Man checks his smart thermostat on the wall inside his apartment

Reducing your apartment building’s energy and water consumption doesn’t just improve sustainability — it can also help your bottom line. 

Simple efficiency-boosting upgrades can lower utility bills. Even when those savings show up on the renter’s bill, property owners benefit when affordable utilities encourage residents to stick around. 

A focus on efficiency can also attract sustainability-minded renters, says Elizabeth Thompson, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council and based in Washington, D.C. 

“The superpower earners of the future are much more environmentally conscious. So, financially the results may not be just a lower utility bill every month, but happier tenants, which lead to less turnover and easier marketing,” Thompson says. 

Here are eight ideas for lower-cost ways to save energy and water and operate more sustainably. 

1. Consider a building audit for your apartment property

Assessing your multifamily property’s energy and water use can help you: 

  • Identify problems with building systems that cause poor performance and higher utility bills 
  • Prioritize changes that will produce the biggest improvements.   

While you don’t have to perform an audit before making energy- and water-saving upgrades, doing so can better inform your decisions. 

“You wouldn’t drive without knowing how fast you’re going, or how much gas you have left in the tank,” says Ray Demers, senior director of programs at Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit that develops and advocates for affordable housing. Demers, who is based in Boston, co-led development of the latest version of the organization’s green building program

The U.S. Department of Energy shares information and advice for preparing for a professional home energy audit, as well as how to get started with a DIY audit. Energy Star also has a checklist to help spot energy-saving opportunities at multifamily properties, along with other resources for apartment owners. 

2. Choose energy-efficient lighting for your rental properties

Still using traditional incandescent lightbulbs? Light emitting diodes, or LEDs, use up to 90% less energy and last significantly longer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.   

Motion-sensing lighting controls that turn lights on when they sense movement and shut them off when a room appears unoccupied can also help reduce energy consumption. They can be particularly effective in common areas, says Jackie Montesdeoca, director of building electrification at Elevate, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works with affordable housing owners to design and implement energy- and water-saving initiatives. 

3. Install water-saving fixtures in apartment units 

Products like faucet aerators, low-flow toilets and high-efficiency showerheads can all reduce water consumption, says Grant Carlson, multifamily program manager at Minneapolis-based nonprofit Center for Energy and Environment (CEE). The organization partners with utilities to offer qualifying multifamily buildings free energy audits and energy-saving products.   

If you’ve had a bad experience with water-saving products that limited the flow too much, Carlson recommends giving them another shot. “They’ve improved a lot over the years,” he says. 

Water-saving upgrades are also some of the easiest improvements to make, Demers says. 

“You’ll see the payback on your water bill immediately,” he says. 

4. Go digital

Save time (and trees) by switching from paper documents to digital when possible. Story by J.P. Morgan rent management software can help you ditch paper checks for convenient online rent payments. Other digital services let you send and receive rental agreements electronically without wasting paper on every contract. 

5. Fix apartment building drafts and air leaks

Drafty buildings force heating and cooling systems to work harder. Air sealing can cut heating and cooling costs by blocking gaps that let air leak in and out of buildings. 

Windows and doors may benefit from air sealing, but it’s also smart to check spots where basement walls meet the foundation, as well as attic and roof cavities, Montesdeoca says.   

6. Insulate boiler and water heater pipes

Insulating hot water pipes is another recommendation CEE often makes at multifamily buildings, Carlson says. 

Insulation reduces heat loss as water travels through pipes, and insulating pipes in or near exterior walls can keep them from freezing in winter, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.   

7. Encourage renters to save energy with programmable thermostats

Smart or programmable thermostats let renters dial back heating or air conditioning when they aren’t home. Unlike manual thermostats, smart ones can be programmed to return to comfortable settings before residents return. 

Dialing a thermostat 7 to 10 degrees back from its usual setting for eight hours a day can save up to 10% a year on heating and cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, though savings will depend on the climate. 

This strategy requires residents’ buy-in, but some will see it as a perk, Carlson says.   

8. Get residents involved

Your efforts to operate more efficiently will get a boost from residents’ participation. Let renters know about sustainability-minded upgrades, and how to use them most effectively. They should also know how to report maintenance issues that can affect energy and water consumption, from a leaky faucet to drafty windows. 

Are you open to more involved, but higher-impact sustainability projects? Read seven ideas for energy efficiency improvements to make when renovating a multifamily property.