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Usually when I see lists of things to do to be more energy efficient, they require one to own their own home. What can I do to be more energy efficient in an apartment?

For example, I can't install solar panels, I can't upgrade/change my appliances, I can't install better insulation or windows, and I can't install a programmable thermostat.

Pretty much the only thing I can do (and have done) is switch all of my bulbs to CFLs. I also keep all of my electronics on power strips which I turn off when I leave my apartment and when I'm sleeping.

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    better/smarter clothing is the easiest first step. – Umberto Feb 1 '13 at 12:54
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    On the positive side, apartments should be more efficient than villas from a heating perspective. – gerrit Feb 1 '13 at 16:13
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    @gerrit: Yes, and more efficient with land use. And it's easier to share other resources, like a garden, bicycles, car, swimming pool, exercise equipment, roads. The mailman doesn't drive as many miles. You're already in great shape! – Jay Bazuzi Feb 1 '13 at 17:15
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    I think this is impossibly broad - people do write whole books about this. Can you break it down into individual elements, or ask a question about what are the worst energy losses (given your particular building type and climate zone) – EnergyNumbers Feb 1 '13 at 19:03
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    While this is a useful list to have on hand, I don't think this makes for a good question. As @EnergyNumbers said, it's extremely broad. There are at least a dozen questions encompassed here that could have whole answer treatments of their own. This is a list survey question. – Daniel Bingham Feb 4 '13 at 21:38
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There are a lot of little things you can do that can add up. Here a some suggestions:

  • Wash clothes in cold water only.
  • Turn your freezer/refrigerator up a few degrees.
  • Purchase insulated curtains/shades, and close them during the day when you are at work.
  • Make sure your furniture is arranged so that it is not blocking any vents or radiators.
  • Purchase a draft guard to place at the bottom of your door leading to the outside where temperature-controlled air can escape from your apartment.
  • Install a low flow shower water head. Shower head screw on/off easily. Keep the old head to replace when/if you move.
  • Clean Your Refrigerator: It's unlikely that you'll purchase new energy efficient appliances for your rental, but you can tweak the ones you already have. For example, by cleaning the coils on the back of your fridge you'll help one of the biggest energy hogging appliances run more efficiently.
  • Use Energy Efficient Bulbs, even if you're put off by the slightly higher upfront cost, you can simply unscrew them and take them with you when it's time to move.
  • Use Power Strips: A lot of energy is wasted through electronics left plugged in, and the resulting vampire energy. Put a stop to it by using one of a number of cool, smart energy strips, which will turn off vampire energy when the electronics are not in use.
  • Use a Humidifier & Lower Your Heat: Keeping humidity levels up during the winter is not only good for your health, but also for your air and furniture. It also helps keep the ambient air temperature feeling warmer than dry air, which means you can turn your thermostat down. If your HVAC system doesn't have a humidifier built-in, then you can get an inexpensive and portable humidifier to use during dry conditions.
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    At my home, temperature-controlled air escapes into the apartment, because common areas are at a higher temperature than I keep mine, and despite living in a climate with temperatures dropping below -20°C, I often have my radiatior switched off. Interesting point about the humidifier, I never considered those might actually save energy. – gerrit Feb 1 '13 at 16:15
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    Humidifier may be a bad choice, if you live in a marine climate or other naturally humid area. Also, if you get condensation on your windows, you'll likely get black mold. Manage your humidity carefully. – Jay Bazuzi Feb 1 '13 at 17:18
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    Increasing the refrigerator temperature could be a false economy if the higher temperature means that food spoils more quickly, leading to more wasted food. – Johnny Jul 12 '13 at 22:56
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    I'll add low-flow aerators on top on the showerhead (for your faucets). In the kitchen, I recommend a 1.5 GPM swivel-type aerator, with a pause lever if you have one knob for cold and one for hot, that way you can stop the flow when it's dialed just-right and you'll do it more often. In the bathroom, a 1.0 GPM needle-spray one is usually a great application. Also, the draft guard for the door is good, but you should focus more on windows and pipe penetrations on the outside wall. One easy piece: remove your A/C in the winter. And in the summer, put some weatherstripping between the two sashes. – Julien Marrec Jul 14 '13 at 22:17
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    Washing your clothes with cold water only might not get them compeltely clean. I woul recommend to clean them at least once in a period with boiled water – XandruCea Jan 23 '17 at 0:38
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If you want to be more energy efficient in your apartment, you should look to the past. How were people living before?

There are quite different living patterns in big cities and in small cities or villages. When I first came to a big city and I was living with other people, I was shocked how much water was used! The average usage of 6 cubic meters per person per month is almost 10 times more than by my family.

First of all, you don't have to take a shower or bath! You can wash yourself in a basin. The average water usage will be between 5 and 10 liters. While on camp, where water has to be taken from a very small spring, I've managed to wash myself completely in about 2 liters of water, using a bottle. The basin water you can use to flush the toilet 1 or 2 times.

You don't always have to flush with a full tank. You can use a small pot, about 1-2 liters. This would in most cases be sufficient.

