I have a landlord who is very interested in saving money. I wanted to suggest options to her to help her save money while reducing environmental footsteps. However she is not motivated to save the environment and is trying to pay off medical bills so is opposed to large upfront costs; so anything I suggest must be an obvious cost savings, not too expensive, and not inconvenient for her or for her tenants to implement (for instance she nixed a programmable thermostat due to the effort of figuring out times to program in that worked with everyone's schedules).

As it happens I donate a pretty large sum of money to charity anyways, which means I have money to spare, and I both trust my landlord and have an easy collateral (I pay for x months in advance, you can't kick me out till ...), so I'm actually willing to help finance some larger investments if she isn't. I don't need to make any profit if it helps her and the environment, however, I make pretty good interest in my charitable fund so any money I contribute to help her has to provide sufficient savings to make up for my opportunity cost of not earning interest on that money until I'm refunded while slowly working towards refunding my initial investment and still giving her some sort of savings to make it worth her while; in other words we can do larger expenditures but only if they give fairly substantial savings.

Can anyone suggest which options are best to suggest to my landlord? I know in the long run solar panels would be a good option, but they are large enough of an upfront investment that it may be hard to convince her to look into. However, I would love more details about them, in particular any hidden expense (for instance, extra effort to maintain them, clear them off, etc) which I may not be aware of but she deserves to know going in.

Any other good options to recommend to her are welcome. I need things that aren't asking for too heavy a time investment from her to do, I'm happy to invest some of my time but I don't own the house so only so much I can do there, plus I'm pretty disorganized myself (lol).

We live in Maryland with 3 adults and one child living in the house. The house is a somewhat older house with two stories plus a furnished underground basement used as a playroom, just in case any of that matters.

P.S. If we do something that would warrant tax credits is there any way I can pay for it and claim the tax credit as a resident but not as a home owner? My tax bracket is a bit higher then hers so I would get a larger savings.

EDIT: I should have said this sooner since it's obviously relevant; I sort of took it for granted. Our utilities are included in our rent, so she is paying the full cost for all utilities. She also lives in and owns the house, so maybe 'landlord' is a slightly misleading title :)

The house is both heated in the winter and cooled (AC) in the winter. Since we're in MD we probably are a little north, probably spend more of the year heating the AC etc.

  • 1
    Is the house fully insulated, even in the attic? Storm windows and such too? Do you air condition in the summer? – Meep Dec 3 '13 at 3:31
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    The basic problem is that most of the things that save money apply to whoever pays the energy bills, which is usually not the landlord. If she does them, the only way to get a return is to increase your rent. Which might be fine for you, but if you move out (and she has to plan for that), can she find a new tenant at the same rent? – Móż Dec 3 '13 at 6:17
  • In regards to your edit: If she lives in the house she qualifies for a % tax break, depending on the % of the house that qualifies as her space vs. rental space. (Duplex she would get 50% break.) – Meep Dec 3 '13 at 22:40
  • What's the power source of heating? Gas/electricity/wood? – Peter Ivan Dec 5 '13 at 7:14

As for federal tax credits, I believe they only apply to 'principal residence' so you must both own and live in it. However the landlord may be able to write it off as a cost if she pays the bill, for some relief.

Check the energystar.gov site for details on what qualifies for tax credits: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index . You may not be able to get them but they are an indication of what the government has deemed important and wants to invest in.

Maryland has several options: http://mdcleanenergy.org/programs_and_incentives/residential_financial_incentives including some for rental properties. However you may be above the target income/neighborhood for those.

In general:

Insulation: Many of these can be a DIY project. Check the attic, restore old windows, add storm windows, weather stripping to doors. It may be the least exciting but most important.

Heating: Some very expensive replacements, such as geothermal, receive tax credits towards 30% of cost. More efficient traditional units can get breaks too if upgrading.

You may consider augmenting your traditional furnace with biomass. Pellet stoves can be fairly affordable. If you pay for your own utilities you may not concern your landlord with the price, but you will need to cut a hole in the house for the ventilation. There are attractive models, even, which could improve the house value.

Appliances: Some inefficient devices can be replaced, such as old water heaters. More efficient models are available and also alternative systems, such as on-demand (not popular in the US, though). There are also solar models available, if you have the sun and budget.

Power Generation: Small solar projects can be easy to add on, but there are other options such smaller wind turbines which may get more bang with a smaller installation. Especially nice if you have a constant breeze from the water.


On the financing front: I don't know about the situation in the US, but some countries have schemes whereby grants or favourable loans are available for improving the energy efficiency of housing stock. For example, in the UK there is the "Green Deal". These schemes will vary in their usefulness versus the amount of bureaucracy involved, but are worth looking into.

