As building systems age, the cost of annual maintenance, inspections and long term renewals increase at an exponential rate. The requirement for Depreciation Reports in B.C. has provided an excellent resource for strata owners to develop long term financial plans to ensure the funds are available when they are needed, but there are still potential special levies and increases that cannot be avoided as our building systems age.
One opportunity to reduce costs over time is the routine upgrading of building systems that demand gas or electrical services. Simple upgrades like changeover to LED lights, shower heads, minor adjustments in building climate controls, routine HVAC servicing and fireplace timers can produce amazing results.
Real results are the proof that energy upgrades save money, reduce long term cost and save energy. A 106 unit Richmond strata built in the 80s recently upgraded their lighting to LEDs and made some minor changes to outdoors fixtures. The total cost was $28,000 for the upgrades and labour, monthly savings were instantly $600. In less than 48 months the strata upgrades are paid for, and the strata continues to reduce their electrical operating cost by $7,200 per year. In the event the rates increase, the savings are that much greater.
Gas fireplaces are also a significant opportunity to reduce costs and GHG emissions. In most strata corporations the gas is a common expense with no real opportunity to monitor each owner’s use, but the strata corporation could adopt a bylaw that requires the installation of a timer on each strata lot fireplace that would limit the use to a maximum of one hour before it has to be reset. By installing timers, strata corporations have prevented owners from using their gas fireplaces as their principle heating source on 24 hour cycles. That has seen reductions of up to 60 per cent of their annual gas consumptions.
Rooftop make up air units that are also a significant source of gas consumption should be updated to a hybrid heat pump system that significantly reduce operating cost, and a one degree adjustment in building temperatures for hot water or common area heating may result in a 3-8 per cent reduction in overall energy costs.
While strata corporations are undertaking energy upgrades, HVAC alterations and building renovations, they should also be cautious about the treatment of hazardous materials. Alterations to common property or strata lots could expose asbestos, mould, or other hazardous substances.
Strata councils are often being pressured by the owners to permit a wide range of alterations to strata lots and common property that frequently result in a significant burden or risk for the strata corporation. A kitchen renovation for example, may be the beginning of a plumbing and environmental nightmare for a strata if the details of the alterations are not clearly understood, and the scope of work has a negative impact on the building services or exposes the strata to environmental management risks.
Strata councils often take a hands off approach when an owner wants to make significant alterations to their units; however, the moment the proposed alteration requires cutting into drywall, removal of any walls, altering ceiling finishes, altering soundproofing, changes to plumbing configuration, moving electrical equipment or changing ventilation, your alarm bells should sound and the council needs to pay close attention to the proposed alteration request.
In the event there are alterations that result in environmental abatement and disposal, the cost of the alteration could significantly increase, and the owner along with the strata corporation may be responsible for costs and penalties associated with environmental and health violations. Drywall, flooring, surface finishing and heating facilities that contain asbestos are a significant health hazard and should always be treated properly. Toxic mould, frequently discovered during renovations, may also pose a significant health risk and should be managed safely.
Before a strata hires a contractor, or a strata lot owner commences alterations, confirm all the details of the upgrades or changes in writing, and clearly identify who will be responsible to identify any potential hazards and how they will be reported to the strata corporation to ensure proper handling and budgeting for abatement.
Tony Gioventu is the executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association of B.C. (CHOA), a consumer association in British Columbia with more than 200,000 members comprising strata corporations, owners, and business members who serve the strata industry. Tony plays an active role in research and development of building standards, legislation for strata corporations and consumer protection.