Being more social is being more energy efficient. If everyone sits in their own room with lights and TV on, the energy consumption is high. When people are sitting together in one room, talking or playing board games, the energy consumption is much lower.

One of the biggest energy consumers is transport. Eat mostly the things that grow in your environment. Buy potatoes from your neighbor instead of rice from Thailand, eat apples instead of bananas (example from Europe, you can modify it to fit your specific locale).

Buy warm clothes. Don't make your apartment too warm in winter. Years ago it was obvious that you have to wear a warm sweater in winter in your apartment, now people seem to be unhappy they can't be naked all the year.

  • Don't forget to include personal transport - each gallon of gas contains 34KWh of energy. So if you can conserve 10 gallons of gas a month by using alternative transport, you may be saving more energy than your entire apartment's electrical consumption. – Johnny Jul 12 '13 at 23:01
  • @Johnny, that's true, but is also quite clearly outside the scope of this question. We have other questions on the site about saving energy in transportation, but this one asked about energy saving opportunities in the apartment. – Nate Jul 13 '13 at 8:13
  • Danubian. This is a good answer - you are absolutely right than energy efficiency is not just about buying new stuff. I am not sure how relevant the first part about water efficiency is to the question. Self-restraint and being conscious of the impact of things we take for granted is important.That does not mean that to be environmentally conscious you have to reject modern life and the joys that scientific progress has made altogether. – Arty Jun 18 '18 at 16:00
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In addition to the energy efficiency benefits of multi-unit buildings, they also give you access to a large group of people with common interests. While these actions are less direct and more involved, they are arguably more impactful:

  1. Educate other residents. If you can convince them to also switch all their bulbs to CFLs/LEDs and use power strips as you've described, then the building as a whole uses far less energy. This could also impact the heating/cooling load on a macro scale depending on your climate and the existing bulbs.

  2. If successful, you could grow this into a larger group of influencers, spread your message to other buildings nearby, or get involved politically to ensure energy efficiency is built in to our society from the ground up.

I'll get off my pedestal now.

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    +1. Probably not what the question's asker was looking for, but if you're interested in being energy efficient for environmental reasons (as opposed to simply saving yourself money), then it's just as important to help others save energy. That's the whole point of this site, right? :) – Nate Jul 17 '13 at 11:02
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It's interesting that you say "I can't install solar panels". You're right of course, you can't install them directly on your own roof when you are renting an apartment but you could join an energy co-operative and put your money towards investing in new solar or wind farms.

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You need to provide a little more information about where you are located and which direction your windows face. While the list provided by Linger is good in just about any case, they generally only save minor amounts of energy. If you are in a location that supports it, I would just turn off all heating and cooling. For example, I used to live in an apartment in Boulder, CO with south facing windows that didn't even have AC, and we never turned the heat on, even when the temperature fell well below freezing. This was possible because we opened and closed the shades correctly to take advantage of the Southern exposure, and kept the windos open at night during the Summer to try to "night flush" the air. But this is only applicable to moderate climates.

For very hot and dry climates, getting a smaller portable swamp cooler will save lots of energy.

Hot wet climates are a little unfortunate however (probably a reason humans haven't really developed in these places, since sweating, the same mechanism swamp coolers use, is ineffective).

In really cold climates, the best option is to attempt to take advantage of sunlight when it is out, and when it is not, close all the windows as much as possible with insulating (or just thick cloth) shades.

One interesting way to test your potential for passive heating and cooling is to turn off all heating and cooling for a period of time, say a week or two (unless it gets below freezing often, then have the heating on just enough so you don't freeze pipes...) and try to figure out what works best for your apartment at your location as far as operating shades and windows, and wearing heavier clothes and blankets.

On a side note, you mentioned that you cannot install a programmable thermostat, but in many apartments that have older, simpler thermostats, the wires are actually all there to replace it with a programmable one, so you may want to check. You can always remove it when you leave and the landlord will never know, if they care.

