When it comes to energy efficiency in multifamily dwellings, renters look to the landlord. While some efficiency improvements can be costly, like switching to a heat pump or installing new windows, landlords can improve energy use with smaller investments as well. Even though most apartment tenants pay their own utilities, landlords can make rental units more affordable by helping lower the cost of living in the rental. That’s a worthy consideration when the average rent in Clark County hovers around a thousand dollars a month.
“We get calls from customers renting apartments for energy reviews” said Amber Hall, energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. “But we can only educate them about using heat more strategically; for example, how to set the thermostats for summer and winter to maintain comfort without wasting energy. But ultimately, it’s landlords who make any big decisions about improving energy efficiency.”
A no-cost change for landlords is to set water heaters back to 120 degrees if it’s currently higher than that. “This can save an estimated 3 to 5 percent on utility bills for each degree it’s dropped from 130 degrees,” Hall said. Lowering the heat not only saves money, it reduces the chance of hot water burns on tenants and their children. “It also complies with the Washington state landlord laws,” she said.
A water-saving tip falls into the low-cost category also. Adding aerators to faucets and flow restrictors to showerheads or low-flow showerheads can reduce water use up to 30 percent, Hall explained. Costs vary but generally range from a few dollars up to about $30, depending on the type of faucets in the unit. When installed, the difference in water pressure and performance is slight but the benefit is lasting, and those savings add up over time.
Keeping heat from escaping is another step toward energy efficient multifamily units. Insulation under floors and in ceilings can keep the temperature in tenants’ living spaces more consistent and prevent the heat from rising vertically from lower apartments to the units above.
Foam gasket kits can limit heat escape around switch plates and sockets on outer walls. They start at $3 for a package that contains several pre-cut shapes for wall sockets and switch plates.
Window treatments can slow the heat gain in the summer and its loss in the winter. Insulated drapes and the honeycombed blinds work well for this, Hall points out. The cost for trimming a window with drapes depends on window size but typically starts about $30 a window, for the less expensive brands. Honeycombed blinds start higher at $40. Again, the cost for each window depends on its size.
“Caulking and weather stripping are other ways to stop heat exchange during winter and summer,” she said. “It’s a good idea to check the exterior walls every year and fill any new cracks in siding and gaps around windows.” Also, add weather stripping around outside doors.
While it’s rarely cost-effective to replace otherwise functional windows solely to improve energy efficiency, new insulated windows do diminish heat exchange and reduce wasted energy. “We advise landlords that window replacement should be the last change they make because of the expense,” she said. “Still, good windows will improve comfort and help keep energy costs down.”
In common areas, lighting is a way to ease multifamily unit operational expenses and reduce energy costs. “Exit signs tend to be on 24/7,” said Hall. “Changing out the old-style bulbs for energy efficient LEDs reaps between $30 and $40 a year for each exit sign, and those savings go right to the bottom line.” Landlords can also swap in LEDs for hallway and stairway lights to increase energy savings on required lighting. These new bulbs can last for decades so the savings on both energy and maintenance costs add up over time.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.