Sustainability upgrades

Smart owners corporations know the environmental and financial benefits of managing energy and water consumption. Up to 60 percent 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 can account for 20-25 percent of a scheme’s administrative fund.

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


Audits by the City of Sydney show consistent patterns of where energy is used. The tables below show typical breakdowns of common area energy consumption and where upgrades could have the most impact.

Low rise buildings

Common area asset

Percentage of common area energy consumption



Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)




Medium and High rise buildings

Common area asset

Percentage of common area energy consumption

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and pumps










Source: City of Sydney, Smart Green Apartments audits

There are projects with quick paybacks that owners corporations can consider straight away, including the 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).


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>.


If apartments don't have individual meters, the owners corporation pays for all water consumption through its administrative fund. This means the owner pays 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 percent 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







Washing machines


Bathroom basins


Commercial tenants


Kitchen taps


Cooling towers


Fire testing, cleaning and other






Pool and fountains




Laundry taps


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

There is now a proven benchmark, developed by the 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


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. 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.


Owners corporations can have a big impact on residents to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. For items that can be recycled such as containers, paper and cardboard, it’s important to make sure that 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.

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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