Fall is here, with its pumpkin spice lattes, tailgate parties, chunky sweaters—and heftier utility bills, which promise to climb even higher once winter sets in.
If you’re a homeowner, you’re used to striving to make your living space as energy-efficient as possible this time of the year. But if you rent, your situation might be different, since you have less control over making energy-efficient changes. Renters generally can’t add insulation or upgrade their windows, for example, unless management gives them the okay and they shell out for it themselves.
More and more people are finding themselves in this predicament because renting is on the rise: The share of U.S. households that rent increased from 36% in 2006 to 41% in 2014 (the most recent year for which figures are available).
That means more households are at the mercy of the decisions their landlords have made when it comes to paying their energy bills.
Yet with utility bills averaging about 18% of the typical month’s rent (it’s likely higher in fall and winter), renters have a strong incentive to reduce their outlay. These cheap tricks tackle the energy gobblers in your rental without requiring changes your landlord might balk at—and they’re super tips that can help homeowners conserve energy and cash as well.
Plug Into a Smarter Power Strip
Ever heard of “vampire electricity?” It’s created when plugged-in appliances continue to draw energy, even when they are not in use. (Phone chargers, we’re looking at you.) But other culprits include small kitchen appliances, TVs and computers. An easy solution, explains Jacob Bayer, CEO of Luminext, a consulting company that helps businesses lower their energy bills, is to use a power strip that you can switch off on your way out the door.
An even easier option is a “smart” power strip. Yep, these wise energy savers shut down power to products that are in standby mode, so you don’t even have to flip them off. They’re available in big-box and hardware stores and run $25 to $30 each.
Give Your Appliances a Tune Up
Be sure that all of your household machines are functioning properly, suggests Bayer, and if not, see about getting a repair person in. If your fridge door doesn’t seal properly, for example, you could be paying for all that cold air that’s leaking out.
Check your appliance settings to make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are at their optimal temperature—39 to 40 degrees for the fridge; 0 to 0.4 degrees for the freezer. And adjust your water heater to about 120 degrees to save on the cost of heating the water. “Lowering the temperature means that water costs less to heat, but don’t go below 120 degrees, as some bacteria can grow at lower temperatures,” advises Jay Best, founder and president of Green Audit USA.
Another easy fix is to avoid running your washer, dryer and dishwasher at peak times—typically noon to 7 p.m.—as some utility companies increase rates during prime time. If you set your appliances to run at night or early in the morning, you could potentially save a bundle.
Invest in a Wi-Fi Thermostat
If you have an adjustable thermostat, consider getting a Wi-Fi thermostat like Nest that adjusts to the weather as well as your habits, keeping your place at a comfy temperature automatically—without busting your budget. “Not only do they look cool, but you get a much greater degree of control over when your heating and cooling systems are kicking in,” Best says. Nest will set you back about $250, but think of it as an investment—and you can…