Q What can tenants do to make their pads environmentally friendly?
A The whole greening-your-home thing is getting so darn popular, even the Tories are reviving the federal eco reno program nine months after they axed it. The problem is it's all pretty biased against us lowly renters without a permanent stake in our humble abodes.
Half of Toronto residents are tenants - that's an enormous amount of people without much power to ecofy their pads. But just because the provincial and federal governments have yet to offer cash to landlords who green their apartments (like, hello, why isn't anyone funding this?), that doesn't mean we should all just sit here and accept our wasteful fate.
The truth is there are tons of really affordable measures (I'm talking under $50) you can take on with or without the support of your landlord. But of course, it's always best to ask if whoever's in charge would be willing to foot the bill. I've been lucky to have three landlords in a row who are happy to cover the cost of materials for any reasonable reno request, especially if you offer your own labour for free.
But before you make the call, take a walk around your digs and make note of what could use a little green TLC. If your apartment's turning your toes blue, take care of any drafts before you consider lobbying for added insulation. Really, all you need is basic caulking and a caulking gun (available at any hardware store from $5 each; AFM Safecoat makes a non-toxic, ultra-low- VOC caulking compound that's $15 at Organic Lifestyle in Hazelton Lanes), some $5 rubber weatherstripping tape and maybe a door sweep. You'll notice the temperature rise by a few degrees in no time.
Yes, a new furnace might be nice, but furnaces also work much better if their filters are clean, and most landlords don't replace these more than once a year. If you have access to the furnace, figure out how to clean or replace them yourself once every month or two in winter (again, about $10 each).
Of course, if the cold's so bad you could freeze a steak (or block of tofu) in your apartment, you should know that there are municipal bylaws demanding that basic temperature requirements be met. In Toronto, that means the thermostat shouldn't fall below 21 degrees any time between September 15 and June 1. If it does on a regular basis and you've weatherstripped all you can, that might just mean your landlord will have to replace those 1970s windows and that rickety old furnace after all.
Then there's the water vampire issue. Even if you're diligent about taking five-minute showers, your shower head could still be sucking back 30 litres of H2O a minute. And your toilet? Up to 20 litres per flush! The good news is the city sells indoor water efficiency retrofit kits for the ultra-low price of $13.16 plus tax! It includes one low-flow shower head, one kitchen swivel aerator, two bathroom aerators, two toilet tank bags (these save you up to 2.5 litres per flush) and leak detection tabs to check if your toilet's guzzling water needlessly (www.toronto.ca/watereff). Again, you can easily pay for this yourself, or send the bill to the owner if it's okayed.
So you've done all the small stuff for next to nothing, but what about those energy-sucking retro appliances sitting in your kitchen and laundry room? To be honest, few landlords will consider changing a perfectly functional machine just because it uses more kilowatts per hour, especially if you're paying for hydro yourself. But keep in mind that when your fridge or dryer does break down, you should chat with your landlord or super about energy-efficient appliances.
Case in point: My washer's been doing a terrible job at wringing out my clothes lately, but I just assumed it would be repaired. However, when my handyman decided it needed replacing, I immediately e-mailed my property manager some research about Energy Star washers using 50 per cent less power and half the water of regular machines as well as a link to the city of Toronto's $60 rebate program on energy-efficient washers. Not sure whether it'll sway the decision, but it's worth a try. After all, it saves them cash in the end, too.
If you've got a deadbeat landlord who ignores your pleas, don't despair. Call the Federation of Metro Tenants Association's hotline for advice (416-921-9494). If you live in a building, you can always try forming an enviro tenants group. Remember: united they stand, divided they freeze in leaky, inefficient apartments!