Helping Renters Find Their Comfort Zone

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Tompkins Weekly 1-19-15

By Margaret McCasland

Chilly drafts are one way of learning where Arctic air is sneaking into our homes. And bare spots on an otherwise snow-covered roof show us where heated air is escaping instead staying inside to keep us warm.

In January, it’s hard to imagine EVER feeling too warm, but we also face challenges keeping comfortably cool in summer, especially now that 90 degree days have become more common (prior to Global Climate Disruption, this area typically had less than 7 days per year in the 90s).

There are many programs that help homeowners “weatherize” their homes so they can be cozy in winter and cool in summer. However most of these options are not relevant for renters, who have little control over the buildings in which they live.

Energy Savings for Renters is a peer-to-peer project so renters (like myself) can help each other make our homes warmer in winter and cooler in summer, as well as safer and more energy efficient. I got the idea for the project by noticing the range of ways neighbors in my housing complex addressed the comfort challenges in our homes.

The program is now in its pilot phase and I am meeting with renters on a one-to-one basis, in small groups, or talking with them at outreach events. We are exchanging stories about the challenges we face and the solutions we have found for keeping our homes comfortable, safe and affordable.

While some comfort changes need to be made with the cooperation of landlords (e.g., the installation of a programmable thermostat), there are many minor steps renters can take on their own that make major differences.

Under the guidance of the Energy Team at Cooperative Extension, we can help you make these and similar Do-It-Yourself changes. The Pay It Forward Fund can help you get the needed materials


Whether you own or rent, the first step is to air seal your home. While an energy audit followed by a full weatherization is ideal, there are many simple steps people can take to reduce air leakage in their homes. Here are a few examples:

Fully close and lock your windows as soon as you’re ready to turn the heat on. It’s amazing how much cold air sneaks in around an unlocked window. If the window is still leaky, there are various ways to caulk gaps. Few windows actually need replacing if they are properly maintained and fully caulked. However single pane windows may benefit from adding storm windows. When that is not an option, a layer of Plexiglas or plastic sheeting can make a big difference.

Insulating shades and drapes both reduce drafts in winter and block excess heat in summer, reducing your need for air conditioning.

Sealing leaks in your hot air ducts or insulating the pipes for hot water heat can also make you more comfortable for less money.

Whole house weatherization is possible for some renters through the Weatherization Program at Tompkins Community Action.


LED bulbs are finally “ready for prime time.” They use even less electricity than CFLs and can be used in places where CFLs are not the best option. We can help people chose energy efficient light bulbs that work best for their personal lighting needs and for the light fixtures they already have.

We can also help you install power strips and outlet switches so you can easily fully turn off voltage vampires: electronics that use electricity even they are turned off, such as game sets, large screen TVs, etc.


While our initial outreach efforts are focusing on work with households on a 1:1 basis, we hope these initial connections will be seeds for self-replicating Home Comfort Circles. These are informal gatherings where people exchange ideas for making their homes more comfortable while saving energy. People will also help each other do minor air sealing or install items such as sun-blocking drapes.

Our Pay-it-forward Fund (get what you need, pay what you can) helps people get the materials they need to make their homes cozier in winter and cooler in summer. The fund accepts tax deductible donations of money or weatherizing materials.

Renters interested in sharing their challenges and successes, or who would like to get materials through the Pay It Forward Fund can contact Margaret McCasland at 607-216-1091, or email her at The CEO project is jointly run by the Building Bridges program of the Dorothy Cotton Institute and Get Your Green Back Tompkins of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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