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Sustainability upgrades 

In a strata scheme 

Smart owners corporations know the environmental and financial benefits of managing energy and water consumption and helping their residents reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

Up to 60 per cent of an apartment building's total energy can be used in common areas. This is particularly high in buildings with centralised plant and equipment, and underground car parks. Utilities (energy, water and gas) can account for 20-25% of a scheme’s administrative fund expenditure.

Instead of wasting money on excessive consumption, you can divert more of your levies to the capital works fund to cover building upgrades.

Experience has shown that apartment buildings can reduce common property energy consumption by 30-40% and water use by 20-25% per cent in the short-term by using cost effective measures. Waste management can also be significantly improved.

Medium to longer-term opportunities to further improve a building's environmental performance are a worthwhile consideration in the capital works plan. The capital works fund can be used to do more than just cover the costs of future capital expenses – it can used as an investment in improved building performance.


The larger your building or complex, the greater your common area energy consumption (electricity and gas) is likely to be and the more costly for your owners corporation to run.

Source: EnergyAustralia, NSW Department of Planning - Multi Unit Residential Buildings Energy and Peak Demand Study, 2005

Audits show consistent patterns of where energy is used. These tables show typical breakdowns of common area energy consumption and highlight which upgrades could have the most impact.

Low rise buildings

Common area asset

Percentage of common area energy consumption

Lighting 90%
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) 6%
Other 4%

Medium and High rise buildings

Common area asset

Percentage of common area energy consumption

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and pumps 47%
Lighting 27%
Pool 12%
Lifts 8%
Other 6%

Source: City of Sydney, Smart Green Apartments audits

There are projects with quick paybacks that owners corporations can consider straight away such as installation of timers or a lighting upgrade, and others to plan and budget for in the capital works plan.

A list of potential upgrades in order of increasing cost or longer payback is:

  • Operations (timers, maintenance etc.)
  • Lighting
  • Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) (carpark exhausts, kitchen and bathroom exhausts etc.)
  • Power factor correction
  • Mechanical (Water pumps, pool pumps etc.)
  • Water heating (solar, heat pumps etc.)
  • Renewable supply (solar power, wind power etc.)
  • Lifts
  • Building shell (window and wall insulation etc.)

By considering energy efficient options in the ten-year capital works plan, owners corporations can be prepared to upgrade to more efficient alternatives when unexpected failures of essential plant and equipment occur.

Some of the most common upgrades are shown in the table below.


Efficiency project


Timers and day/night sensors.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) now come in all shapes, sizes and colour temperatures, often with built-in motion sensors. They offer significant savings when compared to incandescent, fluorescent & halogen lighting.

Underground carpark exhaust fans Addition of carbon monoxide (CO) sensors and Variable Speed Drives (VSDs).
Pumps and fans Addition of Variable Speed Drives (VSDs).
Pools Pool covers to retain heat and reduce evaporation; energy-efficient pool pumps; reduce thermostat temperatures.
Hot Water Systems (centralised gas) Consider heat pumps, solar boosting or instantaneous gas when systems are due for replacement.
Solar power Installed after first reducing common property consumption.

Government incentives

The NSW Government's Energy Savings Scheme can help reduce the cost of lighting upgrades. Ask your suppliers if their products qualify under the Commercial Lighting or Home Energy Efficiency Retrofits Methods.

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If your apartments don't have individual meters (the overwhelming majority in NSW) your owners corporation pays for all water consumption through its administrative fund. This means owners pay for water consumption through levies and in proportion to their unit entitlement. Tenants never see any costs associated with water.

Research has shown that on average over 86% of water use is within apartments, but there is little to no incentive for individuals to reduce their water consumption.

Breakdown of areas of water usage in apartment buildings

Water usage area

Percentage of water consumption

Showers 51.5%
Toilets 7.7%
Leaks 7.0%
Washing machines 6.8%
Bathroom basins 5.5%
Commercial tenants 5.5%
Kitchen taps 5.1%
Cooling towers 3.4%
Fire testing, cleaning and other 2.2%
Irrigation 1.5%
Baths 1.3%
Pool and fountains 1.2%
Dishwashers 1.0%
Laundry taps 0.3%

Source: Smart Green Apartments, Water Efficiency Audits, Sydney Water and City of Sydney 2013

There is now a proven benchmark, developed after research by Sydney Water, that helps owners corporations determine whether water consumption in their buildings is excessive.


Water use per bedroom benchmark

(Litres per bedroom per day)
Higher use 300 and higher
Typical 200 to 300
Best practice Less than 200
Unachieved target Less than 130

Source: HiRise Summary Report, Sydney Water's Every Drop Counts HiRise Pilot Program, Sydney Water and BMT WBM Pty Ltd, June 2010.

You can calculate where your building sits on the benchmark table.

The main culprits in excessive water consumption are inefficient showers and taps, and leaks.

For those with a high benchmark – over 300 litres per bedroom per day and with no obvious leaks on common property, the proven solution is to retrofit apartments with water efficient fixtures and fittings. Most water utilities have programs and services to help you to work through this in your building, so talk to your local water utility about how it can help you.

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Owners corporations can have a big impact in supporting all residents to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill.

For items that can be recycled through your local Council such as containers, paper and cardboard, it is important to ensure recycling facilities are easily accessible and the process is clear.

Depending on the space you have available you can consider other initiatives to further segregate waste items such as mobile phones, batteries, light globes, clothing, e-waste, green waste, organic waste and unwanted household goods. View examples of what innovative owners corporations have done.

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Getting started 

There are resources and organisations focused on helping owners corporations improve the sustainability of their common property and their community of residents. To make a start:

  • check with your local council to see if it offers any programs or assistance
  • audit your common property energy use – use a qualified energy auditor or self-audit
  • check with your water utility to see what programs and assistance they offer e.g. Sydney Water’s WaterFix®
  • use independent resources such as Green Strata and Smart Blocks to learn more and see what other owners corporations have achieved.

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