Rentals are in high demand in Clark County and an average one-bedroom apartment runs more than $900 a month. When looking for a home, renters often compare only the monthly rent but overlook other living expenses, such as utilities.
“In this competitive market, many times renters are scrambling to land someplace and questions about energy costs just don’t come up,” said Lindel Ayers, a landlord and president of the Clark County Rental Association, a nonprofit working to improve the county’s rental business.
While admitting he could only speak from his own experiences as a landlord, Ayers said in the county most renters are responsible for the utility bill. In general, the CCRA encourages members to use energy wisely. Yet, in the end, making a rental energy efficient depends on landlord and tenant.
For landlords, opportunities for energy improvement usually happen between occupancies. “That’s the time we can make changes, like replacing burned-out light bulbs with energy efficient ones,” Ayers said.
In his case, it’s also the time to complete upgrades. In the past, he’s worked with the Clark Public Utilities weatherization program to increase insulation levels on some of his electrically heated single-family rentals, and even upgrade windows. For example, a landlord who adds wall insulation (upgrading existing R-0 to R-11 at 60 cents a square foot) to a 1200 square-foot home receives a $720 rebate. This saves the renter 1776-kilowatt-hours, or $145 a year.
For another CCRA member, upgrading to ductless heat pumps was a great option. A landlord installing a DHP in a qualifying house can receive a $750 rebate per house and save each renter about 3500 kilowatt-hours or $285 a year. According to Ayers, the member installed them in several of his rentals. Now he rents them at a premium because of their heating efficiency.
There are also many inexpensive changes landlords can make to lower tenants’ energy costs, including:
• Replace nonprogrammable thermostats with programmable ones — and provide clear instructions on how to use them effectively to keep heating costs down.
• Stop drafts by weather-stripping doors, plugging outside holes, caulking around windows and putting foam gaskets behind electrical outlets and light switches on external walls.
• Repair leaky faucets; install aerators and low-flow showerheads to reduce water use and lower the cost of water heating.
• When replacing appliances, buy Energy Star-certified washers, dryers, dishwashers and water heaters.
• Finally, check with a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor to see if the rental properties qualify for rebates or incentives for energy efficient heating and upgrades for single- or multifamily housing.
Similarly, tenants can be more “energy savvy” when they move. Here are some questions renters can ask to help avoid misunderstandings, expose assumptions and identify responsibilities.
• Is the building weatherized and insulated to current code?
• What’s the efficiency rating of the heating system? Is it electric or gas?
• How often does the landlord check the heating and cooling system? Who’s responsible for maintaining it and for making repairs? Who replaces furnace filters?
• Are water savers installed and leaky faucets and toilets fixed?
These questions can help sort out the interdependent energy efficiency roles of landlord and tenant while making clear the obligations and duties of each.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.