Eco Living in a rental unit – part 1

I rent a 2 bedroom unit, which some days can be a bit frustrating as many of the options touted in the media for eco-living are mostly directed at home owners of stand alone dwellings (think water fixtures, hot water systems, solar panels, rain water tanks, veggie gardens, compost bins, double glazing etc). But there are heaps of things you can do when you live in a unit that can reduce your impact on the earth, not the least being that you are living in a smaller dwelling hence it likely requires less energy and resources to maintain.  That is less space to heat up or cool down in extreme weather, and less time the vacuum cleaner needs to be on 🙂

So what do I do to try and reduce my impact while living in 2 bedroom unit with my better half and daughter? Lots of things 🙂 Enough to break this into a two part blog with this half focusing on reducing energy use.

Choose green energy options where available. This is currently unavailable to me in Townsville (unless someone can tell me otherwise), but in the past I have chosen to have 100% of my electricity come from renewable energy sources (WA) and gone with a retailer that derived all of its energy from Hydro (VIC). (see green power for providers) I also recently saw this article on making solar available to renters. Yes it can cost more, but you can offset this by reducing your energy use – which leads me onto the next point.

Turn off power at the switch. Standy power, while not huge in the scheme of energy use, uses on average the same amount of energy as your microwave, dishwasher, clothesdryer and washing machine combined! Unfortunately, this can be very difficult as they are often in hard to reach places  behind furniture. We bought some remote standby eliminator sockets to try and make this easier for ourselves, although the size of them has prevented their use on some power points. Sometimes I do a round of turning off before I go to bed, much to the annoyance of my husband in the morning.

Water heating accounts for an average of 21% of total household energy use.While many units have a water system that is too small to qualify for a tariff that heats water in off peak periods (saving money and energy), it is worth checking. If you are going away for an extended period it is worth turning the power off to your water heater. You must allow the water to heat back up and flush it out before using it again though as bacteria in the water left sitting in the system is harmful to your health. It is also worth checking that the temperature of your hot water system doesn’t exceed minimum requirements –  it needs to be at 50 degrees for an instantaneous system and 60 degrees for a storage system for health/hygiene reasons, every degree over these minimums uses unnecessary energy (see here).

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Have shorter showers as they require less water to be heated, and so save energy. If you can, get the landlord to replace the showerhead with a more efficient one – you can only ask. Previous state governments funded a lot of water (and energy) efficient schemes so that it didn’t cost landlords anything to do this. Check if your government (state or local) still have these in place to help your case with your landlord.

If your washing machine is connected to both hot and cold taps, use cold water to wash clothes where you can for the same reasons as above.  As most units have small hot water systems that require constant heating it may actually be more energy efficient to buy a washing machine that heats up water internally rather than taking water from your hot water system. This would be the opposite if you had access to solar heated hot water (highly unlikely in a unit but good to know).

Buy energy efficient appliances. Appliances use an average of 33% of household energy. Before you buy do the math (or better yet get an app to do it for you if you have a smartphone). Yes, they can be more expensive upfront but look at average annual kwh, compare with cheaper options and work out how much extra the electricity used on the cheaper item would cost you over the life of the appliance. Nerdy, I know, but I am an economist and I do love a good cost benefit analysis.

Also remember to service your appliances, either yourself or by a professional, to keep them running at their most efficient – there are usually instructions on how to do this with the user manual.  I regularly clean out my washing machine and do a scrub of the air conditioner before summer begins. For those appliances that don’t lend themselves to maintenance such as the fridge, using them appropriately can also reduce energy running costs. For example it is recommended to leave at least 20% spare capacity in the fridge to allow cool air to circulate, keep it in a cool place and not to put hot items directly in.

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I am yet to see an electric clothes dryer with more than a 2 1/2 energy star rating (would love to hear about it if you know of one). Heat pump clothes dryers are more energy efficient but cost more upfront and when you have the sun for free … why not line dry if you can. Use those communal clothes lines, invest in some good drying racks you can move to follow the sun around the house if you don’t have access to a line. If you do need to use a dryer, head to the local Laundromat as professional dryers are much more energy efficient (inconvenient yes but think of it as me time – take book :-))

Light bulbs. Sometimes the lighting fixtures in your unit restrict you to what type of lightbulbs you can buy, but where you can go with more energy efficient ones, do it. While incandescent are no longer available anyway, LED options are more energy efficient than CFC (see this chart) and do not contain mercury. You can always invest in lamps if the lighting in your rental is energy intensive.

Door snakes for draughts under doors to keep cold draughts out in winter (double door snakes are ingenius – google for patterns and make yourself)

Heavy/lined curtains to keep heat out in summer and cold out in winter. These can be expensive but try looking in your local op shop for second hand ones. You can take these with you when you move to your next rental

These are my tips for saving energy in a rental unit. Do you have more to add? I would love to hear them. The next instalment of this blog will have my other eco tips.

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