For renters in drafty, energy-sucking homes, there are more options than turning down the thermostat in the quest for lower heating bills.
Because landlords don’t have to pay for utilities and renters aren’t around long enough to reap the profits of the improvements, neither have much incentive to make long-lasting changes.
But local energy experts said renters can take some easy and inexpensive steps to curb bills that soar in the winter. Among them:
• Instead of caulking, which should probably have a landlord’s sign-off, Linda Cottin at Cottin’s Hardware suggests using Mortite Caulking Cord. Costing about $6 a roll, the cord can be put around windows and doors to fill any gaps. When renters move out, they just have to peel off the cord and it doesn’t cause any damage.
• Another suggestion from Cottin is using window insulation kits to put precut plastic sheeting on the inside and outside of windows. The kits, which start around $3.50, come with double-sided sticky tape for attaching the plastic to the window.
“It keeps the heat in and the cold out,” Cottin said. “They are almost as effective as glass storm windows.”
JR Demby, owner of the Demby Group, which performs home energy audits, said that putting up 6 mil plastic sheeting provides a lot of wind resistance as well. Just be sure the edges are sealed, he said.
• If those steps aren’t enough, Douglas County and Lawrence Sustainability Coordinator Eileen Horn said purchasing heavy curtains and a door stop will also keep out the cold air. And both items have the lasting benefit of being used in more than one house.
• Demby recommends that renters take an inventory of how much air is coming out of their heating registers. If one register has less air than another, it could be a sign the heating ducts are disconnected. And instead of heat coming to your kitchen, the ducts are dumping warm air somewhere else in the house. Renters should tell their landlords.
• Horn reminds renters that it can be a lot cheaper to heat yourself than a house. So, for homes that seem impossibly drafty, she recommends using space heaters, wearing an extra layer of clothing or drinking something warm.
“It’s not ideal,” Horn said. “But you can’t get around the fact that you don’t own it.”
• Renters wanting to make a bigger investment in time (not money), can look into ECKAN’s weatherization programs. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ECKAN has $6.7 million to spend until 2012 to make homes more energy efficient in 13 counties in eastern Kansas.
ECKAN does a home energy audit, and then a computer software system prioritizes what improvements will result in the most savings.
They can range from cleaning and tuning up the furnace to putting insulation in the attic. Contractors do the upgrades and the cost is covered by the program, which makes about $5,000 in upgrades per home and averages almost $800 a year in energy savings.
As long as the landlord OKs the application, renters can apply for the program. Applicants must make no more than 75 percent of the annual median income, which is $27,247 for a single person or $52,397 for a family of four. Income eligibility is based on the tenant.
“It’s going to have to be someone with longevity there,” Aaron Heckman, chief operating officer of ECKAN, said of which renters are best suited for the program. “They have to remain in the unit for the entire process.”
For more information go to eckan.org.
• Robert Baker, education director at Housing and Credit Counseling Inc., advises renters to ensure they have their landlord’s written permission before making any major improvements. And if landlords agree to take off the cost of improvements from the rent or to make improvements to the property before moving, that should be in writing.
But Baker’s best piece of advice for keeping the energy bills low is to look at what the costs are before renting a new place. Tenants can call utilities and ask what the average monthly bills are for that unit or one like it.
“More and more the cost of utilities is very important. Because if a place isn’t very energy efficient, it could be in the dead of winter or middle of summer and (the utilities) are as much as the rent,” Baker said.