You also don't mention too much about the finance arrangements around your tenancy; from what you've written, it sounds as though your landlady lives in the house with you. It's not clear whether she pays the energy bills or whether they are shared? Obviously in the first case she has a better financial incentive to improve matters, but either way you are far better off than the more usual case where the landlord is not present, and has no incentive to reduce the tenant's energy bills.

I'm not familiar with what the climate is like in Maryland, but I'll assume temperate. You mention that you use a little air conditioning - I probably won't cover that much as I know little about it.

The measures that you and she could consider fall broadly into two categories: Firstly in reducing the home's energy use, and secondly in making sure that that energy that is required is delivered in the most efficient and/or cost-effective way that it can. Some of these things will not be applicable to your home, and some may already have been done.

Reducing demand


This is potentially a quick, cheap and easy area for improvement. Except for specialist types such as those in ovens, you should not be using any plain tungsten incandescent light bulbs. For general lighting, look to compact fluorescent (CFL). For spotlighting, for low output requirements, or for areas that are switched on and off very frequently, look at LED. If you really cannot stand to move away from an incandescent glow, or you need a light to be dimmable, use tungsten halogen lamps - preferably the low voltage variety, which are substantially more efficient.

For all of these technology types, it is worth paying for a reputable brand (e.g. Osram, Philips, GE). CFLs and LEDs have gained a bad reputation with some people due to cheap versions failing early. The same applies to the transformers in low voltage halogen fixtures. If moving to LEDs, buy one first to check that you are happy with the colour - the quality of "white" varies widely. If moving to CFL or LED, don't trust the manufacturers' claims on "equivalent wattage" - instead, look at the number of lumens that they produce.


This is slightly less cheap and easy, but some measures are still straightforward. If you are in even a moderately cold climate, heat will probably account for about half of your domestic energy use, so reducing this is potentially a big saving.

  • Make sure that there is a good amount (up to 200-300mm) of modern loft insulation in your roof. This is quick and cheap to install, and without it all of your heat rises straight out the top of the house.

  • If you get draughts under doors, etc., fit draught excluders.

  • Make sure windows are double (or even triple) glazed. Moving from single to double glazing in particular is a major improvement in insulation. Potentially expensive.

  • Wall insulation depends very much upon the walls. If you have cavity walls, get them filled with insulating foam. If you have solid walls, there are insulating panels that you can fit on the inside, but this does reduce the size of your rooms. As an alternative, take inspiration from medieval times and put wool hangings on the inside of the walls. Make sure there are flame-retardant.

Other measures

  • When replacing electrical appliances in the future, get ones with high energy efficiency ratings.

  • Turn down the heating and/or air con in rooms that are not being used for some time.

  • Try to instil a culture of people turning things off when they leave the room - especially lights, but also avoid leaving televisions playing to nobody, and so forth. Depending on what people are like to start with, this can potentially be a huge saving, and it has no cost.

  • Another cultural change: If people can be happy wearing a jumper, rather than expecting to be comfortable year-round in a thin sleeveless top, you can make major savings in heating. Get thicker duvets and turn down bedroom temperatures. The same is true with air con, of course, although there's perhaps a limited extent to which you can expect folk to wear less... ;-)

Improving energy delivery

Renewable sources

You should consider,

  • Photovoltaics (i.e. solar panels that produce electricity)
  • Solar thermal water heating (pipes on the roof that provide "free" hot water)
  • Possibly a small wind turbine (although very small household ones are perhaps of dubious worth)

The value of all of these will depend on many factors, including the design and orientation of the building, where in the world you are, the wind speeds that you experience, etc. Each might be the subject of a good question here in its own right.

The economics of some of these may be strongly influenced by any subsidies or other measures that your government offers to encourage them - for example, the feed-in tariff scheme in the UK.


With insulation, you have already minimised the amount of heat that the property needs. Now you can think about reducing the cost of providing the heat that is needed. Much will depend on the design of the house, and on the relative costs and availability of fuel where you are located. The costs will also depend greatly on the system that is installed at present. The most energy-efficient approach is likely to be a heat pump, preferably a ground-source one if possible. The most economic approach may be a heat pump, or it may be a modern, efficient gas-fired central heating system.


This is an overview; there are a number of topics in there that might make good SE questions in their own right. I hope that it is helpful when considering what to investigate further.

  • He said he is in Maryland, it's on the East Coast of the US. – Meep Dec 3 '13 at 22:42
  • @Meep oops, so he did! – Flyto Dec 4 '13 at 9:20

You asked this question a while ago so not sure if you still need an answer, but I used to live in Silver Spring, MD, so the question caught my eye. If you're in Montgomery County or Prince George's, Pepco is likely your utility, and they provide a number of energy saving programs.

When I lived in Silver Spring, I signed up for Energy Wise Rewards and got a free programmable thermostat plus over $100 in bill credits per year.

If you don't live in those two counties, I would still check with the electric utility. Many offer similar cost-saving programs, especially now that they're gearing up for the Clean Power Plan.

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