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Renters Guide To Home Efficiency

As a recent college grad, I’ve learned a lesson or two about crappy apartments and how it can give your wallet a real beating. So, here’s to sharing the knowledge that I wish I had had before signing on the dotted line for my rented apartment.


There are a few factors that persuade us into deciding to live at a specific apartment or house: location, cost, and space. These factors can really make or break your decision. However, what about the things that are going to matter when you’re actually living in that location and paying the utilities for that space?

For instance…

My freshman year of college, I lived in a 9’ x 12’, un-air conditioned shoe box of a dorm room that I shared with a roommate. While the location was on campus, which meant that I practically could roll out of bed and into class, there were very few perks to actually living there.  Location: check, anything else: negative.

Sophomore year, I was looking for something much better and landed in a newly built, luxury apartment complex where I rented a two-bedroom town-home with a friend. Furniture was included, energy bills were low, and the appliances and space were perfect. However, I was writing a fat check for rent each month and I had to drive 5-10 minutes to park at the university stadium, to catch a bus, to get to class. Space and utilities: check, location and rent: negative.

Junior year, my roommate and I decided that the luxury wasn’t worth the hassle. We were prepared to downgrade for a better location and cheaper rent. We were college kids, which meant our priorities were definitely set on proximity to class (and *cough* parties) and how much we were taking out of our wallets each month (or badgering our parents to pay). We moved. It wasn’t the nicest of apartments, but it worked. Well, until reality set in that is.


Walking into our apartment on move-in day, I was immediately hit by reality. The lock on the front door was poorly installed, our appliances had seen better days (back when shag carpet was in), and the place was hot. These were things that we failed to see during our walk-through.

After moving in, things only got clearer with the arrival of our first electric and water bill. The amount on each was substantially higher and it only got worse during cooler months. While we froze our way through winter, we were burning through money for utilities.

With all that said, here are some things to consider before committing to more than you bargained for.


Doors and Windows:

These are common places where air leaks are commonly found. Check around the frame of all exterior doors and windows. If you can feel air leaking through areas, make sure that they are re-sealed with caulking or weather stripping.

Also, take a look at the dead bolt and latch hole of exterior doors. As I said previously, the lock of our front door was sub par, which caused a large gap between the door and the frame. In the winter, chilly drafts constantly poured into the apartment.

Make sure to check the latches on windows as well. If windows lock poorly or seals are weak, air is likely to make its way into your living areas. You don’t want to have to bundle up like Ralphie’s kid brother in A Christmas Story just because your windows are inadequately sealed.


Now, I don’t know what college kid would think to take a peak under vent plates to see how the duct work looks – but I wish I had been that college kid. One day, walking past the giant freezer of an entrance way, I noticed some cool air coming from the vent of our living room. I checked the thermometer and it was set to 73 degrees, which meant that warm air should’ve been coming from the vent.

After removing the vent plate, I realized why our living room was unbearably cold. The duct work was atrocious. It looked like a child had installed it. Every corner was gaping and allowing cool air from the crawl space to enter our apartment. The same substandard duct-work followed with our other vents as well.


I can’t begin to tell you how many cookies fell victim to the uncontrollable temperatures of our oven. I cooked a pan of enchiladas in under five minutes at 175 degrees. There is something wrong with that. Not only were we wasting money on burnt food, but on pouring energy into the game of “what’s the real temperature?”

I can only assume that our refrigerator, clothes washer and drier, and dishwasher were energy-glutens as well. Not only were they hideous in appearance, but hideous for our energy bill.


A huge perk to renting an apartment and house is that your leasing office is supposed to take care of you. That means no mowing your lawn, keeping track of common house upkeep, and when something is broke – they fix it!

Then again, you must check on these things first. How often are they changing your air filter (and refrigerator water filter if your fridge dispenses water and/or ice)? What’s the protocol for maintenance issues? How frequently are vents cleaned? Etc.


The key to being happy with your decision is to make sure your home meets your big requirements, as well as the things that will ultimately cost you.

“Buyers tend to be romanced by pretty and clean, but you’re not buying pretty and clean,” says Alison Rogers, a real estate agent at DG Neary Realty in New York City and the author of Diary of a Real Estate Rookie. If you’ll need more phone and cable jacks or updated wiring for your home office, know that they can add hundreds of dollars to your move-in costs. “If you buy a house that’s very pretty but has entirely old windows,” Rogers says, “you may have to replace 30 windows at $200 a window or more.”


  • Feel around the frame of exterior doors and windows for air leaking in.
  • Check duct just below air vents for a good idea of possible problems with poor duct-work.
  • Make sure that your appliances are energy star and check their energy guides.
  • Be aware of water and sewage costs for the area.
  • Make sure that air filters and refrigerator filters are being changed on a regular basis (every six months for air filters and every 3-6 months for water filters). Changing your air filter improves indoor air quality and your ac unit doesn’t have to work as hard, meaning it’s using less energy. The same goes with water filters.
  • Check around the base of doors and walls for signs of water leakage.
  • Ask for a year’s worth of energy bill costs from the previous tenant or owner or owners of surrounding homes.
  • If your home has an attic or crawl space, make sure these are well insulated.

Here’s a great list to print off and take with you when looking for a place to call home.

Happy home hunting!

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