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By Jennifer Riner of Zillow

Many prospective leaseholders erroneously calculate their monthly rent budgets without factoring in utility costs. Electricity, heat, water, gas, cable, internet and trash removal often act as separate expenditures, detached from advertised monthly rents. Sometimes, landlords include portions of utilities within rental prices. If rent is stand-alone, applicants without roommates should budget 20 percent of total monthly rent for utilities. Additionally, landlords can provide utility cost estimates for applicants to prepare accordingly.

When utilities aren’t incorporated into monthly rent, tenants benefit from lowering unnecessary energy costs. Consider these four money-saving strategies to minimize utility incidentals in apartments.

1. Alter Energy-Wasting Habits

Apartment transformations – from energy wasteful to energy-efficient – doesn’t always require major purchases or renovations. In fact, low-cost modifications can significantly impact energy bills. Try rearranging furniture to uncover any registers, blocking hot air flow. In the wintertime, make sure to open the blinds or curtains on south-facing windows so sunlight can heat up interiors naturally. Close them after sunset to retain heat and insulate cold windows. Door snakes, also known as draft stoppers, are inexpensive solutions for drafty cracks in older buildings, and storm kits provide temporary insulation to unsealed windows. Make a habit of turning off lights and electronics, or setting them to enter automatic sleep mode when not in use for extended periods of time.

2. Turn Down the Heat

Residents of cold climates familiarize themselves with astronomical heating bills rather quickly. Renters in Chicago, for instance, can expect to pay up to $300 per month in a single-family rental using oil burners for heat and hot water. Forced-air and gas heating costs significantly less than oil burners, averaging tenants about $100 per month in the middle of winter. Although weather patterns shift throughout the years, consult previous tenants for general projections of heating charges. Renters who notice their heating bills rising, or face more expensive bills than previous renters, should try to modify their daily behaviors to cut down on costs. Reducing thermostats by 10 degrees while at work and sleeping can cut total heating bills by 14 percent. What would normally cost $100 per month diminishes monthly heating fees to $86 – totaling $168 savings per year.

3. Share the Internet

Just as renters with roommates can save money by splitting the Internet with their friends, tenants who live alone can split with their routers with nearby neighbors. While single renters pay around $45 per month for internet, sharing WiFi with the couple next door lowers the bill to $15 per person. Keep in mind, splitting the Internet slows maximum speed, so this may not be a practical option for renters who work from home. Further, router location might be less convenient for some – the person with the router located in their apartment receives the strongest WiFi connection. While sharing the Internet with neighbors may not work – depending on apartment layouts, individual usage and signal reach – it’s worth the attempt.

4. Replace Incandescent Bulbs with Light-Emitting Diodes (LED)

Forty-watt LED bulbs only use six watts of power, saving 85 percent of the energy and subsequent costs. While initially more expensive, LED bulbs typically save renters more than their hardware cost throughout the year lease term. Plus, LEDs last up to 20 years, only costing owners an average of 72 cents per year to operate. Unlike other more permanent energy-efficient installments, renters can unscrew and move their LED bulbs into future apartments to continue saving on utility bills.

While homeowners have the option of installing solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, irrigation meters and programmable thermostats, renters can cut energy costs without losing their eco-friendly investments after lease end. Albeit small, minor changes add up over the course of a year. Saving even $50 on utility costs per month allows renters to raise their budgets for modernized, more convenient apartments in the future.

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