Energy adviser: Work with landlord to reap savings

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If you rent a single-family home, or even a one-bedroom apartment, there are ways to reduce your energy use and save money.

For renters interested in bigger energy savings, negotiating with a landlord to share in the cost of upgrading to Energy Star appliances, installing a programmable thermostat or improving insulation and duct sealing may be a win for both. Your landlord keeps a good tenant happy and you see a reduction in your monthly power bill.

Just be sure to check with your landlord before starting any major projects because some leases prevent tenants from making changes even if they could lead to energy savings.

Vancouver apartment manager Jason Pulse says renters can take small steps to reduce energy use by replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lights, turning lights out in unoccupied rooms and setting the heat at a lower temperature.

Compact fluorescent bulbs can use up to 75 percent less electricity. (You can recycle used CFLs at any Clark Public Utilities office).

“Typically, the power bills in our units run $60 to $90 a month, but making a lot of small changes can help,” said Pulse, who manages the 400-unit Highland Hills apartments in Salmon Creek.

Building code changes

Apartments built in the past 10 years, such as Highland Hills, have benefitted from stricter building codes that require better insulation and energy-efficient double-pane windows. However, many renters in the Northwest live in older apartments or houses, which predate these codes and may rely on less-efficient heating systems: baseboard, ceiling cable and wall heaters.

Here’s how to save money, if you rent:

• Heating: For every degree you lower the thermostat over an eight-hour period, you’ll cut 1-2 percent off your heating bill, according to experts at Clark Public Utilities. Turn the heat down even more when you’re asleep or away from home for more than a few hours. For zoned heat, turn the thermostat to low in empty rooms and close the door. Check to make sure your thermostat is still functioning correctly by using a separate indoor thermometer, since older units sometimes stop regulating heat levels as precisely as they could. Replacing a worn-out room temperature controller can make a significant difference in your ability to reduce energy use.

• Use curtains and shades to keep the heat in during the winter and out in the summer.

• Water heater: A temperature of 120 should be adequate for most households, but check with your landlord before changing it. Take five-minute showers instead of baths. Have leaky faucets repaired or you’ll be wasting water, and the energy to heat it.

• Sealing air leaks: With an OK from your landlord, buy inexpensive window insulation kits found at hardware stores for use on single-pane windows. Install weather-stripping around exterior doors, or place a rolled up rug or towel across the base of the door to block drafts. Clark Public Utilities works with Clark County to provide free insulation and weatherization services to families with limited incomes living in electrically heated rental houses and mobile homes.

• Electronics: TVs, DVD players, computers and cable boxes now come with energy ratings. Look for Energy Star-certified products when shopping for home electronics. A list of qualified products can be found at http://www.EnergyStar.gov.

• Refrigerators: Fridges can use a lot of power. Make sure to clean the coils and keep yours set between 36 and 42 degrees in the main section and at zero degrees in the freezer. This ensures food safety. Lowering temperatures further only wastes power.

• Using a microwave oven or electric kettle instead of the regular oven or stove. When using the oven, do not open the door during cooking, if possible.

If you think bigger energy-saving improvements are needed for your rental housing, start negotiating with your landlord. Share in the cost. Landlords hold off on making major improvements because of their own bottom line. So it’s important to talk about how you might be able to save on labor costs with such improvements.

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