Living more sustainably is a hot topic right now. From reducing single-use plastics to being more energy-efficient, more people are looking to greener living. The same applies to strata. Not only can greener living make a strata building more sustainable, but it can also reduce energy and water consumption, save money and attract new owners and tenants.
It’s not just new strata buildings implementing sustainable initiatives in their building design though. Older strata properties can also do their bit to boost sustainability and reduce their environmental impact.
Typically, according to the NSW Fair Trading & Smart Green Apartments audit, lighting in common areas within a low-rise building consumes approximately 90% of the common area energy consumption. In comparison, in medium and high-rise buildings, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and pumps use 47% of common area energy consumption, followed by 27% for lighting and 12% for pools. Underground car parks, lifts, and gyms also contribute to the high energy consumptions of strata buildings.
Despite items in common areas consuming so much energy, there are numerous ways that strata properties can reduce their common area usage, both for short term and long-term gains. This can include upgrading and replacing existing equipment, installing new infrastructure or using a sustainability infrastructure solution. In return, the capital works fund keeps a healthy bank balance and owners can enjoy paying lower levies in the future. Working on sustainability measures whether big or small initiatives will ultimately help save money in your administration fund.
What methods can a strata scheme use to become more sustainable?
Making the simple switch from incandescent, fluorescent or halogen bulbs to LED lighting within your strata scheme’s common areas could drastically reduce your energy consumption and provide significant savings to your owners corporation energy bills. Better yet, install timers or built-in motion sensors so that common area lighting is only used when required to further reduce energy consumption.
Renewable Energy Sources
Investing in renewable energy sources can provide long term savings for electricity. This can include solar power, wind-powered energy production and heat pumps. Solar power can be used across common areas, be a separately-metered system for each lot or have a solar-powered embedded network. Although installing solar can initially seem complicated and expensive, it can provide long-term benefits and savings to a strata scheme. It’s worth the owners corporation doing their due diligence first to assess the feasibility of installation, determine how much sunlight exposure the scheme will receive and how much it will cost. Before work can begin, approval is also required from the owners, secured through a majority vote at a general meeting.
Owners corporations can refer to Sydney Water’s benchmark for water consumption to determine how much water usage and wastage is happening in their building. 300 litres or higher per bedroom per day is considered high use, 200 to 300 litres per bedroom per day is typical use whilst less than 200 litres per bedroom per day is best practice.
Simple things an owners corporation can do to reduce water usage include:
- Check that there are no leaks within common areas
- Install timed watering systems within communal gardens and set these to water late in the evening and early morning
- Replace plants with native alternatives that require less water
- Install a rainwater tank and use this to water the communal gardens
- For strata schemes with an outdoor swimming pool, use a pool cover to reduce evaporation
Apartments in NSW built before 2014 do not have individual meters so water is paid via the administrative fund and owners pay levies each quarter proportionate to unit entitlement. If possible, try to install a separate water meter for each lot which helps the owner or tenant reduce their water consumption to avoid hefty water bills, as well as making it easier to detect and repair any leaks. An owners corporation however can turn to initiatives such as WaterFix Strata and NABERS that incentivise and reduce wastage across the property as well as individual lots in both large and boutique strata schemes. This can include fixing leaks on common property and individual lots, as well as installing water efficiency devices.
A popular method that many strata buildings are switching to, to reduce their energy use and costs with heating water is by using solar hot water or heat pump hot water systems.
Solar Hot Water Systems rely on having solar panels installed to heat the water. This can help lower carbon emissions and electricity bills when solar panels are in use, whilst on overcast days, hot water can be powered by gas or electricity heating.
Heat Pump Hot Water Systems tend to be regarded as more efficient than electric boosted solar systems due to absorbing the air’s warmth and transferring it to heat water. Only the compressor and the fan are required to run on electricity which then directly heats the water. Heat pumps can also run off your solar grid if you have one, making them almost emission-free.
For heated swimming pools, consider installing energy-efficient pool pumps or turn down the temperature thermostat for instant energy savings.
Waste and recycling
Owners corporations can play a key role when it comes to reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfill, whilst encourage good recycling habits. As well as making recycling bins easily accessible for all residents to recycle their paper, cardboard and glass, having simple instructions or clear signage can help educate residents on what can and cannot be recycled. Strata schemes could also introduce compost facilities for owner occupiers to dispose of their organic waste. Other waste initiatives to help go green include having e-waste, mobile phone or battery recycling.
Sustainability infrastructure resolutions
It’s now become even easier for owners corporations to add sustainability infrastructure to the common property of their building through a sustainability infrastructure resolution.
The Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Act 2020 defines sustainability infrastructure as any changes to the common property – including installation, removal, modification or replacement of anything on or forming part of the property – for one or more of the following purposes:
- reducing or improving the efficiency of the consumption of energy or water
- reducing or preventing pollution
- reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill
- increasing the recovery or recycling of materials
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- facilitating the use of sustainable forms of transport, for example, by installing electric vehicle charging stations.
To allow these sustainability infrastructure changes to proceed, the sustainability infrastructure resolution requires a simple majority vote of 50% or more of the votes from eligible voters at the general meeting, as long as certain conditions are followed.
Owners corporations can use a sustainability resolution to help decide upon the financing of the sustainability infrastructure as well as changing the by-laws to install and/or use sustainability infrastructure.
However, before the sustainability infrastructure resolution can be approved, the owners corporation must have considered the following:
- the cost of the works including expected running and maintenance costs
- who will own, install, and maintain the infrastructure
- who in the strata scheme will this be made available to (all or just limited lots)
To help plan or prepare for a sustainable future and increase building performance, owners corporations should also detail energy-efficient options in their ten-year capital works plan.
Check Government Incentives
Refer to the NSW Government’s Energy Savings Scheme which seeks to reduce energy consumption in NSW by installing, improving or replacing energy savings equipment, such as lighting upgrades.
Get in touch
Interested to learn more about how to make your strata scheme more sustainable? Speak to The Strata Collective for more energy saving ideas.