A survey of some 2000 renters in the US reveals that one of the key criteria for two-thirds of them when choosing a place to rent was the inclusion of “green practices” in the building, with 40% of them saying that they wouldn’t rent a property that doesn’t have green practices.
MRI Software, a provider of real estate software applications, commissioned a survey of more than 2000 US renters across a mix of rental categories and locations, and the results, titled the “Voice of the Resident Report,” indicate that for the majority of people in the rental market, energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly elements are critical.
For landlords, implementing things such as more efficient mechanical building systems, smart sensors for lighting and climate control, low-flow plumbing fixtures, heat pumps, or even adding a solar array to the property could provide them with a competitive advantage over other rental properties.
Whereas homeowners may have the ability to renovate or upgrade their properties as they see fit (and have access to some financial relief when doing so, thanks to programs like the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act), renters are mostly stuck with what their units are already equipped with. Although certain aspects of rental units can be addressed by “drop-in” efficiency solutions such as low-flow showerheads, LED lightbulbs, or smart thermostats, etc., other aspects, such as clothes washers and dryers, stoves, water heaters, and HVAC units, are not nearly as easy or cheap to upgrade, and may be virtually impossible unless the landlord is fully on board with those changes (and in many cases willing to underwrite the costs).
Although no mention was made of the “why” behind renters preferring properties with “green practices,” it’s probably safe to assume that while some renters have environmental reasons behind their preferences, for others, at least some of the reason lies in simple economics, and that by reducing energy use, energy costs are also reduced.
According to the US EIA, on average, 51% of a home’s energy consumption each year is just for heating and cooling, with water heating, lighting, and refrigeration accounting for 27% of total annual home energy use. 21% of annual home energy use was for “everything else,” which includes TVs and other electronics, clothes washers and dryers, and cooking appliances.
With renters unable to reduce their home energy costs significantly other than by simply using their appliances less and keeping an eagle eye on their thermostats, this means that the choices made by the developer, builder, and owner long before the unit is rented will have a large impact on not only the renters’ monthly expenses, but their carbon footprint as well.
For homeowners, ENERGY STAR has crafted a set of 6 energy efficiency improvements with high impacts on home energy use, and while its Home Upgrade guidelines are all meant to “work together to deliver significant energy and cost savings,” they are also mostly improvements that require both a decent chunk of change to implement, and also the ability to do so, which for many renters is not possible. The 6 improvements that ENERGY STAR lists for its Home Upgrade guidelines are clean heating and cooling, super-efficient water heater, smart thermostat, well-insulated attic, high performing windows, and “electric ready” (“The future of home energy and transportation is electric. You can prepare by making your home ready for additional electric appliances, equipment and an EV charger.”).
For renters, however, the list of ways to save energy at home is mostly focused on behavior (turn off lights when not in use, lower/raise the thermostat, etc.), not improvements in the home itself, so having more rental options where the owner has already upgraded to energy efficient appliances, etc., can make a difference for renters when choosing a new place to live. With the addition of “green practices” such as energy efficient heating and cooling systems, water saving plumbing fixtures, solar, or electric vehicle chargers, landlords can not only stand out in the rental market, but also make a green impact both locally and nationally.
Some of the other results of the MRI Software survey were not that surprising, including the preference for better communication with the landlord, the option for more digital communication and digital payments, and the desire for more amenities such as in-unit laundry, an on-site pool, high-speed internet, and private garages. However, learning that many renters prefer to choose properties that are more environmentally friendly is an indication that we’re starting to see a shift in the way that people view energy efficiency and other green practices — instead of the idea that going green means giving up some comfort or experiencing privation, we’re now starting to see going green as a way of saving green. Sometimes dollars and cents wins out when common sense doesn’t, but either way, the end result can be the same.
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