Unfortunately living in someone else’s building means most of the big decisions are out of your hands but there are a few things that you can do to save energy and lower your bills. Of course many of the things you can do depend on how your utilities are calculated and if they are part of your base rent. They will also depend on how your heating and cooling needs are delivered.
Many apartments have their own water service and water heater and this is a good place to save some money. Although you can’t replace the water heater many units are stored outside of the building in utility closets off of balconies and this means much of the heat will be lost but even if your heater is stored in a basement or in your unit you can add an insulated blanket that can save you some money over time. You can also set the temperature to a lower level as long as it provides at least 120F water. Many manufacturers set the units to 140F but for each 10ºF reduction in temperature, you can save between 3%–5% on your bills.
Heating is another way to save money if your unit has its heating costs calculated independently of other units. Most residential units will need to have at least 40F heat just to provide protection for water pipes that can burst when frozen but thermostats do not go that low. One thing that you can do is lower your heat setting when you are out of your home. This should account for 1/3rd or more of your heating costs. Turn your thermostat down as soon as you wake up in the morning and the radiant heat will provide good warmth until you leave for work. When you come home turn the heat up to a reasonable level and by the time you go to sleep it should be more then warm enough for you. Also remember that for about an hour or so you will be cooking and during that time the heat in the kitchen will supplement your needs as your apartment continues to warm up. This is pretty basic and many people do this but some people leave their heat on while they are away causing an unneeded expense.
Sealing around your windows and doors. It is important to reduce any air loss or infiltration during the winter heating and summer cooling months. You may need to get your apartment manager to do the work or have a professional seal any cracks and add or repair any weather stripping around both exterior windows and doors and your interior entrance door. This can save you money and also increase livability.
Window coverings are another thing you control. Open your shades during winter days while you are away to let the sun in and close them in the summer to reduce the sun warming your apartment. This is a very simple thing to do but as a personal experience during a late fall storm for a few days while the electric was out I could really feel the difference and temperatures remained constant and livable. Even without the heat being on 50F outside warmed the inside of the home to the upper 70’s and overnight the inside temperatures never fell below 55F.
Compact florescent lighting should be part of everyone’s home. Using florescent lights will reduce your electric use by 60% or more but turning them off is also important when you are not using them.
If you need to buy your own refrigerator you should select the smallest one that will meet your needs but more important is the energy star rating for yearly use. Some smaller dormitory sized fridges can actually use almost as much electricity as a normal small fridge. Top Bottom models are better savers then side by side. To increase savings you can fill unused areas in the fridge with a few gallon containers of water. Use the water for drinking or have it as a backup if the water is turned off but the volume of the water will hold the cold and reduce the cooling needs that an almost empty fridge will require. A few bags of ice in the freezer is also a good idea if you don’t usually fill it. Remember to not block the air flow in either the fridge or freezer.
Saving Water is also important if you are charged based on your use. Low Flow water heads for bathrooms can provide the same cleaning power but reduce your use 50% or more. If you have a washing machine you should only run full loads when you can or at least never over fill the level of water based on the load you are washing. If the water level is right then the clothes should be circulated from top to bottom as the washer runs. If not add more water but using too much water just makes the wash cycle take longer as you wait for the washer to fill with water.
If you will be away for more then 2 or 3 days you should
•Turn your water heater all the way down as low as it can be set.
•Turn your heater down or make sure the air conditioning is set to off.
•Only leave a light on near a window if security is a reason a timer can also be used and purchased for about $10 at most general merchandise stores.
Saving money and energy is an important thing and where you can take the steps to reduce your costs while still living comfortably and safely. Never use a stove for heating although cooking a big pot of spaghetti can warm both your kitchen and stomach. And never leave a space heater on while sleeping or even in another room. Fires happen very quickly and saving $5 is not worth your life.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get out of a hot apartment in the summer or if its too cold in the winter remember you can always go to a government building, library, store or mall.
And remember there are programs out there that can help. If you are on a fixed income you might even want to relocate to an area with a lower cost of living the interesting thing is often this means moving out of the city or highly populated areas and this can mean more enjoyment of your life and saving money at the same time.