Straight Talk Articles

Seven Low-Cost Energy-Saving Tips for Renters
February, 2019

Dear Pat and Brad, It’s great to read about all the ways energy efficiency can save money, but what about folks like me who are renting or don’t have a lot of money to spend? Are there things I can do to cut my energy bills? – Chelsea


Dear Chelsea,

Fair enough, not everyone can replace their furnace with an air source heat pump, either because they’re renting, or because their budget won’t allow it. Here are seven inexpensive fixes that could make a noticeable dent in your bills and bring a little extra comfort.


  1. Watch the temperature

You might be able to trim your energy bill by carefully managing the temperature in your home.  The Department of Energy suggests a 68 degree thermostat setting on winter days.(1) If that’s too cool, try putting on an extra sweater.  You can save more by turning the thermostat even lower at night or when no one is home.  The same principle works in reverse in the summer, just set the thermostat higher to cut your air conditioning energy use.


  1. Go programmable

If you don’t always remember to adjust your thermostat you could benefit from a programmable one. In the right situation, set correctly, it could save $150 a year.(2) Some thermostats can be controlled from your cell phone or other smart device. But don’t buy a programmable thermostat unless you’re committed to programming it and your landlord approves.


  1. Zone heat

If you don’t mind less-used rooms being colder you might be able to save some money by zone heating.  Electric baseboards make it easy because they usually have thermostat settings on the units or in each room.   Portable electric space heaters can be a good tool for zone heating if they are used safely and wisely in the area you spend the most time in and if you reduce the heating you’re supplying to the rest of the house.  Space heaters that are used incorrectly can be dangerous and can even increase energy costs.  Our January 2016 column, which is on our website,(3) provides more information.


  1. Stop air leaks

Little gaps around windows, doors, seams, and wiring and plumbing penetrations can be nasty sources of winter cold and summer heat.  This problem could be alleviated with a little weatherstripping and caulk, but you should probably check with your landlord before you get started.  Better yet, convince the landlord to do the work.   A $10 door draft stopper or “door snake” is a simple way to block gaps at the bottom of outside doors. Sealing air leaks around your home could shave up to one-fifth of your heating and cooling bill.(4) Check out our May 2016 column for more details.(5)


  1. Manage your windows and window coverings

Your windows may be letting heat in during summer days and letting heat out during the winter.  Window coverings can help, either medium or heavy-weight curtains or thermal blinds. In summer, keep them closed to keep out the sun and to keep the windows from heating the cooler inside air.  On cold winter days, window coverings can keep warmth inside and improve comfort.   Opening up window coverings when you’re receiving some direct sunlight is a ‘passive solar’ technique that can help you cut your heating costs. You can also cover windows with clear plastic to reduce the heat loss and air leaks. 


  1. Look for energy wasters

There are little steps you can take every day to cut your energy use. Make sure your water heater is kept at the warm setting (120°F);(6) wash dishes and clothes on the most economical settings that will get them clean, try to always wash full loads; and use the microwave oven instead of the regular oven when possible.


  1. Landlords (and others) can help

Hopefully these tips will help you reduce your energy bills and increase your comfort.  You’d see even more benefit if your landlord invested in better insulation, windows or heating systems.  I’ve seen landlords make these investments in order to add appeal to their rental units.  Landlords want vacated units to be rented quickly, and they can deduct the costs of improving their rental homes while they improve the value of the property.  A home energy audit is the best way to identify improvements, which some co-ops offer.  Federally funded weatherization assistance is offered to low income households.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on low-cost energy saving tips, please visit the February 2019 more information page.











Keeping your water heater set to 120°F will save energy and keep the water at a safe temperature. Photo Credit: Becky Lai, Creative Commons