Smart Renting

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

I found this interesting website for renters who want to live a lifestyle of LESS via David Holmgren's Retrosuburbia newsletter and thought it would be useful to the Green Wizard renter set here. It is directed towards those in Australia, but I'm sure the principles are applicable elsewhere, as they also tested this stuff out in Germany too:

Smart Renting

From the "About" page of the site:

"Smart Renting had humble beginnings in 2011 when your authors, Steve and Rabea wanted to save energy around a rental house, given that home ownership was (and still is) unaffordable for many would be first home buyers in Melbourne.

We had no idea how far it would go into other parts of our lives or how much it would transform our lives for the better.

After we significantly reduced our home energy use, we went further by going car free, incorporating local produce into our diets and more recently have added home grown produce and composting to the mix.

We wanted to make changes that were cheap and easy to implement and could work in almost any rental property. We also tested these ideas in Germany for four years.

A funny thing happened along the way:

We tripled our yearly savings rate (which were already pretty healthy) making home ownership a reasonable prospect for us should we choose it
We learned to enjoy living in rental properties and to make them work for us
We were able to go from five days a week of working to four
We got healthier and more active
We have more time and energy for others and ourselves
We enjoy more reliable household services and transportation
Travel (a favourite pastime of ours) has become a deeper and more rewarding experience
We never felt that we were going without or making sacrifices, if anything, we feel richer than ever (and not just in the monetary sense)"

I looked over the linked website: great ideas for anyone!
However, in the long run, you still want to own your property.


Because of elderly relatives of mine in North Dakota. They rented the same house for 40 years. Then the landlord's estate sold the house and they were evicted as soon as the lease ran out.

In that time period, they could have bought a house and paid it off.
I watched the trailer park near us got sold. All the tenants were forced to leave, despite many of them owning their trailers and living on those rented lots for decades.
My next-door neighbors have rented their house as long as we've lived in ours. (18 years to date). What happens when the landlord decides he's done with the business? The new owner might not be so easy to work with.

The website is, as I said, all great ideas. But when someone else owns the property, you are always at risk.
Paying off your house gives you many benefits.
One of them is that even if you stop paying your taxes, it takes months to years for the state to start proceedings and foreclose, giving you time to pay up. Also, annual taxes are far less money than rent or a mortgage.

Always think about your long game.

Teresa from Hershey

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Hi Teresa,

I definitely agree with you about the long game. It's one of our goals to get our house paid off sooner -and we always manage to make at least one extra payment a year, but would like to do more, but that's where we are at now. Having the house paid off will give other freedoms, including financial. Also the solace that comes from knowing it is ours and that it can be passed on to one of our kids or grandchildren. The extra money from not having a mortgage could also go into other GW projects and home improvements.

However I wanted to post this link because a lot of people still do rent and they may not give green wizardry a try in their apartments because they see it as a limitation. I wanted to share something that could be done by renters. And like the couple who wrote the site, they were cutting costs while renting to save up to buy their own place.

It is sad to hear about people like the couple you mentioned and those who lived in the trailer park.

Blueberry's picture

Take the interest rate and divide into the number 72 and that is how many years for your money to double that cuts both ways money you earn on savings and how much you are paying on a loan. Take your monthly loan payment on your house multiply by your number of payments this gives the true cost of a property. So a 30 year mortgage equals 360 payments. If you make one extra payment a year and there are no fees your 30 year mortgage will be payed off in 15 years. On a 30 year mortgage if you only make the monthly payment at the end of 15 years you only own 1/3 of the house life ROTS. If you like numbers read this and this

Blueberry's picture

A picture is worth a lot of words

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David Trammel's picture

When ever I see charts like this about front loaded interest payments I just shake my head. How the heck do we let bankers get away with this kind of thing? It takes almost 20 years before your payment is half interest and half payment on your principle!

Blueberry's picture

If you think that is bad hold on to your hat. Lets say your are buying a car or TV or Computer anything. Take the sales price times the interest on the hold amount for the total time period divide by the number of payments to get the monthly payment. In most states you save nothing in interest by paying the loan off early that ROTS!!! Rent to own they just jack up the price add interest to the selling price. Most rent to own contracts the retailer still makes money if you only make 25% of the payments and they come and get the goods. No such thing as a poor banker or pawn broker.

