Congratulations! You live in an apartment! I can all but guarantee you’ve never heard this phrase before (non-sarcastically) if you do live in a communal building, but earth-wise, living in an apartment is a total win. By living in a community, you reduce the amount of land you use, you use less water, less energy, and are often located in a more walkable area. According to this quiz, an apartment generally produces about half the CO2 each year compared to a detached house. So hurrah for you!
If you do live in an apartment, you know while you may have started out ahead, there are some additional challenges in living green. Here’s a rundown of some issues I’ve come across during this month and some ideas of how to get around them.
Your apartment doesn’t recycle. I’ve never lived in an apartment that promotes recycling, which I cannot get over. An apartment community generates a ton of trash. There are a lot of websites that direct you to your nearest recycling center. You can try to find one on your way to work. It will only take a few extra minutes before or after work every other week or so. You can also find a friend or family member whose city recycles and drop your recycling off with them when you visit.
You can’t change your appliances. Having EnergyStar appliances would be great, and some newer apartments offer that, but mostly you’re stuck with a stove from 1986 and a rattling refrigerator. While you may be stuck with these, you can use them to the best of their capacity. You can use simple tips to use your refrigerator more efficiently, or use Robin’s tip of displacing water in your toilet tank with a brick (I just use an old plastic water bottle). You can also install efficient showerheads and light bulbs without permission. Just keep the old showerhead and replace it when you leave.
You have no yard. And your balcony gets exactly 30 minutes of sun a day. We all want to grow a garden. It seems like such a green activity. All good hippies have a garden. Here’s the thing I noticed though – you don’t end up getting most of your produce from a garden unless you live on a good acre and have time to harvest and plant and weed… That’s not something I’d have even if I did have a house. Even with very little sun you can grow some herbs and with some creativity you may be able to squeeze a little more sun out of your patio. Basically, don’t feel bad if you don’t have the time or location to grow plants – it doesn’t make a huge difference anyway. But you should try anyway if you enjoy it.
You can’t hang your laundry. Every place I’ve lived in has forbidden hanging laundry outside. The first place I lived in compromised by having hanging lines in the basement which didn’t give you that nice sunny windblown dry but it worked. At another place I got yelled at for leaving my laundry out a few times until I lowered the laundry lines so they were below the fence level. When visitors couldn’t easily see my dirty laundry, no one complained. Now I don’t have high enough fences or a basement so I use a folding rack for half the laundry and just machine dry the rest. Half is better than nothing!
You don’t see the savings. If you live in a house and switch to CFL bulbs, never run your AC and take four minute showers, the savings will show up nicely on your bill. In apartments I’ve lived in the past though, we had shared utilities. This meant that everyone in the building you lived in split the difference in utility bills equally regardless of how much of the share you used personally. This makes it difficult to be virtuous when you hear your upstairs neighbor’s air conditioning blasting every day since the first day of summer while you’re sweating through August. The only consolation I can give in these situations is to remember why you’re being green. Sometime we get extra perks and sometimes not so much. If you really believe in the overall benefits, sometimes you might not see those benefits personally.
Do you have any other apartment challenges? I’d love to hear how you deal with the difficulties inherent in apartment living.
And remember… our Earth Day giveaway is still open! You have until April 30th to enter.