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5 ways to lower your energy costs and carbon emissions as a renter

A porch of a home on a sunny day, with a dog and birthday balloons.
Abagael Giles
/
Vermont Public
In Burlington, Vermont's Old North End, most of the homes are rental units — and many were built in the 1800s or early 1900s.

In New England, homes and buildings are the second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and one of the most challenging places to cut emissions from buildings is in rental properties.

In Vermont, rentals account for about a quarter of the housing units and it’s common for renters to pay their own energy bills.

Here are five tips for landlords and renters about ways to save on your energy costs and reduce emissions.

An illustrated Earth is wrapped in a ribbon that reads Earth Day 2024 above a logo for the New England News Collaborative
Sara Plourde / NENC
For our 2024 Earth Day series, the New England News Collaborative stations focused on climate change and housing in the region.

  1. Reach out to your state’s Weatherization Assistance Program

Getting the entire building weatherized – also called “whole building weatherization” – is probably the best way to make the biggest dent in lowering your heating costs.

In Vermont, any rental building for which 25% of the tenants are income-qualifying is eligible to be weatherized for free (with landlord permission).

Nationwide, the Department of Energy estimates that this saves the average household almost $400 per year in energy costs. That figure is likely higher in New England, where most people heat with price-volatile fossil fuels like fuel oil and propane and we have a long heating season.

And even better – according to Capstone Community Action, which does this work in central Vermont – in most cases, tenants don’t have to relocate while their unit is weatherized. That’s a big win in a tight housing market.

  1. Start a conversation with your landlord — if you feel comfortable doing so

Depending on your relationship, this can be tough. The electrification nonprofit Rewiring America has a great template you can use to start the conversation. You can find that here.

And if you have an appliance that needs to be replaced – a refrigerator, stove, boiler or furnace – that can be a great opportunity to ask your landlord to consider a more efficient option.. There are rebates that make some of those appliances cost competitive with their fossil fuel or less efficient counterparts.

  1. Start with the small stuff. It adds up!

Here are some recommendations from Efficiency Vermont, and Efficiency Maine. In your state, you could qualify for free LED light bulbs or more efficient shower heads. In some states, renters are also eligible for DIY rebates to do small projects in your space yourself.

  1. If your building does not qualify for free weatherization, reach out to a local chapter of Window Dressers — or explore on-bill financing through your utility

The Maine-based nonprofit teaches community members how to build window inserts that slide directly into a window frame and don’t require any screws to install – making them easy for landlords to sign off on.

In Vermont, local chapters are often able to help renters get inserts for free. You can find out about community builds in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine here.

In Vermont, several utilities are experimenting with a policy called “on-bill financing”that allows customers who are renters with very high electric bills but who make too much to qualify for free weatherization, to finance the project over the long term through their utility, via payments on their gas or electric bill.

This sort of arrangement works best for renters whose monthly energy bills are so high that their monthly savings from weatherization outweigh the added payments on their monthly bill. If renters move out, the “tariff” agreement stays with the property, until the upgrades are paid off.

  1. Use Rewiring America’s incentive calculator to find out what rebates you qualify for and who offers them. Contact your local efficiency utility

In this moment of unprecedented federal funding for home electrification and weatherization, it can be hard to know where to look for incentives — and easy to assume they’re not for renters.

But landlords and renters can access incentive programs — and as state energy offices continue to design programs to roll out IRA funding in this space, expect more incentives for low- and moderate- income households to come online this year.

Depending on where you live, Rewiring America has a great incentive calculator to help you figure out based on your income, your utility, your zip code and whether you’re a renter or homeowner what state, federal and utility-scale incentives you qualify for.

From there, a local efficiency utility can help you make a plan – to layer incentives strategically and find out how much you qualify for.

Find other stories about climate change and housing from the NENC's 2024 Earth Day series.

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Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.

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