Green Your Rental Pt. 1: Start with Changes You Can Make

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Photo by BastArd StarFiSh

My husband and I have long dreamed of being homeowners with the means to renovate or modify our home to make it as green as possible. Alas, life had other plans for us, and we’re living in a rented home, at least for now. This comes with a bevy of limitations in terms of what we can do to make our living space greener. It is essentially limited to non-permanent changes, so solar panels and skylights aren’t installations we’re likely to make during our time here.

I wondered what tips other interior designers and green experts had about what apartment dwellers can do to make their homes as eco-friendly as possible without ticking off their landlords. This week, I’ll be offering up some of the best suggestions. I’ll begin with some small changes that you can make, whether you’re renting or not.


One of the easiest changes to make when you get the keys for your rental is to slap a couple of coats of low or no-VOC paint on the walls. It is a great way to personalize our space and make it feel like home, but there’s another good reason to paint with eco-friendlier options.

“The walls are like the skin in our bodies — the largest surface area in the space — and thus paint has the largest influence on air quality,” said designer Paige Rien of HGTV’s Hidden Potential (and an apartment dweller herself). “Sealing chipping or peeling paint with a new coat of paint is essential to limiting exposure to lead in old paint for older apartments.” Check out the paint category for several options that contain zero or low levels of VOCs.

My landlord, like many others, will require tenants to return the apartment to its original color, or prime the walls at the very least. Paige doesn’t see that as an issue. “My suggestion is to make the apartment the way that will make you feel like it’s yours — even if you have to paint it again in a year or even less.” Paige has her own design consultancy outside of New York and specializes in green design for families.

Energy Efficiency

While you theoretically could replace the appliances in your apartment with more energy efficient options or have a programmable thermostat installed, not many of us are likely make those kinds of changes in a living space that is, presumably, temporary. So other than the obvious — installing CFLs or LED bulbs in every light fixture — what can you do to make your rental more energy efficient? I mean, short of borrowing the money to finance our home renovation dreams.

But if you’re looking for other ways to be more sustainable at home, first, there’s the obvious, but essential, fact that apartment living is inherently greener.

“Living in apartments is a lot more ‘green’ than in a single family home,” said Sheen Gabrielski of re:design by sheen. “You share utilities, which is much more efficient than if you lived in a house. You also have a much smaller square footage to live in, which also results in using less energy to heat and cool the place.”

But what else can you do?

“If you’re fortunate enough to have lighting fixtures installed in your apartments’ ceilings, you can replace the light fixtures with ceiling fans, provided you don’t have extremely low ceiling heights,” Paige suggests. “Typically a super will do this for you — especially if you agree to leave the fan in the apartment for the next tenant — and ceiling fans can be purchased for as little as $40 at Home Depot.”

While you’re at it, get an Energy Star-certified fan. To maximize its energy efficiency, use it instead of your central air on mild or warm days. And to further help you control the temperature inside your rental, don’t overlook the power of window treatments. While natural materials like organic cotton, bamboo and even hemp or linen are the best options, any window treatments are better than the flimsy blinds that are likely present on your windows. They will help to insulate your home from the elements at the points that are generally the biggest energy sieves.

Kristen Banker of Modern Eco Homes also suggests using strip-caulking and weather stripping to help stop air leaks from messing with your temperature.

For more great tips on making your apartment greener, come back throughout the week or visit our sister blog at

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