How supporting sustainable strata living can help save NSW owners corporations money

How supporting sustainable strata living can help save NSW owners corporations money

Not only will supporting sustainable strata living save you and your owners corporation money, but it’s also the right thing to do for the environment

Sustainability for commercial buildings has long been on the government’s agenda, with programs like NABERS being a legislative requirement since 2010. Now, the New South Wales government is making a significant push to encourage sustainable strata living too. It’s now easier for the owners corporations of residential strata properties to implement greener infrastructure, thanks to the reduction of red tape and increase in local sustainability programs.

While this is great news for the environment, it’s also welcome news for owners corporations that want to reduce their day-to-day costs. According to NSW Fair Trading,  there are financial benefits to helping the environment with energy and water reduction measures. Many government-backed programs can help reduce energy consumption by 40%, leaving more money in the capital works fund and more money in the pockets of owners too.

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There are many ways to create saving through making the switch to sustainable strata living. To go this effectively, you and your owners corporation could:

  1. Reduce strata energy and water consumption and wastage
  2. Make the most of new legislation that supports sustainable strata living
  3. Investigate cost-saving sustainability programs

1. Reduce strata energy and water consumption and wastage

Residential buildings can have an immensely positive impact on the environment if their owners corporations choose to embrace sustainable strata living, while saving money and increasing their property’s value too.

If you and your owners corporation are on the fence about committing to drastic changes in order to increase your property’s sustainability, we have some good news for you. You don’t necessarily need to make huge commitments to begin with, as you can choose from cost-effective measures that vary in complexity.

Whether your committee is only willing to start with something simple, like replacing fluorescent, incandescent, and halogen lights with LEDs, or are ready to go big and install a full photovoltaic solar system, this important thing is to make a start. Any steps you take to improve your building’s sustainability and performance will likely help your owners corporation save money.

While it’s all well and good to talk about energy and water reduction methods, it can be hard to get a snapshot of what this means within the specific context of the common property. To help you out, we’ve taken a look at energy and water consumption in strata settings.


Energy usage and wastage on common property

Common property usage generally depends on the size and type of the building, and what kind of facilities (pools, lifts, gyms etc) the building has.

Up to 60% of an apartment building’s entire energy consumption can usually be attributed to common property areas. In contrast, simple energy-reducing measures have been found to reduce energy use by 40% or more.

There are multiple ways to reduce energy wastage on common property to embrace sustainable strata living, including adding variable speed drives (VSD) to any motor or pump system. VSDs make sure that a motor’s electricity output matches the environment it’s trying to control, saving on excessive wastage. Other methods your owners corporation may want to opt for include:

  • Embracing solar panels
  • LED lighting upgrades
  • Adding sensors and timers to assets requiring electricity
  • Introducing instantaneous gas to hot water systems
  • Integrating pool covers to retain heat and reduce evaporation.

If you’d like to take an extra step towards increased savings through increased sustainability, you may be interested in PICA Group’s CommunityUtilities program. CommunityUtilities helps committees and owners reduce the cost of energy by finding competitive energy rates on the market. With an average saving of $3,628 per scheme and a total of over $5 million saved on the program so far, it’s worth undertaking.

Understanding where most common property energy is used or possibly wasted allows us to identify where sustainable infrastructure can be implemented. The table below reflects average energy patterns and where energy is most commonly used in strata properties.

Low rise buildings
Common area asset Common area energy consumption
Lighting 90%
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning 6%
Other 4%
Medium and  high rise buildings
Common area asset Common area energy consumption
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning and pumps 47%
Lighting 27%
Pool 12%
Lifts 8%
Other 6%

Source: NSW Fair Trading & Smart Green Apartments audit

Water usage and wastage in strata properties

It is sometimes difficult for owners corporations to determine if their water usage is excessive or acceptable. To solve this problem, Sydney Water now provides the figures to benchmark water usage on properties, giving owners corporations an indication of how much water usage and wastage is happening.

Sydney Water’s benchmark for water consumption
Category Litres per bedroom per day
High use 300 and higher
Typical 200 to 300
Best practice Less than 200
Unachieved target Less than 130

Source: NSW Fair Trading & Sydney Water

Water wastage is commonly perceived as something owners corporations can’t control because apartments built in NSW before 2014 don’t have individual meters. Rather, water usage is paid through the administrative fund and owners then pay via levies which are proportionate to unit entitlement. With 86% of water use occurring in private apartments (and 51.7% being attributed to showers — the single biggest water consumer), it’s seen as a strata variable.

