The increasing cost of buying a house in Australia’s major cities has led to an increase in people renting for much longer than in past decades. According to recent figures discussed on Domain.com.au, the proportion of people who own their own home outright has decreased from over 40% in the 1990s to only 30% today. While that figure has decreased, the number of people renting has risen to 30%.
While many renters would like to live a more “green” lifestyle, options are more limited than they are for home owners who can undertake major renovations. However, there are actually many ways renters can invest in being green, even without having to negotiate with the landlords.
Yes, they can even consider solar.
Installing solar in a rental property
The first thing you’ll need to do is check your tenancy agreement. What does it say about making changes to your property? If it’s a definitive ‘don’t do anything, you may need to wait until you next negotiate this agreement. If you have the green light, continue reading.
For actual electricity supply, installing a solar system would traditionally be expensive, and require the landlord’s permission, which may be difficult as it seemingly doesn’t give them any immediate return on investment. However, there are companies emerging that bring solutions to the table, making solar installation in a rental property work for everyone.
Getting the landlord involved
One example is a new start-up called smartmatter.com, that launched a system where landlords can install a solar electricity system on their home, and bill tenants through the website for the electricity it produces. The company also takes care of maintenance on the system, and everything is available online, including the billing and maintenance scheduling. It’s likely that similar schemes will follow should this one prove to be popular. Under this kind of arrangement, the landlord actually makes money by selling the tenant electricity, in addition to the rental income for their property, and any unused electricity could also be eligible for feed in tariffs to the electricity grid (depending on where they live).
A DIY approach to solar
Thanks to the relative reduction in cost and size of photovoltaic solar panel arrays, portable panels and inverters are now available to customers. Now, most of the commercially available models are designed for small-scale use, like powering a mini fridge when you’re camping. But larger models are, at the very least, available in the US, which means they could soon follow into Australia.
Split the solar bill in an apartment block
In situations where multiple tenants share a single building or complex, there are other options, such as a pre-paid system that allocates a standard amount of electricity for each tenant, and installs a backward-counting meter in their apartment. The pre-payments allow the installation costs of the solar system to be paid off relatively quickly, and it doesn’t matter if an apartment is owner occupied or not, the money always goes to paying off the system itself.
Ways renters can reduce their energy use
In most tenancy agreements there are stipulations about making changes to a rental property, so solar will be difficult to implement. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make some positive changes towards a greener footprint. Here are some things that can be achieved without making alterations to the household.
- Putting up window coverings and door ‘snakes’.
- Using fabric or some other material to seal the gap along the top of curtains.
- Turning down thermostats on heaters and water heaters.
- Refrain from relying on your air conditioner.
- Ensure your refrigerator is placed away from direct sunlight, so it doesn’t have to work harder to stay cool.
- Close off central heating/cooling vents in unused rooms.
- Dry clothes outside in the sun & wind instead of in a dryer.
- Grow your own vegies and herbs to save on transport costs.
- “Double glaze” skylights with bubble wrap to reduce heat flow.
- Temporarily block off unused fireplaces to stop heat flow, although be mindful of buildup inside.
- In older toilets, place a plastic bottle of water in the cistern to reduce water use.
- Use LED lamps instead of halogen downlights to save electricity. You can also look out for government initiatives in your area, as you could have your bulbs replaced for free.
A more complete list can be found on the Environment Victoria website.
Bringing renters to the solar revolution
For people who move often and travel light, buying and paying for their own portable solar array may not be a feasible option, but those people can certainly benefit from landlords and bodies corporate willing to install solar equipment on their properties. As technology gets cheaper and innovations in paying for solar installations become more widely available, it’s likely that even renters will be able to take advantage of the solar revolution.