The Renter’s Energy Dilemma

By Dustin Talley

As a heating and air installer by trade, I go to a lot of condos/apartments/rental houses. With the ever increasing price of electricity and heating fuel, I inevitably have “The Energy Talk” a lot. It can get tricky talking to others about energy usage and savings, because some people just want to save a few dollars on their heating and cooling bills while others are adamantly against the energy companies and what they stand for.

One thing that all of these people have in common is the fact that they are simply renting so when it comes to putting in a new heat pump or the desire to add solar panels or wind generators, they feel that they have no flexibility and are essentially stuck in their current situation.

My family and I are also stuck in the same situation, but have made some changes that add up to a large difference and perhaps if you are a renter that yearns to get off of the grid (or at least a little less dependent on it) then maybe some of what we have done can help:

• Kerosene Heating- This is really only for those (like us) who are tired of outrageous electricity bills caused by a heat pump that is substandard and relies far too much on strip or “emergency heat” which causes your electric meter to spin like a record. After too many winters of electric bills that made us want to cry we decided that instead of making the energy company rich we would kick a few dollars to Big Oil (not that they are much better). This really didn’t save us very much in terms of money, but it did two things: a) gave us the ability to only heat certain zones that we were actually using and b) gave us the peace of mind that if there was a power outage or we just decided to tell the electric company where they can stick their ever-rising rates that we would still have heat. Now the kerosene heater is no picnic. I have to go fill the jugs up about once every other week and then I have to fill the heater up which leaves me smelling like a gas station, but still it’s worth it to us. We will be moving to wood heat eventually, but not yet. Remember we are renting.

• Temporary Solar Panels- Knowing that we couldn’t put panels on our roof and knowing that we couldn’t tie into the grid (because that would involve the landlord and we were not willing to risk it, besides we are breaking up with the grid, remember?) we simply got two (2) 100 watt panels and made a rack which we mounted to our back deck and put a small battery bank with two deep cycle batteries beside it. Because we are renting we also have a tree issue so while the deck does a fine job in the winter, we barely get any sun in the summer and have begun taking steps to combat this problem such as mounting a few small panels to the top of our car with a charge controller and deep cycle battery charging throughout the day. This may sound extreme to some, but to us it seems like a necessary sacrifice.

• On Demand Water Heater-One of the ways in which we were using the most electricity was in our hot water heating. We have an electric hot water heater that is about a hundred years old and even though I had turned the temperature down on it and wrapped it in a blanked it was still an energy hungry appliance and made us that much more reliant on the grid. As a result we bought an eccotemp L5 tankless lp water heater which we attached to the rain barrel on our back deck and ran through a 12v pump that runs off of our battery bank.
So running the rainwater through the pump into the water heater, which we mounted on the outside wall beside the bathroom window and run the shower hose through the window, when we want to take a shower we simply hook up our propane tank, turn it on and soon we are lathering up without breaking bad and relying on energy company (or the water company for that matter). Being able to get away with this setup takes a relatively laid back landlord, but I would always suggest that it’s at least worth a try.
• Propane Stove- If your landlord provides you with an electric stove you can always use propane stove. Using a standard propane tank or a Coleman 1 pound propane canister you can cook your meals and leave the electric company out of it. These units do put off carbon monoxide however so be sure to add some ventilation to the meal preperations.

Not all of these will work for all renters, but there are enough of us out there that can do some small thing and every small thing ends up bringing us one step closer to leaving the utility companies in the dark.

5 Responses

  1. Hi AnnieinKC, you’r $27 a month energy bill sounds awesome and I would gladly buy the book to see what you do. I am sure that you are aware that living in an apartment (where you are surrounded on many sides by conditioned space) is going to be lots different than living in a shipping container which is an oven in summer and a freezer in winter. It’s something to think about.

  2. My electric bill is only $27 month (actual, not estimated). In summer, it goes up to $60 mth. It’s my only utility bill. I live in Overland Park, KS in an 18 ft wide x 40 ft long 1-bdrm apt with vaulted ceilings, fireplace, courtyard & pool. I have triple sliding doors, dining room, woodburning fireplace, full-size dishwasher, gas stove, refrigerator & microwave — all the usual. I’m currently writing “Renters: How To Get A $27 Month Light Bill”, which I plan to advertise on You Tube and Amazon, once I’ve completed it. Readers will be greatly surprised and may want to do what I do. A friend of mine who owns a split level house called me last week (Feb 2012) regarding her $300 light bill and $200 gas bill for Jan 2012. That’s money she’ll never see again. She can’t deduct it off her taxes, or ever count it in her savings account. My light bill for the WHOLE YEAR runs $441 – $661, depending on how hot the summer was, so I can actually just pay it once a year with one paycheck. It’s easier to pay all your bills yearly, rather than monthly. I only make $35k year, net $26,604. Anyone can do this. Soon, I’ll be building me a shipping container home out of two 20′ containers and will have no rent or mortgage, as well. I’ll write about that, too, once I’ve completed it, so I can share how I did it simply out of my paycheck. Smiles, AnnieinKC

  3. Our electric stove broke down and was too expensive to fix. We found some countertop cook appliances at the goodwill store and to my surprise my kill-o-Watt meter showed they use less energy than the normal cook stove. An acquaintance who lives off-grid on a 750 watt solar panel system also found these counter top appliances can be powered by his system. Although it still uses electricity it is far less than the usual.

  4. My wife and I have found the on demand hot water heater to be great. We own one and have used it to set up an outside shower. Over the years we have used it while living completely off-grid, or even while renting a “regular” on grid house. Depending on the level of privacy of your home it can be as simple as a post with a shower head on it or as elaborate as a four sided wooden enclosure. Attach a small 20lb propane tank that you can pick up at any grocery store(the same size a grill uses). We even added an old cast iron bathtub that someone was discarding to our outdoor shower area, as well as a few candles and house plants and voila, an outdoor retreat. Amazing to lounge in the tub on a clear starlight night. This has worked well at several of our rentals over the years. You can usually find a tub as well as pleanty of used lumber for little or nothing on craigslist. From that point you are only limited by your imagination…..Enjoy!

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