Guide to Eco-Friendly Renting: How to Live Sustainably in an Apartment in 2022

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More than one-third of U.S households are renters, and it is crucial that they are included in the conversation surrounding sustainability.1 Our eco-friendly renting guide will show both renters and landlords how they can make a difference in their communities. 

In 2020, almost half of American renters were cost burdened, meaning that they spent 30% or more of their income on rent.2 As the cost of necessities like gas, food and housing rapidly increase, living sustainably may be the last thing on your mind. As a renter, you may feel like you have no control over how eco-friendly your living situation is. 

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Eco-friendly upgrades in your apartment can be quick and easy, and they can even save you money with little or no initial investment. Small, daily lifestyle changes can lower your energy and water bill and reduce your environmental impact.

How to Be a More Eco-Friendly Renter

There are many ways that you can be more eco-friendly as a renter. Exercising sustainable practices, conserving water, being more energy-efficient and choosing a convenient location are all environmentally friendly choices that are accessible to those living in an apartment. 

Exercise Sustainable Practices

Composting, recycling, thrifting and buying less are all practices that renters can incorporate to enjoy a more sustainable life. 

  • Compost: A staggering 20% of the waste entering municipal landfills is food.3 Your household alone could divert 330 pounds of food from landfills this year alone by composting. You don’t need a backyard or a garden to compost your food and prevent methane from being released into the air. Check out our resources for how to compost in your apartment.
  • Recycle: Recycling is one tool to divert waste from landfills and use less energy to create new products. When shopping, opt for products packaged in materials like paper, cardboard, aluminum and glass. These materials can be recycled more times and with less energy than plastic products.4 If your apartment complex does not offer recycling, talk to your neighbors and urge your landlord to implement a recycling program. 
  • Thrift: Thrifting is a cheap and fun way to decorate your apartment while also being eco-friendly. It may be tempting to go to a big-box store and shell out money for something new, but thrifting gives new life to items that would otherwise head to a landfill. Not only does it reduce your consumption, but thrifting is also far cheaper than buying home goods first-hand and gives your living space a more unique feel. 
  • Buy Less: The simplest way to reduce your environmental impact is to buy less. When you choose not to buy something you don’t need anyway, you are preventing one more item from ending up in a landfill later down the line. Funky kitchen gadgets, endless throw pillows, decorative trinkets and even items marketed as “eco-friendly” may seem like a must-have in the moment, but before you buy, think about if you’ll still be enjoying that item in a few years. 

Conserve Water

Conserving water is another easy way to save energy and even lower your water bill. As a renter, there are some easy ways that you can reduce your water usage:

  • Time Your Showers: The average shower head uses 2.5 gallons of water every minute. Every minute you shave off of your shower will minimize your water footprint.5
  • Use a Low-Flow Shower Head: Shower heads and faucet aerators are an easy, reversible way for renters to reduce their water use. The EPA estimates that the average family can save $380 annually when switching to water-sensible products.
  • Use Cold Water: About 90% of the energy that washing machines use is for heating the water. Save energy and opt for cold water when washing dishes and laundry.6 
  • Wash Full Loads: Make sure that your dishwasher and washing machine are full when you use them to minimize energy use and boost efficiency. 

Be More Energy Efficient 

As a renter, you may not be able to install solar panels or new, energy-efficient windows in your apartment. However, there are still ways to make your living space more energy-efficient, both lowering your energy bill and your environmental impact. 

  • Use Solar Panels: If you live in an apartment, you can offset some energy costs by using small, multi-purpose solar panels or a solar panel charger for devices. 
  • Winterize Your Apartment: You can prevent energy loss from windows and doors by resealing windows with weather stripping, caulk or window treatments. The U.S. Department of Energy also has nationwide grants to weatherize households for free. If you are paying for electricity in your apartment and are a low-income renter or homeowner, check if you are eligible for these benefits.
  • Switch to Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs: Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs from traditional incandescent bulbs can save the average family $225 in energy costs each year.
  • Unplug Appliances: Make sure to unplug appliances when you aren’t using them. Electronics like computers, gaming consoles and smart appliances will continue to draw energy even when they are not actively being used.

