SPONSORED: Tonja Gibson, founding director of Strata Answers and board member of Green Strata, is on a mission to bring modern, green solutions to strata buildings – and not just in “woke” and affluent inner city communities but for the small, forgotten blocks in outer ring suburbs. 

“There are a lot of old walk-up buildings in the suburbs that are relatively affordable. They often sit on large plots of land and have parking underneath and roof spaces that aren’t being used to their full potential.” 

At the same time, these buildings need “things to be done”, like fire compliance and new windows. 

With a bit of forward planning, strategy and some leadership from their strata committees, these buildings could use the “things to be done” as an opportunity to improve their environmental performance. 

This could involve investing in windows that are both fire compliant and have excellent thermal performance, and using their unused roof space for solar. 

The challenge, she says, is strata committees. “They are tired, suffer from lack of continuity and have trouble communicating. They’re staffed by people who work full-time then run the building in the evening. They just don’t have the energy. 

A clear strategy and some structures improve performance and reduce stress for everyone.

“Continuity suffers because people only serve on committees for a few years at a time, and they mostly communicate by email, which means that any decision involves scores of emails running back and forth. The committee members are just overwhelmed.” 

On top of that, few if any committee members have experience in building, engineering or the kinds of improvements that can improve a building’s environmental performance. 

Wanted: A building to pilot performance improvements

© Lennon Cheng

Gibson is searching for a building that wants to change and would be willing to become a case study for these kinds of improvements. 

Strata Answers would offer its services on a no-fee basis and she has teamed-up with other providers who would also offer their products and services for reduced or no cost. 

The secret is having a strategy. Just setting out a strategy for the future of the building and including elements such as sustainability can add value to the property. 

“It gives the building an ethos and people can buy into that. When you look at the tremendous success of the Nightingale model, much of the success is in having a clear ethos and plan for the future. 

“It also gives the strata committee clear continuity for years ahead and clarity in budgeting for future utilities and capital expenditure.” 

Experts in reducing water use in apartments 

Strata Answers already has a track record in this kind of work. It works closely with Sydney Water on the Water Fix program, which does whole-building improvements to reduce water use in apartment blocks. 

The program eliminates leaks from taps and toilets and fits restrictors and even new dual-flush toilets where required. “We did a building in Auburn recently which saw a reduction in water consumption of 35-40 per cent”, Gibson says, “and we quite often see reductions in the 25 per cent to 30 per cent range. These savings can be quite valuable in the many older inner city buildings with group metering.”

“We work together to solve the common problems of having no time, no energy, too little continuity and either too little, or too much, communication.” 

In addition to its work with Sydney Water, Strata Answers provides consulting services to owners’ corporations to help them organise their business better.

“We survey the residents to understand what they want from their buildings and what issues they want to see resolved. It gets better buy-in and makes people feel like they have been listened to. We work with the strata committee to help them communicate with the residents, including follow-ups to the survey and newsletters about what’s happening. 

“We work together to solve the common problems of having no time, no energy, too little continuity and either too little, or too much, communication.” 

The common problem she sees is apathetic and time-poor committees that push everything onto equally overwhelmed strata managers. A clear strategy and some structures improve performance and reduce stress for everyone. 

“Many of the small buildings are owner managed without a strata manager. They struggle with rules and compliance and suffer from being disconnected from the experience of other buildings. To make change there, they need a champion – someone smart, with a vision – to make anything happen.”

In the absence of a champion, there is Strata Answers. 

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