How to live green while renting

G Magazine

Being green in someone else's house

'For rent' sign

Credit: iStockphoto

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Let's be honest, for most of us, renting your home is not the great Australian dream.

Most of us view renting as a temporary arrangement while we're saving money for a house deposit, or as the perfect antidote to living with our parents while completing that degree.

It's a short-term solution that can mean sustainable living gets put on hold. After all, if you can't even hammer a nail into the wall or give the place a fresh coat of paint, what hope do you have of achieving a carbon neutral home?

The 2006 Census reported that 27 per cent of households are renting. That's 2.2 millions homes that are potentially the great untapped resource in our quest for sustainable living.

The good news is that living environment-friendly while you rent is not nearly as difficult or as costly as you might imagine.

Location, location

One of the great advantages of renting is increased flexibility.

While the high cost of buying property in many inner city suburbs may price-out even the most dedicated of savers, renting in these areas can be a more affordable option.

And, whether you like it or not, short tenancies are a feature of the rental market, so moving house in keeping with where you work and play is certainly a viable option.

Before beginning your search for a rental property, grab a street directory and map out your movements - where you work, shop, socialise, play sport and so on. Take into consideration where your family and friends live, and choose a location that will allow for short, easy travel to all the places you frequent.

Put particular emphasis on the places you travel to daily and weekly, and also consider the public transport services in the area. Can you travel to work on the train or even walk or ride your bike?

If the only feasible way to get to work is by car, can you garage it on weekends and rely on other modes of transport for play?

Live small or live together

Renting a share house is a common right of passage for young Australians. It's a great way to live cheaply and meet new people while maintaining a sense of independence.

Plus, it's great for the environment as sharing energy bills, appliances and common space automatically means you can live with less stuff and consume fewer resources.

Also, consider the amount of living space you actually need. In the age of McMansions it's easy to believe that a huge lounge room or kitchen is one of life's essentials, but you can have a huge influence on your home's energy consumption simply by limiting its size.


Rental inspections can be hard work. After waiting in line and giving your name to yet another slick estate agent, you're then faced with the challenge of scoping out the property in a mere 15 minutes.

Together with the usual questions, "Is there enough storage space?", "Is the kitchen big enough?" and "Do I actually like the place?" it's important to ask yourself, "Can I live here sustainably?"

Make a checklist beforehand and tick off as you go.

Take note of the orientation of the property and which rooms will receive northerly sun.

Enquire where and with what materials the property is insulated, and the location and size of the windows.

Gas appliances are extremely common in rental properties - the gas stove and oven combination found in most rentals is a great example - and are an excellent way to limit your carbon footprint.

If you plan to rent an apartment, think about how you'll combat summer heat on upper floors.

To combat winter chills, find out if the property can be zoned off so that you can heat one room at a time.

Draught proofing

Maintaining a comfortable temperature is a big problem in many rentals, as draughts have a way of slipping through seemingly watertight window seals, and large, badly-positioned windows see heating and cooling literally go out the window.

Simple measures like plugging gaps with draught snakes and closing blinds are cheap and easy solutions.

Double glazed windows may not be an option for renters, but there are several ways to achieve a similar effect. Cling film attached to the inside of windows with double sided tape and a blast from the hairdryer should last around one year.

Alternatively, 'bubble-glazing' - securing bubble wrap to the inside of windows bubble side out - has been touted as the poor man's double glazing.

Take control

Getting into good green habits is even more important for renters as it's the one area where you have full control, but the principles are the same regardless of where you live.

All the old favourites make an appearance here - install energy efficient light bulbs, recycle your waste, take shorter showers, sign up to green power and shop sustainably.

See your new abode as a fresh start where you can change your behaviour and get into a new routine.

Small changes on a large scale can make a huge difference - imagine the results if the estimated 2 million Australian renters implemented these changes!

So even while renting, you have more control over your living environment than you may believe.

With a good strategy and a little planning, there's nothing stopping you from reducing your ecological footprint, even while living in someone else's home.