Choose a Convenient Location 

When deciding where to live, try to choose a building close to your most frequented locations. Ideally, you want to live somewhere with options to bike, walk or take public transit to get where you need to go. The closer you are to your job and local grocery store, the fewer miles you will have to travel, reducing your impact. 

The unfortunate reality in most parts of the U.S. is that owning and driving a car is necessary to get around. Over 91% of households in the U.S. have at least one car.7 Of those who reported that their car is their primary mode of transportation, 80% reported that they have “no choice” but to drive as often as they do.8 More than half of car users wish they had more options.9

However, you can still minimize your emissions by planning your errands and trips to minimize your miles driven, carpool with coworkers and friends, and work from home if possible. 

How to Be a More Eco-Friendly Landlord

If you are a landlord, the choices you make for your rental units make a huge difference. Opting for eco-friendly options when renovating spaces and establishing a healthy community environment can significantly reduce your environmental impact. 

Upgrade Units with the Environment in Mind

You don’t have to completely rebuild or overhaul your apartment units to be eco-friendly. When upgrading your units, opting for eco-friendly windows, choosing Energy Star appliances and avoiding products with VOCs make a difference to the health of your tenants and community. 

  • Install Eco-Friendly Windows: If the windows in your units are drafty and outdated, a significant portion of the heating and cooling will be wasted. Consider installing double-paned, Energy Star qualified windows that will decrease your complex’s energy consumption.
  • Provide Energy Star Appliances: When the time comes to replace old appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers and ovens, choosing an Energy Star compliant model will reduce your complex’s overall energy consumption. 
  • Avoid Products with VOCs: Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are found in many common household products like paints, stains, cleaners, carpets and new furniture.10 VOCs can be damaging to your health in both the short and long term. To minimize exposure to VOCs, air out new furtniture and rugs, keep spaces with new flooring or furniture well-ventilated for as long as possible, and opt for cleaning and paint products without VOCs. 
  • Use Sustainable Building Materials: When renovating and building an apartment building, use LEED platinum approved building material and practices. LEED certified buildings are designed to decrease carbon emissions, be more efficient and serve as healthy spaces for the people living there. LEED certifications are acquired by focusing on all aspects of sustainability in building, including water use, waste, transportation and carbon emissions.11

Promote an Eco-Friendly Community 

Creating a healthier, more eco-friendly community starts with you as a landlord. Establishing a community garden space, encouraging a smoke-free community and adding solar panels to community spaces are all a great upgrades that benefit all of your tenants. 

  • Establish a Community Garden Space: Creating a community garden will instil a sense of community among your tenants, increase fruit and vegetable consumption among participants and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation.12 
  • Encourage a Smoke-Free Community: In an apartment complex, between 35% and 65% of the air in each unit is shared from other units and shared spaces.13 Encouraging a smoke-free community prevents tenants from breathing in unwanted secondhand smoke and can also stop cigarette butts and e-cigarettes from being littered and polluting the environment. 
  • Add Solar Panels to Power Community Spaces: When you choose to install solar panels to power community spaces, you will not only be consuming less energy produced with fossil-fuels, you will be reducing your energy costs in the long run. 

The Future of Apartment Buildings 

Ideally, every apartment complex would implement eco-friendly practices. Some apartment complexes around the country, like Mason Lofts in Nashville, Tennessee, are taking initiative to compost, audit waste, and provide eco-friendly amenities like edible gardens and bike rentals. 

Other complexes, like Eco Modern Flats in Fayetteville, Arkansas, are situated in walkable areas, use only high-efficiency appliances and heating and air conditioning, harvest rainwater for community gardening and much more. Although it is refreshing to see the demand for eco-friendly spaces from renters is being realized, incorporating environmentally friendly practices into the lives of all renters still has a ways to go.  

As supply chain shortages and an impending climate crisis are rapidly forcing us to adapt to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, real climate change will begin with the habits of renters. To create a healthier future for all of us, renters must change their lifestyle, and landlords must listen to and accommodate their renters.

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