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Renting Green? It's Not a Thing

"Everything that is in our control, we'll do. But if it's insulating the walls, well, we're renting. It's not our space."

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On the day after Christmas 2013, Sandi Hainline opened the power bill for the Hagerman home she rents and was shocked. The electricity running through the 2,200-square-foot rental cost $600. It had never risen higher than $250, even in cold weather.

"What do we do?" she said. "You feel at a loss, because it's not even your house."

Energy-efficiency measures often go neglected in rental housing--property owners are less likely to pay for expensive green initiatives when renters pay utility bills.

Meanwhile, renters aren't necessarily willing to spend the money on sustainable upgrades when they don't even own the house and won't see a long-term investment. Simply put, when no one feels like they win, green renting loses.

After the painfully expensive power bill, Hainline started watching her energy usage and building a case to show her landlady.

"I wanted to show her that we know it's not about the amount of power we're using," Hainline said, watching her family's use down to the hour. Despite minimal and careful use, the house still sucked huge amounts of power. Hainline knew it was beyond her control.

The problems ended up being beyond the walls. A broken pump and disconnected vents resulted in large inefficiencies. After the property owner fixed the problems, Hainline's bill returned to normal.

As the energy efficiency program leader at Idaho Power, it's Todd Schultz' job to help landlords see the benefits of sustainable upgrades. The most successful tool he's found so far is helping to pad the costs.

Idaho Power offers incentives for energy-efficient upgrades, like giving homeowners 15 cents per square foot for the installation of attic insulation. Wall insulation gets 50 cents per square foot. There are also incentives to replace appliances, recycle old refrigerators and change light bulbs.

"What will start to change landlords' thought process is if customers become more engaged and start asking these types of questions," Schultz said. "That would encourage owners to make sure they're putting efficient equipment in that home. But as a renter, you need to make those first steps and have that conversation."

For Idaho Power, it's actually more cost-effective to give money toward these initiatives than to generate extra electricity--or buy it at high costs on the market.

For Hainline, it's a matter of the heart. She loves her house. She loves the kitchen, with the bay windows and the built-in bench.

"We want to stay here a long time," she said. "Everything that is in our control, we'll do. But if it's insulating the walls, well, we're renting. It's not our space."