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People might not be able to buy their own home, or might even decide to rent their whole life for good reasons (it sometimes makes sense in an economical way; other people might not be able to stay at the same spot more than a few years). However, renting means less control over how the home operates, and less freedom to make significant changes to its general structure or to some of its components (think solar/wind/geothermal power, water efficiency, insulation, construction material choice, vegetated roof, reorganising the garden entirely to produce food efficiently...). This might of course depend on how open the owner is to the renter making significant changes, or how restrictive the rules set by the real estate agent are.

What would be a few effective ways to make a significant difference in how sustainable a home is when renting?

4

One important thing is to talk to your landlord. In anglonesia I've found some landlords will negotiate improvements on a "you do the work to a professional standard, they reap the benefit when you leave" basis. This is especially the case when there are subsidies available, like the hot water and home insulation ones that make the cost to the landlord very low.

We have also got permission to replace lawn with vege gardens, and once were allowed to keep chickens as well (we replaced the whole back lawn with chicken run and vege garden).

I have also added DIY double glazing to a few places, and removed it when I left. If you're careful you can often fix things and not have the landlord even notice, like fitting draft stoppers to external doors (rather than using a "snake", fit a proper draft strip) or simple getting a tube of silicone sealant and blocking gaps in the walls.

Depending on where your hot water heater is located, and how awful it is (Australia especially has a lot of very bad resistive HWS), you may be able to put an insulating wrap over it. They're not sold here any more, so I made my own out of a roll of rockwool insulation and some plastic drop cloths. We have also used offcuts of foil-backed bubblewrap insulation in another place. It's really really obvious that you've done it... if someone looks at the hot water tank. Few people do :) But for $35 we see a consistent 10 degrees Celcius between the inside and outside of the insulation layer, and that has to be saving us something (I can't easily meter the consumption of the HWS alone).

If you are renting through an agency, we find that it's usually the most junior staff member who runs that part of the agency, and they're as a rule not the smartest or most diligent people. And they change jobs a lot. That's really frustrating when you're trying to get messages forwarded to the owner (for gardens or whatever), but works to your advantage when you make obvious changes. We got permission to add rainwater tanks once (as long as we took them with us when we left), and at the next inspection the agent looked at a 2000 litre tank blocking half the driveway and said "was that there when you moved in?" and accepted it when I said "yes". No, no, it was not there when we moved in, it meant you can't get a car past it into the garage. She didn't notice the DIY double glazed window in the kitchen, new pelmets, lawn where there used to be concrete or for that matter, seven people living in a four bedroom house. So there may be a lot of room for doing things that don't damage the property but aren't the usual things tenants do. Agents look for damage more than anything, so if your change doesn't look like damage, it's likely going to be ignored.

  • 2
    Thanks for telling about your experience, I have a few good answers here but I am choosing yours because you take it a notch further by showing real courage :) – stragu Apr 3 '16 at 9:04
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Thermal lined curtains would make a big difference especially if the windows are single glazed. Draught proofing using self-adhesive strip is both subtle and removable. Topping up loft insulation, as it's out of sight, is something that might be permitted quite easily, but could be expensive.

Other options are things like shower flow reducers and toilet cistern displacement devices, both of which can be fitted and removed without tools and without leaving a trace. Light bulbs also fall into this category.

Even thick rugs on the floor can provide a little insulation and a warmer surface underfoot making a room feel warmer for the same temperature.

The question of how much you want to invest in a home you could be out of in a few months is an important one.

  • Curtains normally come with the rented house/apartment in Australia and NZ, but making your own decent ones is still a good idea. Cardboard pelmets also work and are very cheap (even if you have a "no fasteners on the walls" rule the top of the window frame is very rarely inspected :) – Móż Apr 8 '16 at 3:48
  • @Mσᶎ, same here in the UK (at least for furnished lets) but they often let most of the light in as well as most of the heat out. And they're easy to swap and swap back. – Chris H Apr 8 '16 at 5:49
5

Faucet aerators are cheap ways to help save water and you can install/uninstall them pretty easily.

SmartStrips and other power-saving devices can help cut off phantom loads.

Most innovations that reduce plug load electric usage, except perhaps large appliances, are available to renters.

Energy-saving light bulbs can also generally be installed/uninstalled pretty easily.

In most cold-climate rentals, clear plastic window film can also be put over windows to help keep heat in in the wintertime. I've seen renters with chimneys put in an insulation roll and some plastic film seal to help prevent the heat from going up and out as much (do ask the landlord on this).

Sustainable living techniques that are related to food (e.g. reduce waste, consider sources), transportation (e.g. bike, take mass transit), and behavioral changes (e.g. shorter showers) are also available. See Zero Waste Home (book or blog) for a lot of ideas.

If recycling and/or compost are available, having easy-to-use recycling bins (and using them) is also a good idea.

Houseplants can improve your indoor air quality and if those are edibles (e.g. basil) you can get the benefits of eating fresh local herbs (for basil, pinch off the tops before any flowers develop).

If you pay the utility bills, the utility might have rebate programs for certain energy efficiency upgrades like a programmable thermostat. Something like that you would need the landlord's permission for but it might be a decent idea to ask.

As noted above, some energy-efficient upgrades are things you can easily install/uninstall, and you could keep the inefficient elements around to reinstall when you leave, OR when you're putting them in you could describe the benefits & ask the landlord if they want to keep that and are willing to apply your receipts from the purchases toward a discount on rent. Sometimes the "payback period" is even within the time period you'll be staying there, especially if you're considering environmental/health/livability/other noneconomic benefits.

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The controlled part in this case is the demand side management which will depend mainly on you. how much energy and water you consume and by when? changing some habits may help in making your place more sustainable, for example closing lights and electrical devices if not used, recycling your waste and maybe planting some flowers and tress in the available space.

  • Yes this will help, but you are not making your home more sustainable. You are making your lifestyle more sustainable. – THelper Mar 31 '16 at 9:14
  • Planting trees can be an issue for buried pipes. – WBT Mar 31 '16 at 14:01

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