10 easy ways to green your apartment

Big ideas for small spaces

Ahh, rental, sweet rental. If you live in an apartment, many of our go-to green home tips don’t apply: renters usually can’t switch to an Energy Star dishwasher, keep a water-saving garden, install solar panels or add extra insulation. So besides schmoozing your landlord to add eco-renovations, what’s an apartment dweller to do? Read on for 10 easy ways to green your living space:

1. Start a mini food garden

Good news: you can join the grow-your-own-food revolution, even if you don’t have a garden. As long as you have a porch, balcony, windowsill or light-filled wall that gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily, you can still exercise your green thumb. Give your plants a boost with vertical planters (like the trendy Urbio or Woollypocket), a hydroponic system (like the innovative Windowfarm) and dedicated grow lights that run on timers.

If you’re looking for low-maintenance options, Fungaea has easy DIY kits for growing oyster mushrooms or organic sprouts, and Back to the Roots has the AquaFarm, a cool self-cleaning fish tank that grows food.

2. Get a programmable thermostat

Programmable thermostats are a great tool for conserving energy and reducing your utility bills (in fact, according to Natural Resources Canada, for every degree you turn down your thermostat at night, you can save two percent on your heating bill). Building supply stores have a wide range of programmable thermostats; for more of a splurge, we love Ecobee’s Smart Thermostat. It’s WiFi-enabled so you can monitor your home comfort and change the temperature from your smartphone.

3. Paint it green

Your walls can be green, even if they’re painted beige! If you’re going for a synthetic paint, choose a low- or zero-VOC line, which won’t off-gas as much as conventional paint. Several manufacturers even offer recycled paint; Boomerang claims to have four times less greenhouse gas air emissions. Keep in mind that low- or zero-VOC means just that – low in VOCs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the paint is free of harsh chemicals. Also, tinting the paint adds VOCs (the darker the colour, the more VOCs).

For added peace of mind, you can go all-natural: Canadian company Homestead House has organic, biodegradable and natural milk paint; Green Planet Paints offers non-toxic, plant-based paint; and American Clay makes earth plasters with reclaimed marble sand and clays.

4. Start a compost bin

Garden-less apartment dwellers can still compost! Vermicomposting (or composting with worms) is ideal for smaller spaces. Worm Composting Canada has an excellent how-to guide to get you started. A second option is bokashi composting, a practically odourless method that uses microbes to decompose food scraps. With a bokashi bucket, you can compost produce, bones, meat, poultry and fish.

Perhaps the bigger question surrounding apartment composting is what to do with the outputs. Use your newly composted soil for houseplants, or offer it to a friend or family member with a garden. You can also give it away on Freecycle or Craigslist, or donate it to a community garden, school garden or farm.

5. Add water-saving fixtures

Apartment living brings out the MacGyver in all of us. Doing a few simple repairs and retrofits can equal big water savings. Fixing a leaky faucet is usually as simple as replacing a worn-out washer, and you could save up to 530 litres per week. Installing a low-flow showerhead is another great idea – a 10-minute shower uses up to 190 litres of water, and switching to low-flow can reduce this by half.

If your landlord won’t replace an old toilet with a dual-flush model, do a low-cost retrofit yourself. Options include the Moen Dual Flush Water Saving Toilet Conversion Kit and the HydroRight Dual-Flush System.

6. Seal it up

Scout out those tiny air leaks that prevent your apartment from being the cozy, energy-efficient space you want. DIY tip: hold a lit incense stick close to the edges of windows, doors, electrical outlets and light fixtures. If there is an air leak, the smoke will waver as outside air rushes in. When sealing leaks, pick a safe, VOC-free sealant like Eco-Bond or AFM Safecoat.

7. Add smart furniture

Choose furniture made with eco-friendly processes and green materials. Look for sustainable wood (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and its biggest forest certifier, the Rainforest Alliance) or reclaimed wood (we love pieces from Urban Tree Salvage, Sourced & Salvaged or Union Wood Co.). If it’s not wood you’re after, try furniture made from recycled plastics or metals.

You can also choose to go vintage! Giving used furniture a new home prevents it from ending up in a landfill. Second-hand furniture also typically has lower toxin levels, as it has likely already off-gassed most of its chemicals.

8. Get an organic mattress

On average, we spend a third of our lives in bed! And unfortunately, most conventional mattresses contain a cocktail of fire-retardant chemicals and VOCs. Sleep better knowing that you aren’t exposing yourself to nasty toxins – look for mattresses made with organic cotton, all-natural wool or natural latex from rubber trees. Dormio Organic Beds and Soma Beds & Sleep Products have great options.

Don’t forget about the sheets! Organic Lifestyle is our go-to retailer for all things bedding.

9. Switch to green power

Call your utility company to see if it offers a “green power” option, or consider switching to a clean, pollution-free energy provider like Bullfrog Power. Its green electricity comes exclusively from wind and hydro facilities, with at least 50 percent sourced directly from your region. Get a quote for your apartment.

10. Less is more

These ideas are just a start – there are many other ways you can green your apartment. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to overhaul your space – being conscientious is about wisely choosing which items to keep, which to replace, what to repair or refurbish, and what to repurpose entirely. Remember: sometimes less is more!


How do you green your apartment? We love to hear from you! E-mail editor@green-living.ca. For more tips, tricks and inspiration, visit the Green Living Show, April 25-27 at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto!