April 9, 2015

Saving big bucks is easy in your strata block

There’s a lot to love about apartment living - you don’t have to worry about mowing the lawn and if you’re lucky, you have access to a pool and garden.  Better yet, you may even have a beaut view. 

The downside for owners can be the hefty strata levies, including rising power bills that shrink your budget each quarter. 

Up to half of a large unit building’s total energy use is in common property, with some Owners’ Corporations spending over $100,000 for shared power use each year. Think foyer and fire stair lights, carparks, air-conditioning, lifts, pools, and central water heating. Simple and cost-effective energy-saving upgrades can cut 30-40% off energy bills and add value to your property. 

So as celebrated Earth Hour last week, why not take further action to slash your strata energy costs for the longer term with these three quick big wins. 

1. Lighting

Carpark lighting can account for up to 50% of power use, but there's also common foyer, external and stairwell lighting. Changing lights to low-energy alternatives is a ‘no-brainer’ with fast installation and payback periods as short as six months. Quality LEDs can use up to 90% less energy than standard fittings and last years longer. Aside from bill savings, there are extra maintenance savings from not having to change the lights as often. 

You may also be eligible for upfront discounts via the NSW Energy Savings Scheme. 

2. Carpark ventilation

Another easy win is in carpark ventilation equipment. Many carpark fans are either run 24/7, or operate on timers that don’t accurately reflect when fans are needed. By installing carbon monoxide monitoring in the carpark and regulating the speed of the fans for ventilation, buildings can save big, with costs paid off in a few years. 

3. Switching off

Aside from carpark fans, other equipment is often left on unnecessarily without anyone realising. Installing lighting sensors, push-button light switch timers,  and simply switching off equipment that's not used like garbage room lights can slash the building power use with little to no upfront cost.  

So, where to start?

Get to know your building's energy bills: what you are paying and where the energy is being used. Arrange a professional energy audit -- it's a cost-effective way to work out which projects to invest in, complete with costs and payback information.

Some consultants will also help source and evaluate suppliers’ quotes for projects, which is handy if your time and experience is limited. Strata managers may also offer a value-add service in facilitating these actions.

There are free online tools and information to help you do a basic walk-through audit and get supplier quotes, including Smart Blocks (www.smartblocks.com.au). 

Making decisions to hit 'go' 

A strong business case with prioritised actions and a compelling cost argument can be worth its weight in gold in getting Executive Committees or Owners’ Corporations to agree on spending money on retrofit projects. Tackling the low-hanging fruit first, like lighting, is a sure-fire way to show great results to decision-makers to convince them to fund larger projects.

And don't forget - making friends with your fellow owners and gaining their support for energy-saving works can do wonders for pushing projects over the line.

Useful info 

  • Green Strata for info and case studies - www.greenstrata.com.au

  • Smart Blocks initiative for online info, tools and business case templates - www.smartblocks.com.au

  • NSW Energy Savings Scheme - www.ess.nsw.gov.au

     

    Written by Nicola Saltman and originally published in The Beast magazine

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