Energy efficiency can achieve significant monthly savings in both residential and commercial buildings. However, a special approach is required when properties are managed under strata title, due to how the building ownership is structured.
In strata, all common areas are the property of an owners corporation, while residents own individual lots. Upgrades for common areas and services must be approved by the owners corporation, while residents are free to deploy energy efficiency measures within their lots.
Regardless of where energy efficiency measures are deployed, the approach is similar: an upfront cost is assumed to improve aspects of the building, achieving a long-term reduction of energy expenses. Australia has some of the highest electricity rates in the world, and some residential properties are subject to tariffs above 40 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Energy Efficiency for Strata: Common Areas
Apartment towers and other residential developments have many common areas and services, and these include many devices that consume energy. This section will describe some of the most relevant examples.
Common areas such as outdoor spaces, hallways and carports have lighting fixtures, and their operating cost is split among residents. LED lighting is highly recommended for these areas: it typically saves over 60% when replacing fluorescent lighting, and over 75% when replacing HID lighting.
Building systems such as pumping and ventilation have electric motors that consume large amounts of electricity throughout the year. In Australia, electric motors are subject to Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), but this only represents the minimum efficiency allowed. The running cost of motors can be reduced if they are rated for High Efficiency (above the MEPS).
To reduce the operating cost of motors even further, they can be equipped with speed controls. When a motor is subject to partial load, reducing speed is more efficient than intermittent operation. For example, a fan running 80% of the time consumes 80% of the energy used by a fan running 24/7, but a fan at 80% speed only consumes 51% of the energy.
Depending on how the strata project is designed, services such as air conditioning, heating, and domestic hot water may also be provided by common installations. When this is the case, significant savings are possible for the entire property by upgrading HVAC equipment:
- The savings potential is normally higher for air conditioning systems: they run with electricity, which is very expensive in Australia, while most heating systems run with gas.
- Gas-fired heating systems are less expensive to operate, but attractive savings are also possible with energy efficiency.
- If a building uses electric resistance heating, upgrading to a heat pump can cut heating expenses by over 50%.
For strata companies considering energy efficiency measures, a professional inspection is strongly recommended as a first step. Each building is unique, and measures that are effective in one project may not achieve significant savings in another.
Energy Efficiency for Strata: Individual Lots
Energy efficiency measures for individual lots are less complex, since they only require the approval of one resident. However, note that strata companies normally have rules for upgrades carried out by residents.
LED lighting upgrades are also effective for individual lots, but consider that common lighting tends to operate for more hours each month. The best recommendation for residents considering a lighting upgrade is to focus on the lamps that are used the most; the savings potential is minimal for lighting fixtures that are rarely used.
Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and domestic hot water systems that are individual for each dwelling can also be upgraded by residents. When these are common services, as described above, all upgrades must be managed by the owners corporation.
Residents who want to save energy should get familiarized with the Energy Rating system used in Australia. Appliances are marked with a label that goes from 1 to 10 stars, where 10 stars represent the highest efficiency available in the market. By purchasing appliances with many stars in their Energy Rating, strata residents can reduce their electricity and gas expenses.
Like in any other building, energy efficiency measures can achieve significant savings in strata. The main challenge is managing upgrades when ownership changes depending on the specific building area: upgrades for common systems are under the responsibility of the owners corporation, while individual lot upgrades are decided and financed by residents.
An energy audit is strongly recommended as a first step, since it can reveal the energy efficiency measures with the quickest payback period and the highest return on investment.