Energy Adviser: Renters can reduce wasted energy, too



Don’t think that just because you are a renter, you can’t do anything to lower your power bill.

True, you probably won’t spend your own money to install insulation, buy a heat pump or make other permanent improvements to a place where you’re living temporarily. But if you are concerned that your electricity bills are unnecessarily high, you can work with your landlord and encourage improvements. You can also make small changes on your own.

Even though last winter’s high heating bills may be only a memory, now is a great time to take action to avoid wasting energy and money later this year.

If your income hovers just above the poverty line, you may be eligible for a weatherization program offered through Clark County government. The income limit is $1,134 a month for a single person and $2,328 for a family of four. Start the application process by calling Clark Public Utilities’ low-income energy assistance hot line at 1-855-353-4328.

The weatherization program is free to qualified low-income homeowners and renters and provides energy efficiency and indoor air quality improvements for single-family, multifamily and mobile homes. A weatherization specialist determines the best energy conservation measures for each home. Typical improvements include insulation, ventilation, weather stripping, caulking and heater repair, according to the county’s 2011 report on the program. The program is funded by grants from Clark Public Utilities and the Bonneville Power Administration, as well as state and federal government.

“It’s a great deal for everyone,” said DuWayne Dunham, a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor. “The renter can get lower bills and be more comfortable, and the landlord’s home is weatherized at very low cost.”

If your income exceeds the limits for the county’s weatherization program, you can still encourage your landlord to make improvements, Dunham said.

“Landlords may not be aware that they can use us for rebates and financing,” Dunham said. Clark Public Utilities offers rebates ranging from $100 for sealing air leaks to $1,500 for installing ductless heat pumps. The utility also offers low-interest financing for energy-efficiency projects.

Short of those kinds of major improvements, as a renter, you can take other steps:

o Check for air leaks. On a cool, windy morning, wet the back of your hand and feel around doors, windows and electrical outlets for cold air. An incense stick can help locate air movement as well, advises Clark County Energy Efficiency Services. With your landlord’s permission, you can make a few small repairs. Foam gaskets can seal leaky outlets. Spray insulation can seal gaps around plumbing coming into the house. Caulk, plastic covering and weather stripping — or even just a rolled up towel — will help around doors and windows.

o Turn down the heat. For every degree you lower the thermostat over an eight-hour period, you’ll cut a percent or two off your heating bill. If your apartment or rental house has zoned heat, turn the thermostats to their lowest setting in unused rooms and close the doors.

o Curb kitchen energy use. Refrigerators use a lot of power. Make sure to clean the coils and keep yours set between 36 and 42 degrees. Use a microwave or toaster oven instead of the regular oven or stove. Avoid opening the oven door while baking. Unplug appliances that aren’t in use.

“These are all things you can do without making a significant investment,” Dunham said. “They can really lower your energy bill and make your home more comfortable at the same time.”

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.