over the length of the stay.

“Filling any holes in the home’s outside is a good next step for longer-term renters. Just be sure to talk with the property owner before making any changes,” Dunham said. Tightly sealing the outside of a home can keep the cool air in during summer and the hot air out, while doing the reverse in the winter.

Examine around the outside door and window frames for gaps and the outside walls for holes or cracks in the siding. On the inside, air leaks can be stopped with foam gaskets placed under the electrical outlets and switches on all external walls.

Air leaks around outside doors and the door to the garage can be plugged with weather-stripping around the edges. Attic access can also be a source for air leaks and sealing around the edges of the drop-down entrance can help cut down on drafts.

Checking and replacing furnace filters keeps your heating and cooling unit working optimally. Property owners may have systems on a regular maintenance schedule but renters should ask when the system was checked last, since cleaning and changing filters can make a big difference in the efficiency of a system.

“Talking with an energy counselor can help home renters understand the ways to save on their utility bill without much expense in either time or money, or lasting changes to the property,” Dunham said. “For bigger projects, we encourage property owners to talk with us about rebates and incentives for upgrades that can make rentals more energy efficient and comfortable for tenants.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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