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NABERS for apartments could change the game – if it’s mandated

NABERS for apartments hasn’t officially launched yet, but already there is a flood of interest from owners corporations in Melbourne, and in Sydney, Waverley Council has this week launched a program to challenge the City of Sydney’s leadership on this massive and important sector of the built environment.

If the federal government wanted to meet its Paris accord commitments without drawing too much attention to what it’s up to then it could probably do no better than to mandate disclosure of energy ratings for apartment buildings.

According to Jay Gualtieri of Melbourne-based energy consultant Ausnviro, the result could be big reductions in energy consumption at a time when “every second building you look at is resi”. And it would be relatively cheap, at least for the government, while apartment owners would see quick payback for their upgrade investments. 

Gualtieri is feeling upbeat about the prospects of the new rating tool, which is expected to be launched in coming weeks, after winning a contract from the City of Melbourne to undertake a pilot NABERS for Apartments energy and water ratings scheme for 34 of the city’s big apartment buildings.

He says mandating disclosure would not only be a great boon to apartment owners who would be encouraged to cut their energy costs, but a low-cost way for the government to meet its Paris climate accord commitments.

It certainly seems like a good time to tackle the sector, he says. Anecdotal evidence points to owners’ corporations already engaged and competitive, benchmarking off neighbouring buildings to get their energy costs down.

This was backed by the rate of registrations for the City’s program – 20 apartment buildings registered within two days of the launch and another 14 after the program was extended to satisfy demand.

Interest picking up in Sydney

In Sydney there also seems to be a pick up in interest. 

Waverley Council, with new mayor John Wakefield at the helm, this week launched its Building Futures program for Bondi Junction strata

buildings with 10 buildings joining up to be NABERS-rated, with a goal of reducing energy use by 20 per cent in common areas.  

The buildings will be provided energy, solar and waste assessments, costed upgrade recommendations and matched funding. 

Buildings in the program include Eastgate Gardens, The Palisades, ParkSun Apartments, The Oscar on Hollywood, The Crown, The Stanford, Vue Apartments, Trevilion, Capitol and Spring Street Apartments.

Wakefield said the council was in a “prime position to support local building owners in their goals for more carbon-friendly and budget-friendly buildings, especially where related incentives for apartment buildings fall short”.

The City of Sydney is already well down the path to lifting the sustainability standards of its apartments with a program called Smart Green Apartments that has been implemented in about 50 buildings.

Among the savings generated is one example, the Summit building, with three tonnes of clothing diverted from landfill, and energy savings of $82,000 a year. 

In Melbourne’s Jay Gualtieri said the NABERS rating pilot would capture buildings that had an average of 240 apartments, including QV1 Apartments, which had 467 apartments.

The assessments will cover lifts, lobbies and common areas.

Gualtieri said not many people in his field had done this kind of work and he told The Fifth Estatelast week that it was hard to price.  

“How do you price something you don’t know how to do? Well, you get out the dartboard.” 

It’s not a big ticket item, but the hope is the assessments will yield bigger work orders as owners corporations realise the potential for savings. 

“It’s more valuable to create client relationships,” he says. 

The next target for mandatory disclosure?

And Gualtieri is hopeful the rating will be mandated in the way they have been for offices.

“The word on the street is that [the apartments sector] will be next for mandatory disclosure.”

Imagine the energy rating jumping from an average of 2 star NABERS energy to 4 stars or more, as occurred in the office sector, he says. 

A recent media statement from the company said, “Figures from NABERS revealed the office sector is now saving more than $100 million a year in power bills compared to 2010 levels.”

That’s annual CO2 emissions savings of more than 635,000 tons, equivalent to taking more than 160,000 cars off the road.

The Ausnviro team is now set for action. It recently travelled to Sydney to undertake training and according to Gualtieri the tool is good.

We’ve been blown away with how robust the tool is. They’ve done such a good job – NABERS and the people who partnered with them in the strata industry.”

Gualtieri, whose team won last year’s Mad Men competition for the most engaging marketing idea to promote NABERS ratings in offices, says for now he won’t be adding new staff. 

Staff numbers are currently at eight with about three or four contractors called on to handle additional loads.

And on the winning Mad Men concept of a hologram of a tree that could be placed in a building foyer and would “sprout leaves and branches” as the building become more sustainable, this was an idea still challenging the team to bring to a resolution, Gualtieri confessed.

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