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Living green isn't out of renters' reach

More than 750 utilities across the country offer similar options, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Even when they're switched off, most home appliances and electronic devices continue drawing a little bit of power as long as they're plugged in. These "vampires" account for an estimated 10 percent of residential energy use in the United States.

Shedding these leeches is easy: Unplug the stuff you don't use most of the time. Make it easy on yourself by plugging clusters of devices into a single power strip that can be switched on and off.

You also can replace burned-out incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use about 75 percent less energy.

Dealing with the landlord

Now that you've done what you can to green your space, here comes the hard part: greening your landlord.

Apartment owners these days are in penny-pinching mode and aren't likely to spring for environmental improvements -- unless you can show them how they, too, can save money by doing it.

"That's something they're very responsive to," said Cino of the National Multi Housing Council.

Some tenants are pushing for so-called green leases -- a contract that would spell out how renters and apartment owners will split the cost of eco-friendly upgrades.

Ask your complex to swap out inefficient outdoor lights with ones activated by motion sensors, install timers for sprinklers and replace old appliances with Energy Star-rated products. You also can try to persuade your landlord to caulk and tint windows and add programmable thermostats to get the most out of air conditioning and heaters.

Basic eco-upgrades to a 900-square-foot apartment can cost just $150, said Doug Walker, senior vice president of UDR, a Colorado-based multifamily real estate investment trust. Chemical-free paints and adhesives cost no more than their traditional alternatives, he said.

Managers at the Park La Brea apartments are overhauling the decades-old property with low-emission water heaters, recycled nylon carpet and drought-tolerant landscaping. They painted the roof of one building white to reflect sunlight and help keep the upper floors cool.

They're now weighing the cost of installing solar panels and retrofitting laundry rooms to divert wastewater for irrigation.

"It's a challenge with an older complex in Los Angeles that's rent-stabilized," general manager Ron Bowdoin said. "The ability to pass costs on to residents is very limited."

In a time of high vacancy rates, landlords are also more inclined to make their tenants happy, said Annie Argento, the Southern California director for sustainability consulting firm Brightworks.

"There is economic payback here in the form of tenant retention, quicker lease-up rates, etc.," she said. "It's just looking at the equation from a broader perspective."

-- Los Angeles Times

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