Energy Efficiency for Renters

The cost of utility bills can make the difference between having an affordable apartment or not. Do not overlook this important part of your housing costs.

Choosing an Apartment

There are many conditions that affect your utility bills.

  • One important condition is the location of the unit in relation to the sun. Ideally an apartment facing north and south will use less electricity than a unit facing east and west because it will not be as affected by the intense afternoon sun.
  • Ask about the age of the air conditioner, furnace and appliances in the unit and if they are Energy Star rated. Newer appliances use less energy than older appliances, and Energy Star rated use less than most other models being sold.
  • A unit that has both gas and electric should have lower utility costs than the same apartment that is all electric.

To Lower Your Utility Costs

  • Initially set your thermostat at 78º in summer and 68º in winter and adjust the settings to meet your needs from there. A degree of thermostat setting can increase (or decrease) your bill by 3 to 5%.
  • Ask your landlord to replace dirty air filters and clean the refrigerator coils.
  • Replace standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, and turn lights off when they are not in use.
  • If you buy an appliance or room air conditioner, check the energy guide label. Take into account the long-term cost of operating it as well as the initial purchase price.
  • Use blinds and curtains to let the heat in when it’s cold and keep the heat out when it’s hot.

In Austin, the rental office is required by law to provide you with a report on energy use in the apartment complex. Before you write a check to process your rental application, be sure to review the information.

  • A Notice of High Energy Use means you will likely have very high electric bills. It would be wise to look for another apartment that is not high energy use.
  • The Energy Guide for Prospective Renters shows you how the utility bills for that apartment complex compare to the average for all apartments. Below average is better than above average.
  • A Notice of Exemption means the property is new and meets the energy code or has had major energy efficiency improvements. An exempt property should have lower than average electric bills and should be a good choice from an energy perspective.

Choosing an Electric Provider

Some Texans can choose an electric provider because they live in areas where electricity is deregulated. When shopping for an electric provider, find out how long the asking rate will be in effect. There are low promotional rates offered that change on your next meter reading date, which could be only one or two days from your contract date depending on the meter reading schedule. If you take a promotional rate, be sure you get a full month of benefit from the lower price.

Check all electricity terms of service agreements for hidden fees.

Think twice before taking a prepaid electric service plan. No matter how much you pay in advance, there is no guarantee that you will have electricity for the whole month. Any time your account runs out of money, even when you are waiting for a check, you will be disconnected with as little notice as 1 day. There is no limit on the number of times you can be disconnected.

New City of Austin Energy Audit Ordinance

As of June 1, 2011, the owners of all multi-family properties in Austin are obligated to complete an energy audit. Under the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) ordinance, the results of the energy audit must be displayed in a common area so current and prospective tenants have the opportunity to review what energy efficiency measures are needed or have already been installed in the apartment buildings.

Example Energy Audit Report
Energy Efficiency Measures Evaluated Austin Energy Recommends Audit Results (Averaged)
“Average” values are calculated from results obtained from multiple buildings and systems.
Air Duct System Less Than 15% 44% Leakage
Attic or Roof Between R22-R30 R-14
Solar Screens or Window Film On all East, South, and West Windows Complete
Example Energy Audit Report Footer
Construction Year 1978, 1982
Energy Utilities Gas and Electric
Energy Audit Conducted By A Qualified Auditor
Number of Units 57
Date of Energy Audit September, 2011
Date of Disclosure Notice June 30, 2011

Check the form to see how the apartment you are considering compares to Austin Energy’s recommended efficiency levels. The example above shows that the duct work is leaky, the insulation in the roof is only about half of what is recommended, but there are solar screens or window film where needed.

City rules require that a prospective tenant be given the energy audit results with a rental application. The landlord must provide you written notice of the property’s average energy usage per square foot. The notice must state:

This apartment community has a [lower/higher] than average energy usage per square foot for multi-family properties in the Austin service area. The facility’s average energy use is [x] percent [lower/higher] than comparable apartment communities built between [year] and [year] with [gas and electric/all electric] utilities. A full copy of the energy audit is available for your inspection upon request.

The landlord must ask the applicant to sign an acknowledgement indicating that notice of the energy audit results was provided.