Fair Trading fluffs again – is air-con sustainable?


Our revelation last week that NSW Fair Trading has no idea what double glazing is, even though they specify it in their renovations regulations as being a permitted “minor renovation”, led to the discovery of what appears to be another strata info stuff-up.

In their fact sheet on strata renovations –  specifically minor ones that just require simple majority approval, not by-laws – Fair Trading says this:

“Minor renovations include … sustainability measures (such as a clothesline or reverse cycle air conditioner).”

Why does this not feel right?  For a start, the Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Bill 2020, which was supposed to define “sustainable” renovations as minor, has yet to make it on to the statute books.

It has been languishing in the Legislative Assembly awaiting review after, you may recall, an Animal Justice Party member of the Legislative Council last year managed to attach an amendment preventing owners corporations from banning pets.

That amendment said: “137B Keeping of animals (1) A by-law has no force or effect to the extent that it purports to unreasonably prohibit the keeping of an animal on a lot.”

The state government apparently balked at the idea of giving free rein to pets in apartments and so its own Bill foundered in the Legislative Assembly. 

However, as reported here, just this week it was revived in an amended form in the Legislative Assembly before going back to the Upper House for a final (they hope) rubber stamp.

But there are other important aspects of the Bill, including sustainability measures intended, among other things, to reduce the amount of energy consumed and make its use more efficient. 

It would also, for instance, allow for the installation of electric vehicle charging points to be permitted by a simple majority of a strata committee (if it has delegated authority).

Other changes in what appears to be a general tying up of loose ends, and entirely unrelated to sustainability, include a clause forbidding owners corporations from revealing the votes in a secret ballot  (overriding the general rule that owners can see any and all records of the Owners Corporation).

Another measure would allow interested parties to ask NCAT to impose financial penalties on owners or residents who breach Tribunal orders (you didn’t know they can’t already do that?)

And yet another allows the owner of several properties to appoint one proxy holder to carry all their proxies, even if that puts them over the statutory limit on proxies of one per 20 lots.

These are all sensible tidying up of the legislation, but we have a question: since when did the installation of air-conditioning become a positive action in sustainability? 

Air-con is almost the opposite of sustainable.  It uses electricity in ways that are often inefficient. Presumably – hopefully – the wording will be changed when the new laws come into effect.

But until then, once again the body that’s supposed to be providing advice and direction is sending us off on the wrong track – the one that leads to unnecessay conflict – with sloppy misinformation.

NB: This article was edited in light of developments in the NSW Parliament this week

3 Replies to “Fair Trading fluffs again – is air-con sustainable?”

  1. Jimmy-T says:

    I stand enlightened and corrected. But I wonder why Fair Trading couldn’t have told me that – it is their policy after all.

  2. Sir Humphrey says:

    In the article above JT asks rhetorically “… since when did the installation of air-conditioning become a positive action in sustainability?” Well, crucially, the quoted bit of legislation refers to ‘reverse-cycle air-conditioning’. In areas where heating rather than than cooling dominate it is both cheaper and more energy efficient to use reverse-cycle air-conditioning for heating than to use plain resistance electric heaters or gas. Gas is getting expensive and its contribution to global heating are barely less than coal once fugitive emissions are considered. Meanwhile, the electricity grid is getting cleaner all the time.
    When electricity is put through a resistance heater, the energy is converted to heat with 100% efficiency. Similarly, burning gas in an unflued heater inside the room is 100%. Ducted heating systems and heaters with the gas burned externally often have substantial losses so might be 70% efficient. In contrast, a heat pump system, aka reverse-cycle air-conditioner, uses one unit of electrical energy to move 3 to 5 unit of heat from the outside air to inside. It is at least 300% efficient. Consider it as a renewable heat harvesting device.
    Many people don’t realise just how much less electricity and lower emissions are involved in using a reverse cycle air conditioner compared to other forms of heating. Some will even have these sitting on their walls unused in winter while they run other heaters that are more expensive to operate and produce higher emissions.
    So, to answer the question: Air-conditioner became a positive action in sustainability when when used to replace less efficient, higher emitting forms of heating. Of course draft-proofing and improved insulation that reduce the need for heating and cooling go hand-in-hand. Getting off gas heating can be the first or last step in getting off gas entirely, which has financial and environmental benefits.

  3. Jimmy-T says:

    If you want to start a discussion or ask a question about this, log into the Flat Chat Forum (using the Forum link on the menu at the very top of your screen). More people will read it there and you can more easily keep track of responses.

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