Tracey Cools

5 June 2014 — The booming Sydney residential market, especially in apartment dwellings, has led to a boom in business for sustainability consultants and energy assessors Efficient Living.

“Approvals for multi-residential development applications are up 40 per cent compared to this time last year and our business is probably doing 60 per cent more work than we were last year,” company founder and managing director, Tracey Cools said.

In an interview with The Fifth Estate this week, Ms Cools outlined some of the challenges of high rise living, and also how the detached dwelling sector offers its own challenges, especially in terms of greenwash, managing budgets and ensuring BASIX compliance.

The firm’s focus is predominantly thermal comfort and energy efficiency, and it works with architects, developers and builders to achieve BASIX compliance and to find the right balance between an efficient external envelope and energy efficiency in the building inclusions.

As a fundamental approach, sustainability initiatives are embedded into projects so they do not come at a huge additional cost, with basics such as insulation, energy metering and energy efficient lighting incorporated as low-cost baseline inclusions.

The company works with suppliers including window manufacturers and lighting firms, and undertakes constant research, Ms Cools said. Currently, volatile organic compounds and  luminescent exit signs are two areas where it is building knowledge.

“VOCs are an enormous concern in our buildings in terms of indoor air quality and health, especially as buildings become more sealed for thermal comfort,” she said.

The right business idea at the right time

The company was started by Ms Cools 14 years ago when she was a 21-year-old working as an architectural draftsperson.

She said that when Camden Council brought in the state’s first requirement for three star NatHERS assessment for new residential projects, she became licensed to provide assessments.

Soon after the whole of Sydney imposed the same requirement, and suddenly there was such a volume of work needing to be done she decided to quit her job and start her business as a thermal comfort assessor.

The company now employs 10 sustainability consultants and is one of the largest volume BASIX consultants. It also provides energy assessments and certification, including for BASIX, NatHERS and BCA Section J, around Australia and in most areas of development, from detached housing to high-rise residential private homes and the commercial sector.