Green Apartment Checklist: Turn Your Home into a Green, Clean Oasis

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During your apartment search, keep green building tactics on your “to find” list.

Are your towels hung on the drying rack with care, in hopes that lower energy bills soon will be there? Do you have visions of solar panels dancing in your head?

As a renter, it’s tempting to feel helpless when it comes to eco-friendly home upgrades. But that’s far from the truth. Sure — you can’t replace your shingle roof with aluminum, and you probably can’t replace your water heater with one that learns your schedule for peak efficiency.

But there are many small tweaks you can make around your rented home to make your energy bill lower, your carbon footprint smaller, and the world a little greener.

Here are some areas to focus on during your green apartment transformation:

✓ Green Apartment Building

Pursuing a greener living situation should start with your apartment search. Multifamily buildings are already a step above single-family homes: The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that households in buildings with five or more units use about half the energy as other types of homes. As a renter, that gives you a huge automatic advantage.

Ask your property manager during the tour if the building has any certifications for sustainability, such as LEED or Green Globes. In some cases, this will mean that the building was made with sustainable materials, that it’s been responsibly landscaped to deter runoff and pollution, that it incorporates a renewable energy source — or all of the above, and more.

✓ Power Outlets

An NRDC study found that nearly a quarter of home energy usage is “idle load electricity,” which means wasted energy that your electronics are drawing while not in use. Imagine if we could cut power plant production and emissions by a quarter — that’s huge.

There’s more than one way to make sure your outlets aren’t wasting energy.

First, there’s the old favorite: Plug your electronics into a power strip so you can easily turn everything off at once — and at the source — to stop the slow, steady power suck. Power strips have come a long way. You can now get an advanced power strip that will automatically cut power to idle electronics.

Second, you can install energy switches on your outlets, which are generally pass-through plugs that monitor how much energy is being used by the plugged-in device. At $30 a piece, they aren’t cheap, but you can use one and optimize all of your outlets one at a time. Many of these switches also let you wirelessly control the power supply — which means you can turn the lights off from your phone. Hello, convenience.

Swapping your bulbs for CFLs or LEDs can save you hundreds.

✓ Light Bulbs

This is what we’ll call “low-hanging fruit.” But it’s still easy to overlook or underestimate.

You’ve heard it before: Trade your incandescents for CFL or LED bulbs. But have you done it yet?

Well, maybe this will spur you to action: Incandescents lose up to 90% of their energy to radiated heat, according to Energy.gov. LEDs, on the other hand, emit very little heat, use 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer. That’s 25 times longer, as in 25 light bulbs you’ll never have to buy. More significantly, widespread LED use over the next 10 years would result in an energy savings equivalent to the output of 44 large electric power plants.

✓ Water Faucets

Many renters don’t pay their water bill. It goes straight to the landlord. So it’s very easy to lose track of how much water you’re using and wasting.

There are some simple lifestyle changes you can make that will have a noticeable impact: take shorter showers, wait for a full load before turning on your washing machine, and turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth.

But wait, there’s more. You can also replace your showerhead with a WaterSense or similar showerhead that reduce water flow by up to 30%. Just keep your old showerhead and reinstall it when you move out. Adding a WaterSense aerator to your kitchen and other faucets can spread the savings around all of your sinks. If every home did this, the EPA estimates the U.S. would save around 64 billion gallons of water annually. That’s no drop in the ocean.

✓ Temperature

It might feel great to crank up the heat in the middle of frigid winter, but you’re better off throwing on a few blankets and a sweatshirt. And likewise, instead of setting the AC to a brisk 65 degrees in the summer, use a couple of fans and try to keep the windows open and the shades closed (until it gets too unbearable).

Recycle food waste to make nutrient-rich soil

✓ Food Waste

Let’s get to the obvious: Don’t buy more food than you can eat, and prioritize your meal planning by looking at which ingredients will go bad first.

But even if you’re a world-class meal planner, it’s impossible to avoid all food waste. The EPA estimates that up to a third of all garbage is food scraps, and if these aren’t disposed of properly, it increases methane production in landfills — which is a major greenhouse gas.

We’re not asking you to eat rotten food for the good of the environment. But you could start a compost bin for your scraps. A properly managed compost bin won’t smell or attract bugs (that’s a result of composting the wrong foods), but you could always keep it on your balcony, in a shady spot, if you’re worried.

You’ll need to stop by a hardware store to pick up a specialized container, and read up on what you should and shouldn’t compost, and then you’re good to go. Bonus: You’ll end up with nutrient-rich humus, perfect for patio gardening.

✓ Windows

Like we mentioned above, closing the shades can prevent your apartment from boiling in the noonday summer sun. But in winter? If you live in a cold climate, seal your windows to prevent drafts that drive up heating needs. Heat-shrink plastic wrap is plenty cheap, easy to install, and easy to take down come summer. And it can save you about $20 a window, if you’re looking for that type of green.

That’s it! Those simple steps will all help you achieve a greater greenness, while lowering nearly all of your bills: electric, water, and food. You can put all of that extra cash toward your very own solar panels in a few years’ time.