How to Find an Energy-Efficient Apartment

An energy-efficient apartment can save you a lot of money on monthly costs. We share a few ways to find an energy-efficient place:

  • Look for ENERGY STAR appliances 
  • Look at the apartment’s history
  • Ask the right questions 

No matter how exciting it can be to move into a new apartment, it’s always a stressful balancing act. Shelling out for moving costs and juggling deposits makes moving expensive, and there always seems to be one more thing to take care of, whether it’s transferring a utility or forwarding your mailing address. So it’s easy to see how the energy efficiency of your new apartment can get lost in the mix.

But that can be a costly mistake, especially if there are serious energy efficiency problems with an apartment you’re considering. Most apartment leases last for at least a year, which can lock you into an expensive commitment if your new apartment has poor insulation, inefficient appliances and a lease agreement that heaps the cost of those inefficiencies on the tenant. Read our guide to help you choose a place that can help you save on your electric bills:

How to Find an Energy-Efficient Apartment | The Light Lab

1. Look for the ENERGY STAR Appliances

If you’re apartment hunting in a hurry and need a shorthand for the energy efficiency of units in your area, just look for the ENERGY STAR — the same seal of approval you see on the most energy-efficient appliances. The federal ENERGY STAR program also certifies multifamily apartments and condos that are verified to be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than comparable buildings constructed with standard building practices.

There are some drawbacks to this approach, however. If you’re looking to rent a single-family home or an apartment in a smaller building, it’s unlikely that you’ll find one with ENERGY STAR certification. That doesn’t mean those apartments aren’t energy efficient, but most of the units that qualify for ENERGY STAR’s certification are larger, newer developments that are built to the program’s specifications.

2. Check the Utility Bill History

Many landlords understand that energy efficiency is a selling point for prospective tenants, so if there’s an energy-efficient apartment on the market, chances are good that the landlord will mention it in the ad. Scour your local apartment ads carefully for these claims, but don’t take them at face value — be prepared to ask questions and verify the property owner’s claims if you tour the apartment.

It’s common for renters to ask about the average monthly costs for electricity, gas, water and other utilities if those costs are to be covered by the tenant. Landlords who are showing properties may be prepared to answer these questions, but if they aren’t, it doesn’t hurt to ask them to check with the current or former tenants. Your energy use and electricity rate might not be the same as the previous occupants, but if an apartment has a serious energy efficiency problem, it should be apparent in the last tenant’s utility bills.

How to Find an Energy-Efficient Apartment | The Light Lab

3. Ask Energy-Efficiency Questions

If you think you have a good lead on an energy-efficient apartment, there are other smart questions you should ask to make sure the reality matches the expectations:

  • What are the manufacturers and model numbers of the major appliances in the apartment? Refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, laundry machines, HVAC systems and other large appliances are required to participate in the federal Energy Guide program, which means you should be able to find reliable energy efficiency information anywhere those models are sold. If you find the same appliance for sale online, look for the yellow and black label to get an idea of what it will cost you each month.
  • How well is the apartment insulated? All insulation has an “R-value” that offers a benchmark for how well the space can retain your heated or air conditioned air. Windows are also rated for energy efficiency. Request as much information as is available about these elements, because they’re what stand between you and sky-high heating and cooling bills.
  • Who pays for the utilities? Some landlords factor the cost of energy, water, garbage collection and other monthly bills into the rent. If your primary motivation in seeking an energy efficient apartment is to control your monthly expenses, this arrangement might solve your problem. But if you’re more concerned about the environmental impact of your energy use, you’ll still need to verify that the apartment has energy efficient features.
  • Is the apartment equipped with LED lighting? Upgrading from incandescent or CFL light bulbs to LED bulbs can save a lot on energy, but it could cost a pretty penny to buy an entire apartment’s worth of LED bulbs all at once.
  • What is the policy on repairs and upgrades? Some landlords may fix the air conditioner if it stops working altogether, but may not give it an annual efficiency tune-up. Look for landlords who consider efficiency maintenance to be standard maintenance.

Finding an energy efficient apartment can be tricky, and verifying landlords’ claims about energy efficiency can be even trickier. But if you’re diligent, detail-focused and unafraid to ask questions, you just might find the green, cost-effective apartment of your dreams.

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Josh Crank is a freelance writer with a background in legal journalism, travel writing and marketing. He's found his perfect fit in writing about home maintenance and repairs, energy efficiency, smart home technology and other topics to help readers make home life green and comfortable. Josh lives with his wife, two sons and endlessly howling beagle-basset hound mix in New Orleans.