How to Make Your Home Energy Efficient

I recently made the transition from home owner to renter. And although that transition has been a happy and fun experience, there’s one issue that has come as bit of a shock.

The loft space I’m renting is not very energy efficient at all. At all.

I have single-pane windows that are over 15-feet high (and the Michigan winter is well on its way). There’s a draft by my desk that lets in so much cold air that my hair blows back when there’s a breeze outside. My toilet runs constantly. And my faucets? Taking a shower is like standing under Niagara Falls.

And unlike homeowners, renters like me can’t take the advice of most experts by upgrading windows, changing toilets, or upgrading faucets. Since we don’t own the property, not only do we not have the permission to make those changes, but it would also be way too expensive for us to pay for an upgrade that we won’t benefit from in the long run once we move out. And so we end up paying more on our utilities than we have to.

Using so much energy and water in my new place is driving me crazy, so it’s been my top priority to do what I can to lower my consumption and live in a more environmentally friendly way. Out of necessity, I’ve come up with some awesome ways that both renters and homeowners can utilize to reduce their energy bill:

1. Install Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

According to Energy Star, CFL bulbs use 75% less energy than normal bulbs, and they last 10 times as long.

Every bulb in my apartment has been replaced with CFL bulbs. Yes, they’re more expensive than regular bulbs, but you’re going to earn your investment back within the first couple of months. Your savings will vary widely depending on how many bulbs you replace, how long you leave the lights on, and what you pay per kWh. Most experts say that making the switch will save an average person $3-$7 per month on their electric bill.

2. Use a Toilet Bank

Most apartments have older toilets which use, on average, 3-5 gallons of water per flush. New toilets, by law, must use 1.6 gallons or less per flush.

This is a huge difference in water consumption. But you’re probably thinking I’m about to recommend that you go out and buy some new, fancy Toto toilets. Actually, you can keep your current toilets and alleviate the water waste by making, or buying, a toilet bank.

A toilet bank sits in your toilet’s water reservoir. And it has one purpose: to take up space so your toilet uses less water per flush.

What can you use for a toilet bank? A brick would work. A half-gallon jug filled with water would work (a half-gallon jug will save you exactly half a gallon of water per flush).

You can also buy water-displacement devices at any hardware store. But, as you can see, you can easily make your own.

When you stop and think about how often you flush the toilet, you can see how this could add up over time.

3. Install Low-Flow Showerheads

I know we’re not supposed to mess with the fixtures when we’re renting. But installing a new showerhead is incredibly easy, and we can take it with us when we move out.

I’m installing a new low-flow showerhead in my shower this weekend because my current one jets out an astonishing five gallons per minute.

Yes, that’s five gallons per minute.

My low-flow model uses 1.5 gallons per minute. That is a huge difference, and it’s why I think investing in a good low-flow showerhead is one of the smartest moves you can make when you’re renting.

4. Insulate Windows with Bubble Wrap

As I mentioned earlier, I’m living in a loft space with incredibly tall, single-paned windows. And these windows span the entire eastern wall of my living space. Which means come winter, this place is going to cost a small Turkish fortune to heat.

Because this building used to be a linen factory, I can’t plastic-wrap my windows like many people can because I don’t have a window frame for the shrink-wrap to stick to.

I was in a bit of a panic until a close friend, who happens to be an expert green builder, suggested bubble wrap. Apparently, bubble wrap is a great way to insulate windows, especially large ones, because it sticks directly to the glass. You don’t need a traditional window frame at all.

All you have to do is wet down the window with water from a spray bottle, and then stick the bubble wrap (bubble side facing the glass) to the window.

He’s used this technique several times, and he did have one word of caution. Sometimes the bubble wrap will react to the glass and leave a mottled stain. Your landlord would be pretty upset if this happened, so make sure you test your bubble wrap with a very small piece first! Apply a 2 inch by 2 inch section and let it set for a week or two. Pull it off gently to make sure it’s not going to react with the glass.

Yes, the bubble wrap is going to mess up your view. But it will still let in tons of light. When things get really cold this winter, I’m definitely going to use this technique on my own windows. There’s a great resource here that shows you how to apply the bubble wrap, and what it looks like once it’s up.

5. Block Drafts

You can easily block drafts with newspaper and duct tape. You can also make your own draft pillows (these block drafts that come in underneath doorways and windowsills) by filling socks with rice and tying them off. Don’t waste money buying these for $10-$15 at Target; it’s super easy (and much cheaper!) to make your own.

I’m currently making some out of my husband’s socks he doesn’t want anymore, and they work great.

Plus, if you run out of rice in your pantry you’ve got a steady back-up supply on hand!

Side-Tip: These draft pillows can also double as muscle relaxers. Heat them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, and then lay them on your achy neck or shoulders. Careful, though! Different microwaves require different times to heat up the rice. The rice can get incredibly hot if you’re not careful (I’ve burnt myself twice doing this), so start off with 30 seconds and slowly work your way up.

