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Energy Efficiency for Rental Homes

apartment building windows

If you are responsible for paying your utilities, it can significantly add to your monthly budget. Investigating energy details before you sign the lease can help you avoid wasting energy and money. Plus, an energy-efficient home is more comfortable. This guide will help you select an energy-efficient rental home and save energy once you move in.

Finding an energy-efficient rental

Check historical electric and water usage data

When looking for a new place to live, make sure you ask your landlord what utilities you will be responsible for paying. You can get some idea of what your utility costs will be by checking the previous billing data. Keep in mind that each individual will have different consumption patterns. Your electric bills will be higher in the summer due to air conditioning. During the winter, either your electric or natural gas bills will increase, depending on your furnace type.

Have a question about your utilities? If so, contact: 

Safety first

Columbia rental property is required by the Rental Unit Conservation Law to be registered and inspected. Ask your potential landlord to see the Certificate of Compliance or contact the Office of Neighborhood Services at 573-817-5050 or opens in a new windowneighborhood@como.govcreate new email.

Heating and cooling

Since apartments are smaller and share walls, ceilings and floors with neighbors, heating and cooling costs are generally lower than a house. In apartments, ground floor units tend to be cooler year round while top floor apartments tend to be warmer. Windows on the south side will allow your apartment to collect natural heat in winter. Windows on the west side can increase your air conditioning bills.

Keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer is the biggest part of your utility expenses.A heating and cooling system that is less than 25 years old is going to be more efficient.

Water heaters

Water heating is normally the second highest utility expense after heating and cooling. Water heaters use energy both in heating water and then in maintaining the temperature once it’s heated. Water heater efficiency is influenced by the age, insulation, temperature setting and location of the unit.

Keeping the outside air outside

Homes that are air sealed and well-insulated use less energy to heat and cool. If you are looking at renting an older home, inquire whether it has received any energy efficiency upgrades.


Inquire about the age of major appliances such as the refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, room air-conditioners and stove. Energy Star rated or newer appliances will save energy and money. The refrigerator will probably be your top electric consuming appliance. Their efficiency is determined by age, cleanliness of cooling coils, functioning thermostat and a tight door gasket.

Roommates? Not everyone has the same ideas about energy efficiency. To keep roommates on the same page, set up house rules about thermostat settings and other energy saving practices.

Questions to consider before renting

  • Does the system look clean and well maintained? Inspect the units inside and outside.
  • What is the type of heating system? Generally a heat pump is the most efficient. A natural gas furnace is going to be more economical than electric heat.
  • Who changes the filters? They must be changed every two to three months so the air flows properly and the system works efficiently.
  • Is there a programmable thermostat? It will automatically change the temperature when you are away which saves energy.
  • Does the rental have ceiling fans? They will help keep you cool and reduce air conditioning costs.
  • Where is the water heater located? 
  • How old is the unit? If it is in an unconditioned space, like a garage, or if it is an older unit, ask your landlord if an insulated jacket can be added.
  • Is the water heater or any of the faucets leaking? If so, make sure these are fixed before signing a lease.
  • Do you feel strong drafts or notice any holes or gaps around the doors and windows? Air loss can account for 50% of your annual heating and cooling costs. An easy fix to most of these is either caulk or spray foam insulation. These items should be addressed by the landlord before you sign the lease.
  • Ask the owner what levels of insulation are in the walls, ceiling and floor. Proper insulation will hold in your heated and cooled air which reduces your utility bills. Attic: 14″-16″ of insulation with an R-factor 38-50. Outside walls: Homes built after 1970 should have wall insulation. If it was built before then, ask if it has been added. Crawl space or rim joist: These areas should be insulated to R-10 and R-13 respectively.
  • Are the windows double-paned so they are more efficient? You can see the extra pane by the reflection, which will have a double image. If there are older single-paned windows, make sure the storm windows are in good condition and there are no obvious gaps around the sides or loose fitting windows. If window replacement is not possible, ask your landlord if caulking and sealing can be made a priority.

Rental energy-efficiency tips

Air conditioning

Set thermostat settings as high as possible while maintaining reasonable comfort levels while you’re home and 84 degrees when you’re away.
For windows that receive direct sunlight, keep shades closed during the day.


  • Set thermostat settings at 68 degrees while you’re home and 60 degrees when you’re away.
  • If you have a heat pump, avoid changing the thermostat temperature more than two degrees at a time during heating season unless you are going to be away for several days. Otherwise the “emergency” or “auxillary” heat will come on which costs more. Generally this shouldn’t come on unless it is less than 20 degrees outside.
  • For windows that receive direct sunlight, keep shades open during the day and close them at night.
thermostat, showing to set your thermostat at 60 degrees when away and 68 degrees when home. Each degree down can save you up to 5 percent in the winter.

Controlling air flow

  • Close fireplace damper when not in use.
  • Don’t block vents and radiators with furniture, curtains or rugs.
  • Leave interior doors open as much as possible to promote good airflow.

Water heating

  • Set temperature on water heater to 120 degrees or less.
  • Wash clothes in cool or cold water whenever possible.
  • Take 5 minute showers instead of baths.

Appliances and lighting

  • Clean the coils on the bottom or the back of your refrigerator regularly.
  • Set the temperature for your refrigerator to 37 to 40 degrees F and 5 degrees F for the freezer.
  • Inspect and clean your dryer vent pipe on your dryer periodically and clean the lint filter before each load.
  • Scrape your dishes rather than rinsing them before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Run washer, dryer and dishwasher only when you have full loads. Air dry dishes instead of using the drying cycle feature.
  • Replace frequently used incandescent bulbs with LED or compact fluorescent bulbs.


  • Set your computer to go to enter sleep mode after 5 minutes of inactivity and into standby mode after 30 minutes of inactivity.
  • Unplug laptops or cell phone chargers when not in use. They draw power even when nothing is plugged into them.
  • Since some electronics, like gaming systems, use electricity all the time, plug them into a power-saving electric strip or turn a regular strip off when the appliances are not in use.

Low-cost energy-efficiency projects

Check with your landlord about these low-cost energy efficiency projects:

  • Replace the heating and cooling system’s filter every three months or when dirty.
  • Caulk window and door frames on the exterior. Consider using plastic window kits for single pane windows.
  • Replace weather stripping on exterior doors.
  • Check door bottoms and thresholds to make sure air is not escaping. Replace when necessary.
  • Install foam gaskets behind light switches or outlets located on exterior walls.
  • Drain a quart of water from the water heater every three months to remove sediment.

Contact Utility Services


701 E Broadway, Columbia, MO 65205




efficiency@como.govcreate new email

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