How to go green as a renter

Whether you are a current renter or are searching for a new apartment or rental home, you might wonder how you can implement sustainable strategies in a space you don't own. The good news is that there are plenty of simple ways to green your home as a renter, from lowering the thermostat to setting out plants, and if you're looking for a building that's already eco-friendly in design, you'll find that more and more options are coming on the market.

Finding a green place to rent

As green buildings become increasingly desirable in the real estate market, both new construction and adaptive reuse projects are luring renters with energy-efficient features.

Look for properties that offer not only the basics of efficient appliances and lighting within individual units, but also features that benefit the whole community, such as solar panels, amenities for bicycle parking or landscaping that conserves water and uses native plants.

There are plenty of examples of places like this. Atlanta apartment complex Ponce Park recently earned LEED Platinum status for its 305-unit complex, which uses Energy Star appliances. In Watervliet, New York, the Tilley Lofts project also achieved LEED Platinum for their update of a historic warehouse into 62 loft-style apartments. The LEED Gold Goldtex Apartments in Philadelphia run on wind power, and in San Jose, California, Gish Apartments earned LEED Gold for their affordable housing that combines green features with community assistance programs.

The 2015 LEED Homes Project of the Year, The Woodlawn apartments in Portland, Oregon, offers renters a green roof, green wall and a 9,000-gallon rainwater cistern for irrigation in addition to the unit features.

Find a green apartment complex in your area by exploring the LEED project directory, starting with LEED BD+C Multifamily Midrise. You can also peruse online listings in your own locality, such as this resource for New York City apartments that are seeking or have already achieved LEED certification.

Making your current spot greener

Before you sign the lease, you can negotiate with the property owner about making upgrades to the space before you move in, such as installing more energy-efficient appliances, inserting weatherstripping around windows and doors or using low-VOC paint for the repainting that is typically done between tenant occupancies.

Once you've moved in, you can do many of the same daily things that homeowners do to recycle, reduce your energy use and enhance indoor air quality:

  • Consider conducting a DIY home energy audit or bringing in a professional to assess where you're expending a lot of energy, than make adjustments such as turning your refrigerator and freezer to the proper temperature settings, only doing laundry when you have a full load to wash or turning down the heat when you leave for work.
  • Enhance your home's biophilic appeal, as well as its oxygen levels, by adding plants to your rooms.
  • Try home composting. It's easier than you might think, and goes a long way toward reducing landfill waste.
  • You're probably on top of tossing items into that blue bin, but explore other aspects of recycling through donation, upcycling and electronics disposal.

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