More Tips…

Here are some other ways you can make your apartment more energy efficient:

  • Vacuum the coils behind your refrigerator. This will ensure the refrigerator is running efficiently.
  • Make sure your furnace filter is changed every three months. Most apartment and housing complexes are very lazy about this; if you can locate your own furnace, it’s definitely worth it to buy your own filter and just do it yourself. Your furnace will use less energy and your indoor air will be healthier.
  • Use indoor drying racks instead of a dryer. I’ve got mine set up in the bathroom, right under the heating vent. It’s working great and it’s way better for your clothing.
  • Call maintenance to fix any dripping faucets and running toilets.
  • Use a shower timer to take shorter showers. There are several fun ones that are water-resistant and stick directly onto your shower’s tile or lining.
  • Use a microwave or toaster oven to cook instead of your main oven. Because you’re heating a dramatically smaller space, you use less energy and/or gas. I even bake bread in my toaster oven, and it turns out great. It’s a lot quicker too!
  • Instead of cranking up the heat, put on a sweater, or even a hat and scarf. I keep my thermostat at 62 degrees all winter. I know it sounds frigid, but I layer my clothing and wear a scarf during the day when I’m working. And when I’m moving around while cooking dinner at night, I’m plenty comfortable.

Last Word

Do any of you have tips for making your rental space more energy efficient? If so, I’d love to hear them!

(Photo credit: GoTRISI)

  • Heather

    Great list!

    Whether renting or owning, air uses more energy to keep cold than food. If you don’t have much in your freezer, fill it with water bottles or something.

    I have heard that bricks in the toilet tank can be bad for the plumbing, though I don’t recall exactly why. Jugs work well, though.

    • Heather Levin

      Heather, thanks for the great tip about the freezer! I’ve heard that before and simply forgot about it. I def. need to fill mine with some frozen water bottles. Plus, if the power goes out you’ve got some cold drinking water already stored. Bonus!

      I use a commercial toilet bank; it’s rubber and easy on the plumbing. My toilet doesn’t look like it’d accommodate a brick anyway, but I know many can.

    • Amy Livingston

      It’s because little pieces of the brick can break off and get lodged in the pipes. You can wrap the brick in a plastic bag to avoid this problem, but a jug or bottle filled with water is easier.

      However, if your toilet really “runs constantly,” then it’s not just a question of using too much water per flush; it’s just not working right, and your landlord should fix it.

  • Two_too_many

    I have been turning off the circuit breakers to the water heaters ( I have a 52 gallon only one for baths & washing clothes & a 30 gallon one just for the kitchen). I turn them on for 30 minutes prior to showers or dishwasher use. Then they are turned off after our baths for rest of the day. We still have plenty of hot water throughout the day; but we save quite a bit on KWH useage.
    We recently added a handicap bathroom & another 60 gallon water heater, which is only turned on as needed.
    We have extra insulation in the attic(R-44).
    I also turn off the circuit breaker to the electric
    cookstove, unless we are using it.
    Our electric bills average $80 to $200 monthly. Our home is all electric. Considering the A/C usage in Texas,
    I consider this to be quite acceptable; especially considering we have almost 3000 sq ft under roof.
    We also added electric power attic vents on the roof to draw out the excessive during the summer.

  • Two_too_many

    In addition to turning off the water heaters (which I’ve been doing for the past 30 years), I will keep the shades drawn when the sun so bright, & that also keeps the home cooler in the summer.
    Another energy saver is with outside spot lights. They use at least 10 kwh per bulb if they are on most of the night. This can easily add 300+ kwh on each monthly bill. So, if there is a thunderstorm, the motion detector senses movement & they usually are on a considerable length of time. I over-ride the switch & turn them off until the weather clears.

  • charles

    Haha I liked you comment about keeping the heat at 62. I live in new england (winter is pretty long and cold) and my parents never turn the heat up above 60. They always said if your cold get a sweatshirt. But I keep my apartment at 56 because I don’t mind the cold and I appreciate the energy savings.

    • Amy Livingston

      I wish I could manage this, but I’ve tried it and I just can’t handle anything below 67 degrees. At 56 degrees, getting a sweatshirt wouldn’t help; I’d need to sit bundled up in my winter coat. Even with the temperature at 67, I have to wear three layers of clothing plus a hat and a homemade Snuggie (a fleece blanket with a hole cut out for my head).

      But on the other hand, I never turn on the air conditioner in the summer unless the indoor temperature gets above 90 degrees.

  • Dffallis .

    We use the NuWave oven and cooktops. They work off of 110 and don’t heat the space around them. An added bonus for moms with small children is that the cook top is only hot where the pot touces it, so there are less accidents.