The issue of sustainability is currently very topical, given the level of commentary around climate change, increasing greenhouse gas emission levels and global warming.

The current generation wants to ensure the population’s needs are met without compromising the needs of future generations, and there is general agreement that people need to reduce their carbon footprint. One of the key areas to take action is by having more sustainable living quarters.

Not only will this benefit future generations, but it will probably reduce the cost of living with lower energy and water bills.

According to City of Sydney Council, over 73 per cent of the City of Sydney residents live in apartment buildings, emitting up to 10 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gases, consuming more than 39 per cent of potable water and generating nine per cent of the city’s waste.

Therefore, strata managers and owners corporations are examining how to respond to the challenges of making buildings more sustainable by targeting waste reduction, and becoming more energy and water efficient.

The high cost and effort involved in modifying existing strata titled buildings to become more green means many owners corporations can be reluctant to invest in sustainability.

Decision making for upgrades is often a slow, complex and problematic process, as someone is normally required to prepare a business case, obtain and compare quotations and options, decide on the best solution, manage the project, verify and report outcomes and savings.

It is important to consider the following factors:

  • Modifying common property requires a special resolution at a general meeting
  • Alterations to machinery or equipment must comply with Australian Standards
  • Large schemes require three or more quotations for any contract work undertaken
  • The scheme’s budget may need a special levy to be raised to cover the cost of the works

However, there are still a number of things owners of strata titled property can do to reduce their carbon footprint without the need for any approval.

To get started on being more energy efficient, an energy audit of the common property assets can be obtained, which will identify areas of improvement and potential upgrades to reduce energy demands. Having more energy efficient assets such as lighting, hot water systems and pumps will generally result in lower energy costs. This may reduce levy contributions for all owners. Furthermore, lower levies and a well maintained building with efficient assets may make apartments more valuable.

By making a start to reduce the common property’s energy consumption and making people aware of the efficiency moves, you may also encourage residents to become more energy efficient within their own apartments.

One of the easiest steps toward being more energy efficient is to replace halogen and incandescent lights to light emitting diode (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lamp (CFLs) lighting. LEDs and CFLs use up to 80 per cent less energy to produce the same amount of light as halogen lighting due to their ability to only create light rather than light and heat, making them more cost effective in the long run. As with any change and/or addition to common property, approval must be obtained to switch over to LED lighting for the common area.

Another relatively easy method to conserve energy is to install sensors or timers to ensure services only run as required, such as motion sensors for hallway or entry lights or timers for outdoor lights.

Central heating and cooling fans may be responsible for the majority of energy consumed by the air circulation and ventilation systems in many buildings and car park. The easiest way to conserve energy is by ensuring the fans are switched off when they are not required by installing a timer or sensor. Installation of carbon monoxide sensors around the car park, as well as coupling the fans to variable speed drives will enable the fans to only run at the optimal speed to alleviate the detected level of carbon monoxide.

Installing solar systems can also reduce energy bills for both common areas and individual apartments from day one.

There are a range of issues to be considered including:

  • Roof access and structural strength of the roof
  • Size and location of panels and impact on views of other residents
  • Ensuring the integrity of the waterproof membrane is maintained or reinstated, particularly when mounting panels on flat roofs
  • Any impact the system may have on the building’s insured value and consequently the premium paid by the owners corporation
  • Where an individual owner is proposing to install solar on common property for personal use, a by-law is required to ensure the owner is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the system

The payback period on the installation of a solar system can be within five to nine years, depending on the size of the system. There are also rebates available, as solar systems are eligible for Small-Scale Technology Certificates (STCs), which means that you can get an up-front discount. The rebate is normally $500 to $600 for a one-kilowatt system but varies by location.

Furthermore, some local councils are offering funding for the installation of solar systems for common areas via the Environmental Upgrade Agreements, whereby the owner pays back the cost of the system via council rates.

Domestic hot water can account for more than 50 per cent of the energy used by common property in apartment buildings that have a central hot water system installed. Heat can be lost as water travels from the central hot water system through the pipes to each apartment. Approximately 30 per cent of energy used to heat the water is wasted as a result of heat loss from storage tank and pipes. Insulating hot water pipes can reduce heat loss by up to 70 per cent.

Water consumption inefficiency is a widespread issue in apartment buildings. Studies have shown that the majority of water consumption (80 to 90 per cent) is from residential water use in apartments (in particular showers, taps and leaks) instead of pools and gardens, as often perceived.

A great way to save water is to install water efficient appliances and fixtures, such as water-efficient shower heads, dual flush toilets, and high water star rated appliances.

Keep an eye out for any leaks. One dripping tap has the potential to waste 2,000 litres of water a month. Also, have a look at the main water meter late at night (when many people are not likely to be showering). If it is spinning around at a high and constant rate, a leak is most likely present. High water consumption may also be caused by overcrowding. Managing and monitoring occupancy in the building is a way to eliminate overcrowding.

Sub-meters can be installed (with the approval of the owners corporation) to get a better understanding of the high water use areas so that a plan of action can be developed to target these areas and reduce water consumption.

The owners corporation may consider reviewing the garden area. Drought resistant shrubs, plants, and grasses require a smaller amount of water in comparison to more traditional species. Additionally, native plants will use a smaller supply of water and have a heightened resistance to plant diseases of the area.

Improved recycling is also important in delivering increased sustainability of buildings.

Every apartment building has recycling waste bins provided by the local council, but many residents may not be familiar with what can be disposed of in recycling bins.

Most councils have a recycling guide on their website and that material can be reproduced and sent to residents to ensure they are fully informed

There are also recycling centres offered by your council around Australia that will take certain waste products to be recycled, such as electronics, furniture, chemicals and liquids, plastics and metals. Residents should be encouraged to dispose of unwanted goods using the recycling centres and the regular council clean-ups which occur, generally twice a year.

To find your council’s recycling centre, go to

As we are well and truly into the digital age, strata managers and executive committees should encourage the sending of information via email. Like most banks and utilities some strata companies offer the option to send documents, such as agendas, minutes, levy notices via email. This uses less paper, which not only saves trees but also reduces waste.