Blueberry's picture

What can I say please read. I will take my chances at the track.

It's true that because of the front-loading of interest versus payments, if you aren't paying attention and sell your home before paying for it, the bank gets all its money upfront and you, the homeowner, get no equity.

That said, this also makes it very easy to pay down that mortgage fast, fast, fast but only within the first three years. If you make an extra principal payment (principal ONLY and it must be marked as such on your check), that knocks off an entire month off the loan at the back end.

Thus, if your principal payments at the start of the loan are $50 (we'll simplify the math), then an additional $50 added to the principal takes off a month at the end of the loan's life. The second month's principal payment, because you subtracted a month off, is now higher than what your amortization schedule says it is.

If you can afford it at the beginning of the loan, a $500 extra principal payment will knock NINE MONTHS off the length of the loan. It won't be ten months (500 divided by 50) because the amount of principal due each month raises by a dollar or so. Thus, an additional $500 each month for the first year will effectively cut your loan shorter by almost eight years.

The earlier you pay extra to the principal, the better. Any amount is better; even $10 a month will knock a month off the length of the loan if you do it every month for a year in the early days.

The best motivation and the best way to track this paying down of principal is to draw up one of those United Way goal thermometers, tack it to the wall where you will see it every day, and fill it in with each statement.

This is how we managed to pay off our house early. ALL extra money went to the mortgage, after debt restructuring, savings, and home repairs. It was hard, we didn't do much fun stuff. That self-discipline is paying off in spades now.

Teresa from Hershey

Alacrates's picture

Looks like a great website, I'll search through the various topics they have here as time permits. Interested to read on the solar hot water sections, and also on the recycled wood furniture: actually on job sites, they're often throwing away a lot of scrap wood, I hadn't thought of trying to collect it for furniture products...

Agreed that owning a home outright, especially a property you can afford to maintain and maybe grow a portion of your food as well, is the best option overall.

Related to owning a property though, I think that makes sense if you think you'll likely be able to pay off a mortgage within the period of time when you think an economy will exist in which you can earn the funds to pay off a debt like this...

I know JMG and Nicole Foss have both discussed the conundrum between renting and owning... from what I remember from Nicole Foss, she recommended renting unless you could manage to own a property outright fairly quickly... If that was not possible, I think she recommended renting and also making some sort of personal relationship with a landlord that helped maintain value in a property, so that they might excuse a missed rent payment or two in hard times...

I think it was in one of these podcasts (?):

From what I've read, living in a large apartment building is fairly energy efficient... I myself am living in a one room apartment, the heating costs are shared with literally thousands of other people in my building... I've tried growing food on my balcony, but the sun is terrible in my direction, I think a much better idea is to keep my apartment neat & clean for sleeping, and get a plot in a nearby community garden to practice growing food...

I personally got into any sort of line of work which paid a living wage pretty late in life, my own strategy has been to try to build up skills that might be useful to others in the long descent, and hope that they might provide for a living situation in the decades to come: plumbing and cooking have been the trades I've focused on, and since then I've tried to learn as much about electrical, HVAC and carpentry as I can. I think there are a lot of large buildings in the city where I live, if I can offer some ability to maintain these, perhaps I'll have a career in this. I've been thinking it might be good to get some certification in power engineering before too long as well.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Has anybody here read Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson? It is the final book in his "Three Californias" trilogy... an excellent set of three books. ( ) The books look at the same community, even some of the same characters, from three different possible futures. Thus they can each be read independently, but when read together really make you think about time and how these characters reacted in different types of futures.

The first book is set in a "post-apocalyptic" landscape. Some other country set off a few neutron bombs in America and now they are cut off from the rest of the world by sanctions doing their best to survive. The second is set in a hyper-capitalist Silicon valley type world and is about the son of a man who works in the arms industry. It has a huge criticism of car and drug culture -the causalness of consumer culture as amplified by capitalism. The third one is a realistic ecological utopia. It's realistic in that everything isn't perfect and that there are a lot of conflicts, but is utopian in flavor.

