It's November, and homeowners across the country are getting out their caulk guns, inspecting their houses for drafts and spreading insulating material over their attic floors. As the weather gets colder, our thoughts turn to "winterizing" - that is, sealing out homes against the winter chill.
But if you rent your living space, you might feel a little useless. Renters don't have a whole lot of scope for DIY projects. However, there’s still a lot you can do to winterize your living space, making the cold months more comfortable and lightening your impact on the planet and your wallet.
Why rent to winterize
For homeowners, winterizing makes a lot of sense. Through simple maintenance tasks, you can can improve your property's ability to keep cold air out and warm air in. A more energy-efficient home requires less energy to heat and cool, resulting in lower heating bills, reduced dependency on fossil fuels and reduced air pollution from power plants. Improving a home's insulation and plugging its leaks will also lower air conditioning bills come summertime.
Renters, on the other hand, can only take small steps to winterize a property and may not reap all the money-saving benefits. Landlords take responsibility for keeping a building safe, livable and structurally sound; this includes taking care of renovations and maintenance.
In many cases, landlords also pick up the tab for the utility bill and control the building's temperature. When utilities are included, it's the landlord, not the renter, who enjoys the benefit of reduced energy bills - a fact that often dissuades renters from winterizing all together.
However, if you're a renter eager to do a good deed for the planet and snuggle down for winter in a draft-free space, you still have options. In the short term, you can focus on small projects, and in the long term, you can talk to your landlord about building upgrades and think about seeking out a “green” property when you move.
Start with plugging leaks
According to Energy Star, sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent. Target flimsy windows that don’t close all the way, gaps underneath doors and any other cracks that allow cold air to get inside. You can install foam or adhesive weather strips around openings that don’t close well, use a caulk gun to seal cracks and slip a door sweep (also known as a “draft snake”) under doors.
Consider investing in an at-home window insulation kit, available at your local hardware store. Such kits allow you to cover windows with clear, plastic layers that you can remove when you move out. One surprising insulation trick? Installing curtains. Attractive drapes will both brighten your space and add a warm layer between you and the dreary weather outside.
Prevent electrical outlets from oozing
After dealing with obvious leaks, turn your attention to air conditioning units and electrical outlets. Both can let a surprising amount of cold air in. You can buy covers for both internal and external air conditioning units, and stock up on little foam outlet gaskets to keep electrical outlets sealed. You can remove the covers whenever you like and take them with you when you move out.
Replacing HVAC filters may not sound like a big project, but it's key to keeping heating costs under control.
"You definitely want to do projects to seal up the home, but you should also make sure that your HVAC system is running efficiently," says Jennifer King, senior public relations manager at the Home Depot. "Even if you're renting a home, you need to change your air filter at least every three months."
Changing filters, King points out, will also improve indoor air quality. Clogged filters both reduce the efficiency of an HVAC system and allow microscopic allergens to circulate through your living space - a bad deal for renters and homeowners alike.
Try easy heating fixes
Smart heating strategies can help cut your rental property's energy needs. If you can lower your thermostat, do it. Keep your space warm, not tropical. Use space heaters in key areas, and snuggle down at night under thick comforters. Move furniture away from radiators to make sure heat sources aren’t blocked. Finally, if you think ceiling fans are just for cooling, think again. If you run fans in reverse, they’ll push warm air downward, to where you can enjoy it.
For bigger changes, like insulation upgrades, double-glazed windows or programmable thermostats, renters should lobby their landlords. And the benefits are an easy sale. By winterizing the property, a landlord will reap utility savings for years to come. Point out that “green” has become big business, and by making eco-friendly changes your landlord may be able to attract more tenants, or tenants willing to pay extra for the benefits of energy-efficient living.
Another added incentive is that landlords may also be able to take advantage of federal and state tax incentives; many reward businesses for improving in their building’s energy efficiency.