Making Apartment Living a Little Greener

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In a little more than a month, my family and I will be moving — again — to another apartment. This time, we’re moving because of issues with the quality of our current apartment and for the sake of our daughter’s health. But it’s going to be hard walking away from all the changes we’ve made in this apartment to make it greener. We’d also like to make a lot of these changes, and more, in our new apartment.

So here are some tips for how to maintain an eco-friendly apartment:

Paint

My husband has insisted that we’re not painting our new apartment, but he’s also said I can paint if I want to do it alone. And with a whole new space to decorate, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to resist the urge to put a couple of coats of zero-VOC paint on the walls. Part of my motivation is to personalize our rental and make it feel more like home, but I also want to cover up the existing paint, which likely won’t be environmentally friendly. However, since most landlords will paint a rental before a new tenant moves in, we will request that they use low- or zero-VOC paint — even if we have to spend a little extra money to get them to do that.

Energy efficiency

As a renter, I guess you could replace the appliances in your apartment with more energy efficient options or have a programmable thermostat installed, but how many of us are likely to make those kinds of changes in a temporary living space? 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? Some ideas:

  • If you have access to it in your unit, wrap your water heater with an insulating blanket.
  • Use smart power strips that shut off when you turn off a “control” device. For example, plug your DVD player, cable box, video game consoles into the power strip, and plug your TV into the control outlet. Then, when you turn off your TV, the peripherals will shut off as well.
  • Don’t underestimate 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.

Clean Greener

Planning to embark on a cleaning spree before you move in? We do. And it’s a great idea — unless you’re cleaning with toxic chemicals, of course. I love cleaning with a few basic items, including vinegar, peroxide, baking soda, lemon juice and Dr. Bronner’s pure castile 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.

Among my personal favorite brands:

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

Floor covering

Every time I have to deal with wall-to-wall carpet, I curse the person who first suggested it as a standard floor covering. Alas, nearly every rental we’ve ever lived in has featured wall-to-wall carpet in every room except the kitchen and bathrooms. So what can you do?

Well, the simplest tip is to take your shoes off at the door. You can set up a simple shelf where guests and residents can take off their shoes so they won’t create a mess at the front door. Plus, 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. And 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.

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.

Get Your Recycle On

Unless you’re renting a house, chances are you don’t have access to curbside recycling. The recycling program where we live is actually pretty robust, but as apartment dwellers, there’s no curb on which to leave our paper and plastic. But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on recycling. It just means we have to be a little creative. Many communities have recycling centers or public access bins where you can drop off common recyclables like paper, #1 and #2 plastics, glass and metal. Visit websites like Earth911 to find out about recycling in your area, then do it.

Even in a space-challenged rental, it’s not difficult to find room for a recycling bin or two. We use two collapsible recycling bags (also made of recycled materials) for our paper, as well as an old unused plastic bin. They’re tucked away in a corner behind the dining table where they’re easy to access, but not in the way. It’s also pretty convenient that we can’t see them from anywhere else in the apartment. It’s not the ideal solution, but it works, and we’re not throwing away perfectly good recyclable materials.

Set Up a Compost System

Composting isn’t out of the question just because you rent. It may be impossible to set up an outdoor compost pile, but lots of companies these days are making bins that allow odor-free indoor composting, with or without the use of worms. And if you have a deck or other outdoor space, you still can get a small outdoor bin. Either way, you’ll be putting your food scraps to good use and turning them back into fertile soil that you can use to keep your potted herbs or houseplants happy and healthy.

Those are just some of my favorite ideas. There are many, many ways to make your space as green as can be. Renters, what tips do you have for making your space more environmentally friendly? Please, share your tips in the comments below. Our collective wisdom will change the world!

This post is sponsored by Carlsbad Apartments.

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4 comments… add one

  • Celine May 15, 2011, 9:12 pm

    It’s definitely tougher to be “green” in an apartment when there are so many restrictions. We couldn’t even paint the walls and they definitely used the cheapest flat paint possible.

    We also changed over the light bulbs and saved the old ones in a box so we can take ours with us when we move.

    Had the maintenance company install weather strips around the doors.

    Made fabric covers to put over the wall exhaust fan in the kitchen on cold, hot or windy days. Most especially hot days when running the A/C which we paid for. (Heat was included as part of the rent).
    ly
    Multi-layer curtains were also great along with additional heavy tight woven fabric placed over the window on really hot days. We also did several camp in the living room nights to cut down on having to run the a/c to cool off the bedrooms.

    Invest in fans to move air around the apt to warm up or cool down rooms as needed.

    Place door mats at both doors for wiping feet.

  • Samantha Sophia May 17, 2011, 10:49 am

    Thanks for this post, I do foresee my husband and I buying anytime soon and we really want to be green in our affordable and flexible apartment style living. I will definitely be bookmarking this for future reference!
    Samantha Sophia recently posted { Discipline- Guilt- Depression and Motherhood }

  • Katie Lee May 17, 2011, 2:43 pm

    I’m totally diggin’ your site! I’m all about finding eco-friendly ways of living, so I appreciate the post I’ve read so far. Funny enough, I moved back home + will be painting my room soon (I hope). I’m kicking VOC’s butt outta here!

    I look forward to more post from you!

    gloves + kisses,
    Katie Lee

  • Akemi S. May 17, 2011, 10:42 pm

    all great ideas! which reminds me … i need to start sewing those cloth napkins! good luck with the move!
    Akemi S. recently posted { How to Clean Terra-Cotta Plant Pots }

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