Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice

Help Renters To Access Green Energy Resources

This is about identifying barriers to green energy technologies in existing rental properties.

 

I am a renter for over 30 years. (It is not possible for me to own a home.) My income goes to pay for my landlord's property and taxes, but I have no control over how she chooses to spend her money on maintenance and improvements to her property which is my home. But I pay for the energy bill for my flat.

 

I am doing what I can with the control I do have over my energy expenditures. I am enrolled in the Energy Star program where I live which directs my money toward green energy technology at the WE Energy Company. This is my largest bill/expense after food. I want to use my own money toward buying things that would make my home more energy efficient because no matter how much I invest in green energy at the corporate level, but I am still wasting a lot of energy living in an older home with poor insulation in the attic.

 

Every landlord I have had seems to dislike when I bring up energy-saving and green ideas, even when I offer to PAY FOR THEM MYSELF. Like a low-flush toilet, or a no storage water heater. Sometimes I did it anyway, without their permission, like insulating an old water heater and the naked hot water pipes in the basement. But I was reprimanded and told not to do that again because it was their property!! I have told them about available programs for landlords to get back some money if they choose to upgrade to greener technologies, like a high-efficiency furnace or water heater, but more than once was told that the paperwork or some other requirement made them reluctant to do so. I think it is uncertain for them to pay for something up front that is expensive, and not be entirely certain they will get a reimbursement amount.

 

This leaves me with no control over how my largest energy expense is used, and I have no way to reduce it. The suggestions I have tried, such as caulking, plastic over windows, low-flow shower heads, and such, are a minimal help compared to what the landlord and I could do if we were to invest some of our money into better insulation, for instance. My landlords are elderly and live on a fixed income. They also live as they used to when energy was cheap and its hard to get people over 80 to think about big investments in anything because long-term doesn't exist for them.

 

* If there was an up-front decrease in the amount spent when the water heater or furnace is replaced that might make the difference for many landlords like mine.

 

Also, if there was a greater incentive to insulate attics very thoroughly it might make it worthwhile for them to consider it. However, they are considering selling the house, and a well-insulated attic is not visible enough to young buyers as a selling point. So what is the landlord's incentive to do it if they don't plan on ever living there and paying the energy bill themselves?

 

This is the kind of thing that is like building good infrastructure for our country. It would be perfect to create a nationwide program where jobs are created to go into older rental properties where the landlords are also older and really insulate and maybe even do energy-efficient windows and doors. This could save tons more money than giving away flourecent light bulbs like our current energy program does. I replaced lots of light bulbs, but it hardly makes a dent in my large energy bill, because my biggest usage is heat and hot water.

 

Furthermore, I am excited to see solar energy technology improving to the point where it is becoming affordable for homeowners. However, I can't see convincing my elderly landlords to invest in something so new and "gee-whiz" to them, even if I shared the cost.

 

I would love to try it out and use all that wasted roof space on top of my house to power my computer and refrigerator.

 

This would be another type of thing where if a team came in and assessed the home for a solar array and helped with choosing it, installing it and making it really affordable maybe some forward-thinking landlords might go along with it, as long as it was low-maintenance or had maintenance included.

 

However, I think most landlords would say why bother if I don't pay the energy bills anyway? So maybe doing one home on each block in a targeted neighborhood would get people talking about it, and neighbors could share information about how it works, the energy savings, and how it is maintained and how it looks. Then maybe tenants would be asking for it, since it isn't an un-heard of thing for renters to have anymore. In poor neighborhoods, many times improvments to homes are wasted as disgruntled tenants leave and damage or steal them. I know a landlord who owns 200 properties in the inner city, and he has had many water heaters stolen when properties were vacant even for a short time. He tells me he hates government programs because there are often a lot of "strings attached" to them. Which to me means he probably doesn't pull all the permits because he has to renovate very quickly so the properties are not vacant even for a few days. And so in his case, the discounts would have to be up-front at time of purchase or he wouldn't do them. For a roof-top solar panel, these would be more difficult to remove and steal so maybe a solar panel would be worth doing since it would be safer. And an insulated attic is never "stolen."

 

I think that most of the people who are discussing environmental issues are highly educated people who probably own their homes and have more control over how their money is spent even if they choose to rent or live in a condominium. I think that they forget that there are millions of renters out there who might love to try new ways to save energy, because they would notice a decrease in their energy bill more than the average person, because every dime counts when money is tight. If they could afford the green technology, then they could afford to own a home, too. So this is an area where some outside force must step in to get the process going and keep it going. As new science is discovered to reduce energy consumption it needs to be subsidized like the oil industry was and still is, to get it in use and get people used to using it, asking for it and maintaining it. There is always a learning curve for users of new technology and this is why it needs extra help at first. We have a huge bank of older homes in most large cities that are part of our aging infrastructure. Why can't we invest in improving it just like we invest in improving our roads and bridges? These homes are often on small city lots that are more efficient than suburban sprawl. We need to give them the leverage to upgrade.

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Idea No. 150