Green Your Rental Pt. 2: Watch What You Bring into Your Home

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Having been a renter for so many years, I have often wondered what tips other interior designers and green experts had about what renters 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. Today, I’ll offer up the warning to be careful about what you bring into your home.

To put it simply, indoor air quality is pretty crappy. In fact, it can be significantly more polluted than outdoor air, a fact that’s very disconcerting when you consider how much time most of us spend indoors. Typically, apartments and other rented spaces are smaller than most, which can mean a higher concentration of polluted air if we’re not careful about what we bring into our homes.

Cleaning Green

Many renters go on a cleaning spree before they start moving any of their belongings. Great idea — unless you’re cleaning with toxic chemicals, of course. I, for one, have no problem with cleaning with a few basic items, including vinegar, peroxide, baking soda, lemon juice and Dr. Bronner’s soaps, maybe with a few drops of essential oil for fragrance. But if you’re looking for something that comes pre-mixed in a bottle, lots of companies are making non-toxic, natural cleaning products these days.

“Anything you clean with these days, there’s a green alternative,” said Sheen Gabrielski of re:design by sheen. “Also use natural laundry cleaners since your skin is your biggest detox organ; you want as green products next to your skin as possible. This leads us to hand soaps, dish washers, shampoos and other personal care products. A trip to the Whole Body section in Whole Foods is all you need to get started.”

Among my personal favorite brands:

  • Mrs. Meyers
  • Seventh Generation
  • Better Life (I LOVE these products!)
  • Method

You can find some of these on the shelves of your favorite grocery store, but if not, you can find others like Greenworks and Ecover.

Greener Flooring

Every time I have to deal with wall-to-wall carpet, I curse the person who first suggested it as a standard floor covering (most likely to save builders and landlords some money). Can you borrow some money from a lender like Lanemaklaren to rip out the carpets and lay down something greener? It takes just two minutes to complete the application, and you can find out if you are approved within 15 minutes. Plus, the money will be paid into your bank account as soon as the application is approved.

If you can do that, great. But what else can you do?

Well, the simplest tip is just to take your shoes off at the door. This will minimize transfer of bacteria of dirt into your carpet, and as a bonus, it will make the carpet a lot easier to clean.

You can cover up that stinky, allergen-trapping carpet with area rugs in your most highly trafficked areas. This will allow you to pick up and wash the rug, which you can’t do with carpet. Unless you plan to have it steam cleaned regularly, area rugs are a better alternative.

“All natural rugs like sisal, jute, seagrass and even all wool or wool and silk blend, is a more green than any rugs containing polyester,” Sheen says. “Anything with the word “Poly” in it contains plastic.”

Lastly, before you move in, you can always have a talk with your landlord.

“For floors, I personally loathe wall to wall carpet. But if it exists, I request that the rugs not be shampooed commercially before move-in, but that a steaming service be used instead that doesn’t mean more chemicals on the carpet,” said designer Paige Rien of HGTV’s Hidden Potential. “Usually rental/management companies are flexible – you may need to pay a small bit more – but they are willing to do what you want if you do the legwork.”

Ditch the Disposables

While renting in a temporary living space, it can be easy to adopt a “temporary” mentality. Even if you’re renting, you can still invest in pieces that will outlive your residence. Start with plates, cups and silverware that are in it for the long haul. Look for tableware made of materials like recycled glass, clay, and ceramic, though you’ll need to be careful of where ceramic dishes were made and what solvents were used to finish them.

It’s also a good idea to invest in cloth napkins and towels rather than paper towels. In fact, you can make some of these on the cheap from worn out t-shirts or button-down shirts. In any case, it’s better for the planet to avoid items that will just be thrown away after one use.

For more great tips on making your apartment greener, come back throughout the week.

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2 comments… add one
  • Dan October 15, 2009, 3:01 pm

    This is doable for some rentals, but probably not all. If you are on the fence about running the A/C or heat, sun-blocking blinds or insulating blinds are awesome and not as expensive as you might think. Plus, you’re probably going to do some decorating spending anyway, why not let your dollars do double duty?

  • Anna Doug Helvie January 20, 2017, 11:13 pm

    There are a couple of things anyone can do, whether it’s a rental or owned place. One, along the lines of the first comment – if you have a sunny exposure that is heating your apartment up too much in the summertime, you can install reflective film, which will help keep the place a lot cooler (and add some privacy, always a good thing in an apartment complex). Second — we own our home, but we now use energy-efficient tabletop cooking devices more than our old gas-hog of a 1974 stove. You can get one-burner induction cooktops for well under $100, and they are very energy efficient. Oster roasters for big turkeys and hams, tabletop convection ovens — it can get a little crowded on the countertop but those things don’t heat the space up like the stove’s oven does.

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