Owners corporations that are looking to embrace sustainable strata living while saving money will be delighted to learn that there are great initiatives like WaterFix Strata and NABERS that look to incentivise and reduce wastage across the property.

WaterFix Strata helps strata communities embrace sustainable strata living by analysing the building’s water history and the number of bedrooms to usage, fixing leaks on the common property and private lots, and installing water efficiency devices. The results can be astounding. For example, WaterFix Strata assessed the Cassia Garden Residential Apartments, a 138-lot building in Sydney’s CBD. It saved its owners 35 million litres of water; a combined saving of $74,000.

WaterFix isn’t just for large strata complexes. It also takes on small strata properties, such as a smaller block in Sydney’s Chatswood, where it saved the owners corporation $6,000 a year.

The WaterFix team often finds savings by installing monitors on the tap that connects the property to the main water supply. Through this, they can see and access water activity. In the case of the Chatswood apartments, the monitor showed the water supply to the building never dipped to zero, indicating a leak. Then, using a leak detection team, they discovered five substantial leaks: two behind concrete walls inside private lots, two common property tap leaks, and a leaking toilet in a vacant apartment.

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2. New legislation is making it easier for strata to go green and save money  

Earlier this year, the NSW Government passed an amendment to the Strata Schemes Management Act (the Act) to make it easier for owners corporations to embrace sustainable strata living by installing sustainability infrastructure with ease.

Traditionally, if an owners corporation wanted to introduce a piece of sustainability infrastructure — such as solar panels or something that physically changes part of the common property —  it required a special resolution (no more than 25% votes, by unit entitlement, voting against the motion). It also required the registration of a section 108 and 143 by-law.

The Amendment nowallows an owners corporation to vote via a “sustainability infrastructure resolution”, which only requires a simple majority vote (50%) from the eligible voters at the general meeting.


Legislatively defining sustainable infrastructure

To determine what infrastructure can and cannot be passed under the new sustainability resolution, the Amendment defines sustainable infrastructure as a change to common property that:

  • Increases the efficiency of energy or water consumption
  • Reduces the use of energy or water
  • Reduces or prevents pollution
  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill
  • Increases the recovery or recycling of materials
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
  • Facilitates the use of sustainable forms of transport.


Steps owners must take before voting on sustainable infrastructure

The Amendment stipulates four key steps and considerations owners must undertake before sustainable infrastructure is approved:

  1. Ownership of the infrastructure must be clearly defined and identified, including who will own, install, and maintain the asset. For example, will it be part of the common property, or will it belong to a particular owner? The by-law should identify who the owner is and who is responsible for installation and maintenance costs.
  2. The extent to which the infrastructure will be accessible by all or some owners within the owners corporation. This may include setting up a register of how has approved access and when.
  3. The cost of the asset, including any running or maintenance costs, who it impacts, and who pays for it must be decided. For example, if an owners corporation was to implement a sustainable energy-saving device but the device itself requires energy, how will the energy costs of running the device be proportionately shared according to who uses it.
  4. Owners will also have to consider any matters prescribed under the Strata Schemes Management Regulations 2016.

3. Investigate cost-saving sustainability programs

Implementing sustainability and cost-saving measures may sometimes seem like hard work for an owners corporation. However, specialist programs like NABERS for Apartment Buildings can make sustainable strata living more feasible.

NABERS stands for the National Australian Built Environment Rating System. It is similar to the mandatory rating system for commercial buildings that became compulsory in 2010. We at PICA Group are government certified assessors who can walk you through benchmarking your building, identifying areas to save on energy and water wastage, and helping unlock potential savings and increase market value.

While embracing sustainable strata living will require some planning, commitment and hard work, you and your owners corporation will likely reap the benefits in the long run. Not only will you contribute to saving the planet, you’ll also save yourself some money in the process.


Supporting sustainability, increasing building value, and opening doors to potential savings… that’s our passion when it comes to enhancing community living. Ask about our CommunityUtilities energy savings program or explore our various green initiatives through CommunityGreen and other related services. If you would like to learn more about improving sustainability in strata settings, you can browse our article library here.

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