When it comes to the purchasing of energy saving items, here’s how things boil down in my fourth floor walk-up rental in Brooklyn: Things that I bought/installed are of the energy-sipping variety: AC window units, lighting, the television, and some small electronics. Items that my landlord purchased — the refrigerator, HVAC equipment, etc. — are not. And according to new research by economists Lucas W. Davis and David I. Levine of the Haas School of Business of the University of California, Berkeley, my situation isn't unique in the very least. 

For long-time renters like myself, such research is pretty much stating the obvious: landlords often don’t give a damn about installing energy-saving appliances because, after all, they’re usually not held responsible for paying the electric bills. It’s the renter that’s left to deal with the cost. However, it’s quite eye-opening to see the disparities between Energy Star-rated appliances in rental properties and in owner-occupied residences.

Stats from a 2009 Department of Energy survey titled “Appliances in U.S. Homes by Owner/Renter Status” show that a mere 23 percent of refrigerators in rental units are of the Energy Star variety. In owner-occupied units, that figure is bumped up to 44 percent. When it comes to dishwashers, it’s 31 percent versus 9 percent. With washing machines, it’s 45 percent compared to 17. If you live in a non-luxury rental building in New York City and are in possession of those last two items, Energy Star or not, you’re also a very lucky duck (and no words can be used to describe how much I envy you).

The findings in a nutshell via a post titled “Rented Inefficiency” published by Davis and Levine on the Energy Institute At Haas website:

When people own a home or condominium, they have incentives to think about the efficiency of their appliances.  Thus, more than a third of homeowners’ major appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and clothes washers have the EPA Energy Star rating for efficiency.

The story is considerably different for renters. In most rental units tenants pay their own electricity bills, so landlords don’t have much incentive to invest in energy-efficient appliances.  Landlords would only benefit from buying more costly energy-efficient appliances if enough tenants were willing to pay slightly higher rents in exchange for the lower utility bills. Unfortunately, tenants typically have no way to learn the energy efficiency of each appliance in each potential apartment and translate that efficiency into projected utility bills. Thus, tenants are rarely willing to pay higher rent for more energy-efficient apartments.

As a consequence, rental units tend not to be very energy-efficient. In fact, rental units have fewer than half as many Energy Star appliances as homeowners.

David and Levine have a rather clever solution for renters concerned about moving into a new pad with great views, large closets, exposed brick, and inefficient appliances: an energy consumption “report card” for an entire apartment that’s not too dissimilar to the yellow Energy Guide labels found on appliances. Davis and Levine envision that these cards would provide “a forecast of annual operating cost based on the characteristics of an apartment’s appliances and its heating and cooling equipment and allow consumers to “better incorporate energy-efficiency considerations when comparing apartments.”

Any renters out there have a home that bucks the trend and is full of Energy Star-rated appliances? 

Via [New York Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Renters vs. owners: Who uses more electricity?
New research shows that Energy Star-rated dishwashers and other appliances in rental units are rare when compared to owner-occupied dwellings.