According to research from economists Lucas Davis and David Levine of the University of California, Berkeley, renters are significantly less likely than homeowners to own efficient Energy Star appliances, which means they use more electricity.

“Why do people buy inefficient refrigerators and clothes washers when spending a little more for an efficient one would save them money over time through lower electricity or water bills?” asks the New York Times.

“There are a variety of reasons, but one that is persistently cited is that people are not necessarily buying these appliances for themselves. Often the buyer is a landlord, and the user is a tenant who does not make the choice but faces the consequences because he receives the energy bill,” the Times continues.

Davis and Levine have actually calculated how much more likely a homeowner is to own an Energy Star appliance over someone who rents.

“When people own a home or condominium, they have incentives to think about the efficiency of their appliances,” Davis and Levine’s blog reads. “Thus, more than a third of homeowners’ major appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and clothes washers have the EPA Energy Star rating for efficiency.”

But Landlords would have to charge higher rent if they were to install more costly energy-efficient appliances. Davis and Levine point out that tenants typically have no way to know about the energy efficiency of each appliance and how they would translate into energy bill savings.

“Thus, tenants are rarely willing to pay higher rent for more energy-efficient apartments,” the researchers’ blog reads.

The conclusion is that if renters had as many energy-efficient appliances as homeowners, annual energy consumption in the US would decrease by 9.4 trillion BTUs (in Canada it would be a lot lower, obviously, because of the smaller population).

However, as Davis points out in his working paper, 9.4 trillion BTUs is only half of 1 percent of total energy consumption in rental units, although that number would likely rise if all household appliances were considered (not just refrigerators, washing machines, and dishwashers). Saving 9.4 trillion BTUs would mean energy expenditures in the US would be reduced by $93 million, while carbon emissions would go down by 166,000 tonnes.

Davis and Levine suggest that a possible solution to the problem would be to have cities create energy “report cards” so potential tenants could consider energy costs while shopping for an apartment.

For more on the study, the New York Times’ analysis is here, and the research itself can be viewed here.

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