  • My old apartment had central hot-water radiators controlled by a valve at the radiator, so no chance of installing a new thermostat. My current apartment lease specifically prohibits any electrical changes to the apartment, so swapping out a thermostat could put me in violation of my lease. – Johnny Jul 12 '13 at 23:05
  • @Benjamin, Turning off your heat is a nice thought, but you understand that such a strategy works in an apartment because you have other tenants' apartments on all sides that you are drawing heat from? Essentially, you are increasing their heating/cooling energy consumption, to save your own. If this was simply about saving money, that would be a valid (albeit selfish) strategy. In the spirit of sustainability, however, it's mostly a cheap trick. – Nate Jul 13 '13 at 8:17
  • Nate, you are right that the heat exchange surfaces that are walls between apartments, floors and ceiling help do that. But what Benjamin is mostly saying is to properly operate shades and curtains, which is by itself a great idea. About the thermostat replacement, I wouldn't call that "electrical work" since you won't be messing with what behind the gypsum, just swapping the Tsats. That is especially true if your Tstat is on 24V. – Julien Marrec Jul 14 '13 at 22:19
  • @JulienMarrec, I wasn't responding to what Benjamin was mostly saying. I was responding to his suggestion to turn the heat/AC off. The does not work (in Colorado, with temps below freezing) because he properly manages his windows (although that can help). It works primarily because he's leeching heat from his neighboors, whose heating bills he's increasing by contributing nothing to the cause of keeping the building warm. – Nate Jul 17 '13 at 11:08
  • @Nate: This has been a while - yes I agree with you that what I was suggesting could be taking advantage of neightbors, but not always. In certain cases (like my old apartment where the exterior conduction is several times greater than to other apartments) your point isn't always valid - and I had done energy models in the past to prove it and played at home with an IR camera. I'm not arguing with you, because most often you're right, but in certain cases the proper management of solar loads (and being OK with temperatures down to 60 or less) and other things can really offset most heating. – Benjamin Brannon Dec 9 '13 at 3:52
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Do like I do. In the spring and fall when the weather alternates between comfortable and cool. I turn the thermostat off pull out the heavy blankets and curl up with my boyfriend to stay warm.

  • Sure... when the climate allows I turn my thermostat off. Not gonna happen these days when it's steadily below freezing. I have a couple of months before it warms up enough to consider turning the heat off. – lemontwist Feb 22 '13 at 11:53
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    Sleeping at -5C is actually quite pleasant and refreshing. Just use 3-4 blankets. – Vorac Apr 3 '13 at 10:04
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First, you should really find out what is causing your high electric bill. You can use watt-o-meter, or simply search. Concentrate on big power eaters, especially anything with heater elements.

There is little point in saving 5 Watts for 10 hours by turing off your power strip when you're not around, but use clothes dryer which uses 1000 Watts for 2 hours (just an example - but you should really not use dryers - just hang the clothers to dry!).

Another great idea in cold weather is smarter use. When it is cold outside, YOU want to be warm. Heating extremly big (compared to volume of YOURSELF) heat-leaking room (or few!) is incredibly wasteful.

You should consider microheating - that is, putting on adequate clothing, and then concentrating the heating just on exposed parts of your body, instead of heating hundreds and thousands of cubic meters of air and hoping some of it will transfer to you (as it is commonly and wastefully done). And turn down room heating all the way.

And amazingly, those regular lightbulbs you replaced with LEDs are very nice local heaters. Put them on small lamp to heat your hands and face while you type on laptop for example. Get heaters for pet reptiles/snakes and put them under your feet, and use cloth to cover holes from table. Get cheap heated mouse/keyboard/usb gloves on ebay.

Use few layers of blankets in your bed (you can nicely sleep in much colder temperatures). If it is extremly cold, use heated ones - they will still use orders of magnitude less power then heating of the whole room.

here is example how effective micro heater can be (reducing heating bill by 87%), with nice instructions. Also not that in few weeks you body will ajdust to lower temperatures, so you can reduce it even further.

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Do an inventory of all the light fixtures in your apartment, and re-distribute light bulbs based on how much light you need and how often you need it.

First, for each bulb you have, determine the type (incandescent, CFL, or LED) and wattage. Use a chart like this one to compare brightness:

enter image description here

Then, follow a few simple guidelines to determine where to put each bulb:

  • Incandescent bulbs should go in places where lights aren't often needed, such as closets
  • LEDs should go in the rooms where you spend the most time: kitchen, dining room, living room
  • The brightest LEDs should go in places like kitchens where you spend a lot of time and need the most light
  • The brightest CFLs should go in places like bathrooms where you spend less time, but still need a lot of light
  • Many fixtures can hold two bulbs - consider putting two low-wattage bulbs or just one higher wattage bulb in such fixtures
  • Lamps with a lower wattage bulb often work for reading or other tasks, rather than putting a higher wattage bulb in a ceiling fixture
  • Whenever a bulb burns out, replace it with an LED fixture, and re-arrange your other bulbs as necessary

This way you can make the most of the fixtures and bulbs you've got, reduce energy usage, and avoid having to purchase all new light bulbs (assuming there are already a few CFLs and/or LEDs installed, which I've found to be the case in most places).

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I know it is not easy, but it starts when you are looking for a new flat to rent. That is the moment when you can influence most your later possibilities to save energy or to live sustainable. Beside of other aspects ask yourself.

  • When and how was the house build? As long as cheap construction is profitable and if everyone accepts cheap construction with low standards on sustainability your later efforts inside the flat will be useless.
  • How is its inside climate managed and what are your neighbours standards? In most cases inside insulation from flat to flat is weak. In winter your neighbours will heat your flat and in summer they will cool it down. A retrofit installation of insulation against other flats will consume, your available space, more energy and money. When you leave the flat you will have to remove it.
  • What will your landlord allow you to do inside and outside your flat and what is technically possible at all, e.g. is it possible to install awnings to the windows or cover them in summer by other means?

Beside the flat itself look how it is connected to public transit and how can you arrange your life in a sustainable way with that flat.

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