Adding value one block at a time

By now we have all heard that, for the first time in history, half the world’s population is living in cities. And the forward estimates indicate that this trend will only continue to increase.

In Australia, we have seen a gradual, but continuing shift away from the quarter acre block to more compact living spaces like apartments. In the municipality of Melbourne, this trend is captured in the statistics:

  • In 2012, 80% of homes were apartments
  • From 2006-12, 93% of new homes built were apartments
  • Our population is set to double by 2031, that’s an additional 80,000 people moving into City of Melbourne

While some Melburnians might be willing to give up their back yard, what’s becoming increasingly clear is that they are not willing to sacrifice quality. While high rise development is booming, prospective occupants have particular expectations around their quality of life as residents of the most liveable city in the world. City of Melbourne’s recent Future Living research clearly demonstrated that good quality design and amenity is high on the agenda of Melburnians.

We also know that residential mid and high-rise buildings are energy intensive, currently contributing 13% of carbon emissions in the city. Improving the efficiency of apartment buildings is therefore an important component of Melbourne’s Zero Net Emissions by 2020 strategy (February 2014).

What most apartment dwellers don’t realise is that high-rise apartments have been shown to be the most energy intensive dwelling type, using approximately 25 per cent more energy per person than standalone homes or townhouses. This is due in large part to the energy consumption of shared services and common property such as hallway and car park lighting, ventilation, pools, heating and cooling. Ultimately, this is costing apartment owners money in the form of higher utility bills.

New green buildings are changing this equation. However, given the lion’s share of Melbourne’s built environment is already constructed, retrofitting existing building stock is essential to keeping household running costs down and reducing emissions. That’s why we are offering the Smart Blocks program to our building managers, strata managers, apartment owners and residents.

Smart Blocks is helping apartment owners and their managers to improve the energy efficiency in apartment buildings, preventing money being wasted on unnecessarily high energy bills. At the core of Smart Blocks is an interactive online toolkit that helps people discover what energy efficiency or renewable energy improvements can be made to common property in their own buildings and make clear the steps to get projects approved.

Apartment living is seeing us live in closer physically proximity to each other, ironically this does not necessarily result in a stronger social fabric within the building. However, building improvement projects can only be realised when owners, building managers and apartment owners work closely together – and so we hit the residential building retrofit conundrum.

Our research clearly indicates that negotiating complex strata rules and regulations is a primary barrier to creating change in strata buildings. This is only amplified when it comes to coordinating a common area retrofit across an entire building, which often requires a significant financial investment. This is exactly the problem that Smart Blocks solves. It guides users through strata rules and regulations, and proves a shared online project management platform that can be accessed by owners, managers and renters alike.

One of the best things about Smart Blocks is that it brings people together and helps them make change on their own terms for the betterment of their building. Once they’ve made one change and demonstrated value, it’s easier to make the next one – and it feels good. This is the sweet spot because we see people coming together around projects that are relevant to their day-to-day life.

In recognising that working together is key to retrofitting buildings (and indeed the city) for sustainability, City of Melbourne have come to the table, and we’ve brought cake. Smart Blocks is here for the taking, along with support from the Smart Blocks officer here at City of Melbourne and a $3,000 rebate for energy efficient lighting upgrades and solar installations for common areas.

Whether it’s to drive down electricity bills (investing in energy efficiency could save your owners corporation up to 20-30 per cent in energy costs) or contribute to an Eco City, the need for energy efficient and renewably powered buildings have never been clearer.

Cr Wood is Chair of the Environment portfolio and Deputy Chair of the Economic Development portfolio. He sits on the Victorian Adaptation & Sustainability Partnership Ministerial Advisory Committee, the Parks and Gardens Advisory Committee, the Yarra Park Advisory Committee and is a board member of the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority.

Lead image credit: Flickr, CC BY-SA

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