5 Ways Apartment Living *Can* Be Energy Efficient

March 31, 2011

Projects, Technologies

I don’t often write about residential energy efficiency (except for here). This is not because it’s unimportant. It’s because I hate residential energy efficiency. Well, I hate talking about it. Everyone complains about their energy bills wants to know what they can do to save energy and when I tell them, I often hear “But I already do that” (which typically means ‘oh i never thought of that’) or “That is just way too much work/money to save a few bucks.” The bottom line is that the average residential energy efficiency inquiry just turns into a bunch of whining and complaining. So, again, I hate talking about it.

But I imagine there may be a few readers curious about it. So I’ll share today what I’ll be doing in my new apartment (as soon as I get myself unpacked) to cut down on energy consumption. These are geared for apartment dwellers but should still apply to many house-livers.

1. Turn down the water heater: I turned on the hot water in the shower for the first time and went to grab my towels out of a box. About 45 seconds later, the water was so hot I yelped when I put my hand in to test it. I cranked the cold water faucet and jumped in when the temperature felt right. The bottom of the ceramic tub was so hot from the scolding water that my feet burned. Seriously! So, I called the management company today and asked how far my apartment is from the water heater. It turns out, it’s on the far side of the building. The closer an apartment is to a central water heater, the hotter the water is… being far away, it indicates it’s not just the proximity to the equipment that is scolding my feet. What does this mean? The water heater is turned up WAY too high. Most residential potable water heaters can be turned down as low as 125 degrees to keep water hot while preventing bacteria. Most water heaters are at 140 degrees or above. Test your water heater by how much you have to crank the cold water faucet to reach a reasonable temp. If you’re using a lot of cold water, your water heater is likely turned up too high. Tell your landlord about it if they control the water heater. If you control it, turn it down in 5 degree increments until you find a happy place that doesn’t require that cold water faucet to shower.

2. Change out all the lights to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs are the cheapest way to cut electric costs right off the bat. I changed all the 60-watt incandescent light bulbs to 13-watt CFLs.  On average, you can save over $4/year per CFL. Doesn’t sound like much… but every penny counts. And if you’re rich enough where pennies don’t count: a) I hate you and b) every dirty kilowatt-hour saved counts.

3. Use an unit air-conditioner (aka window shaker) that is EnergyStar rated. I used this at my last apartment so I know for a fact that it only cost me about $12/month during the sweltering months of July and August. And it kept me nice and cool at night so I could sleep. When I’m not sleeping? I use the ceiling fan in the bedroom or the stand-up fan in my living room. Those run me about $6/month.

4. Turn down the heat to 60 degrees. First of all, this makes me totally sad. My last apartment had steam radiator heat and I never once had to crack open the valve. That’s right… I lived through a Michigan winter without turning on the heat. Primarily because my building was uber old and the steam system had so many leaks that my apartment stayed above 70 degrees without the heat on anyway – just from rising through the walls and floors from the basement. So now, my new apartment has electric baseboard heat… no waste heat for me here. 😦 So I have my thermostat turned down to 60. That may seem low but I don’t care. Stop whining and put on a sweatshirt, wimp. This is cold hard cash we’re talking about here.

5. I installed a programmable thermostat. Not really, I lied. I would but I always keep my heat low – because I’m not a wimp. But if you have to a woosy, be a smart one. Install a programmable thermostat to kick in the heat 30 minutes before you leave for work and kick off 30 minutes after you go to bed. These t-stats (my fun nickname for thermostats) allow you program in 4 benchmark times in a day so you can have heat when you need it and keep it cool when you don’t. In order to see significant savings, you’ve got to have the low temp at least 5 degrees lower than your high temp. For the least wussy of the wimps, an 8 degree delta works well.

So, this is it for now. It’s certainly not a complete list but I really like lists of five – maybe more later, maybe not. I’ve got to get the rest of my goodies unpacked and arranged all pretty-like.

While I’m sassifying my new digs, what do you do to save energy around your digs?

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2 Comments on “5 Ways Apartment Living *Can* Be Energy Efficient”

  1. Mark W. Says:

    I use a 2.5 gallon/minute water flow shower head which is pretty much standard nowadays. I also installed a variable flow control valve near the shower head which allows me to control water usage and turn off the water while I’m shampooing and soaping up. So I’m using less hot water. I also insulated my water pipes in the basement.
    I have an old dehumidifier in the basement which is about 10 years old. I got it second hand at a very good price and it works good. However, I learned it was on recall due to it possibly being a fire hazard. I called the manufacturer and they told me they are no longer rewiring the units to make them safe. They are being really nice, though, since they’re sending a person out to retrieve the old unit and giving me a big enough check to buy a new energy efficient unit. So now I’ve got to do my homework on this new purchase since my investigations to date have uncovered many unhappy people whose units have only lasted for about a year.
    Here’s a question I have on residential energy savings/efficiency that has been discussed for many years but hasn’t yet been implemented for most customers. Why don’t residential customers have “smart” meters that are able to document energy usage based on time of day so that customers would be able to schedule their higher energy demand appliances during off-peak hours and get a price break on their energy bill? I haven’t heard or read about it in a long time.


  2. Madam Energy Says:

    Mark – I love low-flow shower heads! I have one and a couple low-flow faucet aerators. Pipe insulation is just such a good idea – so cheap. I’m glad to hear the manufacturer is giving you a check to get a nice new efficient dehumidifier. I hope they recycle the old one. 🙂 I have a list of dehumidifier models at work that have had rave reviews from my customers… I’ll snag it next week and let you know the make/models. The utility company I work for provides a $15 rebate if you buy an EnergyStar model… yours might too as many utilities across the country have similar programs.

    Smart metering is getting a lot of hype in the industry publications I follow so it should be coming soon to larger utilities. There are a lot of inherent problems that utilities are encountering while establishing the infrastructure though – mainly IT security at moment but also data management. If you’re interested in following the buzz on smart grid technology, http://www.intelligentutility.com/ is a great resource. While my company does not deal with smart grid tech directly, our executive team follows that site religiously. I’ve found it really interesting. You can subscribe via email for their weekly newsletter, too.


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