6 ways to maintain Your NABERS rating despite fluctuating occupancy

March 10, 2022

The built environment is one of the largest contributors to climate change, responsible for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions when building construction is taken into account. The NABERS Rating (the National Australian Built Environment Rating System) aims to change that through a simple, easy-to-compare sustainability measurement that tracks building impact and change over time across sectors.

Following the pandemic-induced disruptions of 2020 and 2021, many office markets globally have stabilised. But while many workers have returned to the physical office, the hybrid working model has increased in popularity. The resulting day-to-day fluctuation of occupancy has put increased pressure on facilities management teams to keep a close eye on consumption to manage systematic inefficiencies. As building occupancy continues to fluctuate and increase well above pandemic levels, there is a significant risk that NABERS ratings will fall short of the new benchmarks set during that period.

Owners and managers seeking to maintain their NABERS rating despite fluctuating occupancy must prioritise energy efficiency in a way that responds effectively to real-time performance data.

In this article, we’ll dig into the specific actions building managers should be taking to prevent their NABERS ratings from slipping.

A quick history of the NABERS rating system

The NABERS program started in Australia in 1998 and has since expanded internationally in New Zealand and the UK. It aims to provide a simple and easy-to-compare sustainability metric across building sectors, helping building owners measure, understand, and demonstrate the relative environmental impact of their properties.

NABERS ratings range from one to six stars and are valid for 12 months after a formal assessment. The annualised model ensures that building owners maintain or improve operational performance over time.

Want to learn more? We put everything you need to know about NABERS into this article.

Why might your NABERS rating decrease?

One of the many changes driven by the global pandemic was a distinct uptick in NABERS ratings. In broad terms, a NABERS rating is calculated by dividing the amount of energy consumption by the percentage of a building that’s been leased. During stay-at-home orders, businesses still had leased agreements in place, but the working-from-home tenants had little impact on the building's energy consumption due to a decrease on the HVAC load.

Since employees have returned to the workplace in greater numbers, there has naturally been a noticeable increase in energy consumption for the same amount of space leased. This could drive a decline in NABERS ratings, even when a building’s core systems remain unchanged.

How to maintain your NABERS rating

The ultimate purpose of benchmarking is to help identify opportunities for improvement. Knowing your NABERS rating is only half the battle; the other half is knowing what you can do to optimise it. Score in hand, the natural next question becomes, “What can I do about it?”

Fortunately, it is possible to maintain your rating as occupancy ebs and flows throughout the week—so long as you have quick access to the right data.

Here are six ways to maintain or improve your NABERS rating in 2023.

#1: Optimise HVAC

NABERS measures the impact of your building’s energy consumption regardless of it's design intent, so it isn’t enough to count on “energy-saver” systems to boost your score. The biggest driver of base energy consumption comes from HVAC systems, which consume up to 65% of the energy bill—and the more occupants a building has, the more load there is on the HVAC.

In other words, the best way to maintain your NABERS rating is to optimise your HVAC system.

This doesn’t mean you have to replace an ageing system. A good first step is to make the most of the system you have by limiting energy consumption dynamically in response to changing occupancy levels.

For example:

  • Reviewing operating schedules to reflect occupancy
  • Locking-out unleased zones, tenancies, and floors
  • Limiting chiller/boiler operation through lock-outs, staging, or widening setpoints
  • Trimming car park exhaust fan schedules and utilising CO sensors for control
  • Widening internal temperature setpoint deadbands

Some of the above measures carry little to no cost and can save 10-15% of total HVAC energy consumption with no further adjustments.

#2: Think long-term

Even relatively small equipment changes, like installing LED lighting, represent a significant investment for large commercial buildings. You don’t need to rush out and replace all of your less-than-efficient systems today—but as replacements come due, ensure that any capital investment takes energy efficiency and NABERS impact into account.

Pause to consider energy-efficient alternatives before replacing:

  • Solar panels
  • Lighting
  • Windows
  • Motors and fans
  • Timers and sensors
  • Appliances

#3: Leverage your building data

Software platforms like CIM’s PEAK Platform identify opportunities to improve efficiencies in a building so you don’t slip in your ratings. Remember, you aren’t competing with previous “normal” years’ operation; you’re competing against the new pandemic baseline.

Real-time data may sound like a buzzworthy phrase, but several very actionable factors make the PEAK Platform a valuable part of your NABERS strategy.

  • IoT: Thanks to a world of sensors connected by the IoT, buildings are a rich source of data—but without the right systems in place, you can’t capture or use that data effectively. CIM's advanced building management software analyses current performance to identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements.
  • Proactive suggestions: Our platform alerts you with building faults and inefficiencies as they happen, so you’ll never waste energy on an unoccupied floor.
  • Performance tracking: Facilities Managers can make adjustments on the fly and track contractor engagement to easily see who’s keeping pace with repairs and who is lagging behind.
  • Accuracy: When you know better, you do better. Make informed decisions to achieve peak building management performance.

#4: Simulate scores

Only a certified assessor can provide an official annual score, but you may estimate your NABERS rating more regularly to help you track performance over time.

Whether your focus is water, energy, waste, or indoor environment, monthly NABERS score estimates can facilitate suggestions on how to improve so you’re ready for the annual assessor.

#5: Create a plan

Don’t simply assume that your conservation efforts will make a difference. Create an overall energy efficiency plan, including both short- and long-term goals. Then, use metering and real-time monitoring to track results and compare them against those goals.

Communicate with your staff, tenants, contractors, and other stakeholders about what you’re trying to achieve and why it matters. Building awareness is the first step toward changing engagement.

#6: Consult an expert

At CIM, we specialise in helping to identify opportunities as they arise and address them in the moment—not after the damage has already been done.

Our track record as industry experts speaks for itself. We increased the NABERS star rating for one Kyko Group property by four stars in three years, reducing overall energy consumption by 15% and raising their rating from 1.5 stars to 5.5 stars.

Download our practical guide to improve your building's sustainability performance.

CIM Team
March 10, 2022