Go to Main Content

Bright sparks dazzled by savings

Often, all it takes is one resident with a bright idea to sow the seeds for an energy efficiency tune-up in a strata building. This apartment complex used a Smart Blocks grant to make changes and watched their electricity use plummet.

Peter Young, a resident and executive committee member of an East Melbourne apartment complex, was renovating his apartment when he discovered the wonders of LED lighting. Marvelling at their quality, capability and low energy use, he brought a brochure along to the next executive committee meeting.

Nestled on the edge of the city, Peter’s 44-unit apartment block is a stone’s throw from the MCG and Yarra River. The building is one of five early Art Nouveau mews-style complexes on Wellington Crescent that fringe a hidden green common.

With its multiple outdoor and stairway lights, big basement car park, two swimming pools, spa and sauna, the block’s common area energy use was hefty.

Unimpressed by the electricity bills, the committee was interested in Peter’s project straight away. They decided to focus on lighting in the basement car park. Lit 24/7 but not used much in the wee hours, it seemed an obvious place to start.

Peter and fellow committee member Malcolm Bish started investigating.

Peter Young and Malcolm Bish

Investigating options

Somewhere out there, they knew the technology existed that could solve the problem of their high-energy lighting. It was just a matter of finding it.

One possibility was to invest in a lighting management system. The technology was impressive – it could intelligently control all of the building’s lighting through an interface that received communication from various inputs and outputs.

But it would cost a fortune to retrofit such a system in their relatively small block. What's more, as stewards of sinking fund money, Peter and Malcolm were reluctant to lock their building into a complex system that would need to function for the next 30-odd years. The more complex the system, the greater likelihood something would break – and be costly to fix.

One night in a cocktail bar, they got talking to a man from a lighting technology company. He offered them an intriguing solution – an intelligent responsive motion sensor system that would pick up movement and turn lights on. They investigated the option for several months, but eventually decided it was still too expensive for their building. It was another frustrating red herring.

They kept looking and eventually found a great low-energy solution for their long-lit areas: a multi-mode Chameleon LED light from enLighten. It ticked all of the boxes – it had options for standard, emergency and permanently-on lighting, offered value for money and promised a good payback period.  

Making a business case

Peter and Malcolm were careful to exercise due diligence before making any big financial commitments. They visited another building nearby that used the same lighting solution. They organised a trial of four Chameleon lights on stairwells to make sure other residents were happy with their quality and to test whether there was enough standby light for the security system to work.

Armed with data and payback periods, they set about securing a consensus. Smart Blocks helped Peter and Malcolm to access information on what other progressive owners’ corporations were doing, which reassured members who were less familiar with the technology. They presented a business case to other committee members, sent notices to residents, mentioned the upgrades before, during and after the AGM and tabled it in the budget.

Smart Blocks rebates

Meanwhile, Peter and Malcolm successfully applied for a Smart Blocks grant from the City of Melbourne. The grant is open to all residential strata buildings in the municipality to undertake energy efficiency lighting upgrades or install solar electricity systems, covering up to 50% of the project’s cost up to the value to $3,000.

By topping up their sinking fund investment with the grant, Peter says they were able to replace their inefficient halogen stairwell lighting with LEDs. Now all lighting in the building’s common areas is energy efficient. 

The project

In the basement and fire escape stars, where lighting is required 24/7, they replaced 90 permanently-on fluorescent battens with Chameleon LED lights – 36 emergency lights, 42 standard lights and 9 M-ELEC ML40 LED battens. Triggered by movement, the Chameleon fittings use 8-watts in standby mode and 32-watts in full output. This ensures safety and provides sufficient ambient light levels for the security cameras.

They also installed a row of three permanently-on LED lights at the car park entry gates for security reasons, giving would-be intruders the impression of a well-lit basement.

The electricians also replaced 30 50-watt halogen lights in six entry stairwells with Chameleon Superlight ECO12 12W LED down lights – again activated by movement.

Energy savings

The project has substantially reduced common area energy consumption and operating costs, and should pay for itself within two years.

Initially, the building’s common area electricity bills were an astronomical $18,000 per annum. During the lighting installation, they discovered a glitch in their electricity meter setup meant the common area bill included electricity used by residents, on top of lighting, the club, sauna and swimming pool.

Now that they have sorted out the metering, and with the new energy efficient lighting, they expect their electricity bills to cost around $3,000 to $4,000 per year. This is not a one-off saving; they will continue to save money each year – and even more so once the buyback period is complete.

Peter and Malcolm are amazed.

As they see it, by investing in long-term infrastructure, they are insulating themselves against rising electricity costs, minimising maintenance and future proofing their building, so it continues to be attractive to new buyers and renters. And as well as helping their hip pockets, they are doing their bit for the environment.

Top tips from Peter and Malcolm

  • Conducting a site visit is reassuring: you can learn a lot from the experiences of others.
  • A lighting trial was an important step in convincing us to invest money in the new technology.
  • Make sure you keep accurate records in a spreadsheet – not on the back of an envelope. Document what light fittings you have and where they are. Tick off ones that have been replaced. Keep a record of barcoded serial numbers.
  • Use energy data to crosscheck estimates against the actual energy and cost savings. We found it powerful to confirm that reduced wattage really does pay itself off.