When you’re buying a new appliance for your home – say, a fridge or a dishwasher – it’s easy to know just how kind it will be to the environment and your wallet.
That’s because we’ve all got used to the yellow ‘energy rating’ stickers on the front. Just as you choose to stay in a three or a five-star hotel, with a simple glance you also know if you’re buying an efficient and ‘green’ machine, or a bit of a power guzzler.
The impact of those energy rating sticker laws is that, compared to 30 years ago, things like fridges and freezers are an amazing 70% more efficient. Why? Because appliance companies would obviously prefer to display 6 stars than 1. A high star rating is a clear sign that what’s being bought is efficient to run, kind to the environment, and built by a great company.
And a similar type of star rating system is now coming to the world of … apartment buildings.
You read that right.
Jointly funded by the federal and state governments, it’s called NABERS – or National Australian Build Environment Rating System. And just like the energy rating sticker on a fridge, NABERS is designed to clearly advertise how apartments perform from an energy and environmental point of view.
What is NABERS for apartments?
Actually, NABERS has been around for some time, measuring how Australian commercial buildings perform by looking at things like energy efficiency, water use, waste management and environmental impact. Since 2010, it has helped many thousands of buildings save millions on their bills – NABERS reports that the office sector alone is now saving a whopping $100 million a year.
Not just that, CO2 emissions are down over 600,000 tons every single year, which is the equivalent of 160,000 fewer cars zipping about each day on the roads. Five star NABERS ratings deliver a 9% value boost, compared to just 2-3% for 3-4.5 star ratings.
“As a result, energy efficiency is now understood as more than just a cost saving strategy – it’s a way to improve amenity, occupant health and lease-ability, which has had a huge impact,” said Luke Menzel, chief executive of the Energy Efficiency Council.
And now, just in time for the beginning of Australia’s power hungry winter, NABERS is launching especially for apartments.
What’s the aim?
In late 2015, the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed that more effort needed to be put into integrating how energy and climate policies interact. In other words, for everyone’s sake, Australia recognised the need to get more out of the energy that our country produces.
More efficiency – a stated COAG aim of a 40% improvement by 2030 – will not only make Australia more competitive whilst driving down greenhouse gas emissions, Australians will be able to reduce their expensive energy and water bills.
It’s obvious that the apartments sector is being targeted for the scheme. Three years ago, new attached property buildings started to outnumber new detached buildings, in the built environment sector that contributes almost a quarter of Australia’s total emissions.
So it is hoped that the ‘NABERS for apartments’ system will motivate building managers to improve their rating by retrofitting and upgrading lighting, HVAC systems, pool pumps, hot water systems, sensors and more.
NABERS for apartments – How will it work?
Just like those fridge stickers, apartment buildings will get a rating of between one (poor) and six (very efficient) stars.
The rating works by looking at things like common area utility bills and then converting them into the six-star power and water ratings that allow an easy and direct comparison between apartment buildings across Australia. It will be useful information for owners corporations, building managers and owners and residents, as they understand how their building is performing and work to improve it.
To get a rating, a strata scheme will need to collect 12 months worth of their common area utility bills, including power, gas and water. An assessor will then visit, look over everything, and assign a one to six star rating that is valid for a year.
NABERS for apartments – How’s it being received?
The Property Council, representing the biggest employer in Australia – the property industry – is a fan of the NABERS for apartments scheme. CEO Ken Morrison says he would like to see the entire economy work towards achieving ‘net zero’ emissions.
“We support the development of coherent national initiatives such as this, and encourage governments to bring this level of coordination to other residential sustainability policies where initiatives are often fragmented and inconsistent among jurisdictions,” he said.
Owner corporations are also fully on board, with plenty of interest throughout the country. Anecdotal reports suggest owners corporations have in fact been basically doing it for years already – benchmarking their buildings against their neighbours simply to reduce energy bills.
And some think NABERS should be mandated for apartment buildings – and that the ratings should then be mandatorily disclosed to the public.
Jay Gualtieri, of Melbourne energy consultant Ausnviro, thinks it’s crucial to be looking at ways to start slashing at energy consumption in a sector where “every second building you look at is resi”. He’s been running a City of Melbourne pilot scheme for NABERS for a year, and thinks his idea of mandating it will lead quickly and inexpensively to energy usage and cost reductions, and set Australia on track to meet its Paris climate accord commitment.
“We’ve been blown away with how robust the tool is,” said Gualtieri. “They’ve done such a good job – NABERS and the people who partnered with them in the strata industry.”
Sydney is also keen, with Waverley Council launching a new program involving 10 buildings – including The Crown and The Stanford and more – to be rated by NABERS. A 20% energy usage reduction for common areas has been targeted, and to achieve it they’ll get energy, solar and waste assessments, recommendations for upgrades, and funding to get it done.
And City of Sydney chief executive Monica Barone said that with three quarters of all Sydney residents living in apartments, she is also a “strong advocate” of the NABERS rating tool.
“We estimate 80% of Sydneysiders will live in apartments by 2030 and these residents will demand higher environmental standards for their apartment buildings,” she said. “It will help reduce operational costs, help owners and tenants save on energy and water bills, and help our great city become more sustainable.”
On June 4, training was underway in Sydney for those who will soon be carrying out the NABERS assessments. Let the star ratings begin!