I thought of the third one here because in that book a lot of people live in retrofitted four families or eight-family style apartment buildings and share a common area where they do some communal things. My wife and I have often fantasized about buying a four-family apartment. Then we could have a mother-in-law suite and also rent out another one while perhaps using a second apartment for some kind of business or projects. It's a realistic possibility (I'm not saying we are going to pursue it, but there are a lot around and someone could do this. Especially the 1950s-70s era buildings have solid bones.)

From the wikipedia: "Pacific Edge (1990) can be compared to Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia, and also to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. This book's Californian future is set in the El Modena neighborhood of Orange in 2065. It depicts a realistic utopia as it describes a possible transformation process from our present status, to a more ecologically-focused future.[clarification needed] The book does not assume a blank slate from which ecological utopia can be erected, but assumes the buildings, cities and infrastructures of our past and present. An important aspect of the book is the way these are changed to become "green". Pacific Edge is also realistic insofar as conflicts about diverging interests play a big role. In 2065, these are mainly conflicts between Greens and New Federals as the main political parties that are the A.A.M.T. using small companies to buy the last piece of wilderness in the area and develop it; but also conflicts on the personal scale, for example, Kevin, the main character builds a romantic relationship with the mayor's former lover. From a literary critique point of view the broad descriptions of nature and landscape are of interest, as well as the self-references in regard to writing about utopian futures versus actual political work."

Also of interest in the last book is the depiction of conflict over water between various counties in California and how it is supplied from Colorado, etc. A huge part of the book is on the politics of water and the various litigation the different counties get into and how it is played out between the Greens and the New Federals.

JMG and his wife are currently renters too, so I wouldn't knock it totally. There are all kinds of options for lots of people and where they are, what they want and what they need. Retrofitting apartments and developing them ecologically might be a good job for someone who wanted to be involved in real estate and be a landlord.

mountainmoma's picture

Alot of good tips for people just starting to think about this path, wether renting or owning.

i think about the refrigerator power issue alot from time to time. A chest freezer to refrig conversion does save alot of power, but then you do not have a freezer, unless you run a second unit as a freezer. I am cutting down my freezer use alot, but still use it for freezing berries, excess bread and a few other things, ice cubes in summer. I could live without it. But, lets say like most people, we still want some freezer space. A seperate freezer for freezer use could be as small as 2cuft, which is great, but uses about 160kWh a year, so abit less than half of what my refrigerator/freezer combo uses ( mine is 18 cuft total and is rated at under 350kWh/year, I think it is 335kWh a year) . SO, if I went with the chest freezer as fridge, I would need more floor space, it would be less convenient to find food, and I would have less total food storage area ( lets say a 5cuft freezer to use as fridge and a second 2 cuft unit for freezer, so 7 cut ft total, half-ish of current setup). Now, I am not currently using all of my refrigerator space, as I store food canned and dehydrated and have some garden ( well, there is only wild Malva to pick for greens at the moment, and stored dried greens, onions, potatoes, winter squash, canned pie fillings, etc...). But, I do have 15 pounds of pippin apples in there and most years I am storing alot of milk from goat milking, often 6-8 half gallon jars, and most households have more than one person.

So, my current CEE tier3 refrigerator ( that I bought used last summer) is rated to use less than 1kWh a day, I have not borrowed a power monitor to check myself, I do use a refrigerator thermometer and have checked and adjusted both temperature dials down, I am actually almost as low as the dials will go and I am at the rated correct safe temperatures. People should check their actual temps and not just set the dial to normal ! I also keep containers of water in unused spaces in both. But, 1kWh a day is it for a family use. Goes to 2 small chest freezers would save some power, but not alot as half is still needed for freezer, and lests say the other half is reduced by 75%, you would still be at .65 kWh a day or more, for alot less room and convenience. But, if give up all freezer, and just can get by with a small refrig cu ft ( such as living in town and not using for longer storage) then there are real savings and a very modest solar setup could power. I figure if I stayed under a "true" riot for austerity budget of 2kWh/day, that refrig/freezer unit of mine is using up half. Then the other half needs to be divided for use of washing machine, laptop, lights ( easy enough) but certainly not a dishwasher ( which can use another 1-1.5kWh/day)