7 December 2011 – Carrot or stick are the two options architects, body corporates and government policy makers have at their disposal when protecting their green credentials.
But in these straightened times it seems the stick is becoming the preference.
From building prestige eco-homes or maintaining cutting edge residential apartments and retro-greening vertical villages, the best of intentions can have a way of dissipating.
Sometimes a gentle incentive works, sometimes it gets ugly.
Architect Luigi Rosselli has designed an interesting clause in his contracts encouraging clients to avoid airconditioning or pay a penalty.
In recent contracts, as with the renovation project at Kirribilli in Sydney, which won Rosselli this year’s Milo Dunphy Sustainability Award from the Australian Institute of Architects NSW, the percentage fee applied to the airconditioning and in floor heating costs are be doubled. Half of that fee is donated to carbon emission reduction advocacy groups.
“We found with many prestige residential projects that clients come in with the best intentions but felt with their location that the resale value would be affected without airconditioning,” Rosselli says.
“Yet installing very expensive energy intensive airconditioning systems when we had designed passive heating and cross ventilation really went against the grain – we had a long discussion about it. We know we can design low energy intensive methods for keeping temperatures comfortable,” he says.
“The contract was a little loose with no catch so we stipulated that a penalty fee would be well placed, not in a carbon offset fund but with residential sustainability advocates.”
Rosselli says they didn’t want to bully clients so they designed “a way out” option.
“We use a gas powered heating system with ducts that allow for an airconditioner to be installed beside it – this has worked very well because the majority of people have not installed airconditioning. Some are very proud of not needing it and excited that they are contributing something.
“The problem is if you twist their arm too much they will just go behind your back – people need to be part of the choice and positive about why we are doing it,” Rosselli says.
Anti greening/anti social?
In 2002, architectural firm Engelen Moore made the local fraternity sit up and take notice when they won a slew of gongs at the World Architecture awards for their Altair apartments in Kings Cross. Building of the Year for Australasia, Oceania and the Pacific Rim, the international Housing Residential Building of the
Year and a special sponsor’s award also went to the Sydney-based architects.
One resident at the time told the Sydney Morning Herald, Altair was a “ fantastic building to live in – the cross-ventilation is great, we keep the place at the right temperature by adjusting the blinds and windows.
“There’s a sense of air and space … the way the building operates and breathes is just amazing.”
According to the awards jury, Altair took the award because it showcased environmental design and the apartments themselves were “very well planned and socially sound”.
But a decade later some residents are finding it a challenge to maintain the architect’s intent.
Interests associated with the owners of two apartments in Altair sued for defamation in the District Court after their application to have airconditioning installed in one of the owners’ apartments was rejected by the building’s executive committee.
An appeal by the owner to the New South Wales Consumer, Trade and Tenancy Tribunal had been dismissed before the defamation claim.
The owners subsequently asked Altair’s executive committee permission for additional airconditioning to be installed in the bedroom of an apartment belonging to one of the owners. The apartment already had an airconditioning system.
In line with the building’s by-laws, which forbid the installation of additional airconditioning systems, the executive committee refused permission. It cited the by-laws as well as the need to upgrade the building’s power system, an increase in the building’s carbon footprint, and increasing noise and vibrations for a balcony-based compressor unit, as reasons for its decision.
In October 2008, the executive committee contacted all residents asking them to write letters of support for the committee’s decision to the tribunal. The letter did not mention the owners by name, nor their apartment numbers.
In early February 2009, the owner lost an appeal to the Tribunal.
The issue ended as a defamation action against several members of the executive committee through the District Court, citing the implication in the letter from the committee that the owners seeking the airconditioning had behaved with selfish disregard for the other occupants and the environment and risking destroying amenity.
The matter was recently settled in favour of the executive committee.
Good problems to have
Christine Byrne, of the not for profit Green Strata, which helps owners and occupiers of residential multi-unit properties improve the sustainability of their common property and their community of residents, says the group represents the “forgotten sector”.
“We think there needs to be a focus on existing residential buildings because the wastage is extraordinary – we could easily find 30 per cent to 50 per cent savings on energy and possibly more in water,” Byrne says.
When it comes to airconditioning she believes the stick is best but says the biggest carrot will always be reducing ongoing costs.
She cites one Sydney apartment building which recently mounted solar collectors on the roof to preheat water prior to its entry into the gas hot-water system – savings of up to $28,000 and 40 tonnes of CO2 a year alone were made.
Byrne says lighting changes can often be paid back within two years, a handy initial carrot when explaining the benefits of retro-greening to reluctant residents.
Energy-sucking halogen lights and older-style fluorescent tubes can be replaced by LED lights, external lighting could be powered by solar, and little-used common areas could have motion sensors to trigger lights and car parks could be more efficiently lit – they are often lit three to four times the Australian standard.
”Overlighting is a huge issue,” Byrne says. ”We recently went into a building with 200 two-tube fluorescent lights. They just removed one tube per unit and cut their energy bill for those areas by half.”
Many apartment owners are only just beginning to understand how much water is wasted inside residential buildings particularly as there is no legal control over it and no way to police it, she says.
Water payments are pegged to unit entitlements and that is often calculated on property value. This means a water-wise single person in a two to three bedroom apartment on the upper floor would be penalized compared to the six wastrel students in a ground floor flat. There is zero incentive for tenants to watch their water consumption.
Sydney Water is now evaluating the viability of retrofitting individually water metering in existing buildings but even an ardent advocate like Byrne concedes she can see how complex the undertaking would be.
Fortunately, some green credentials aren’t so hard won. The building manager of the 174-unit Hyde Park Towers and the 154-apartment The Pyrmont, Alan Hoy, and Paul Mitchell, building manager of St Leonards’ Nexus, have been at work on three enticing “carrots” for their residents; saving money on individual energy consumption, cooling the building core to reduce the reliance on airconditioning and keeping strata fees constant without the need to charge to cover increasing energy costs.
Among the retro-greening scope of works is the installation of light-timers, replacing of hundreds of globes, putting in regulators so pumps and motors aren’t running on full capacity all the time, making more use of off-peak power rates and bringing power factor correction equipment into their buildings.
At Nexus a power factor unit was installed to correct the load and resulted in daily demand being reduced by 25 per cent – an immediate reduction in electricity cost of $2000 per year.
Other measures, which have met with the approval of residents, have included an energy audit, installing day and night detectors to control under-awning lighting, removing redundant car park fluorescent tubes, replacing 240-volt ballasts with low-voltage ones and introducing easy to read interfaces to monitor alarms, control fans and carefully track everything about the building.
“The thing that people have to remember is that you don’t often get a problem in buildings that can save you money – these are good problems to have,” Byrne says. “Whether we tackle these problems with a stick or carrot either way we must do what we can to reduce the enormous wastage in residential buildings.”