Solutions for better performing buildings this summer

Air conditioning units on most of the city’s commercial buildings were working over-time as the heat absorbing surfaces of roads, streets and roof tops exceeded in some cases over 50 degrees Celsius. Amid this battle between cooling systems and the urban heat island effect something even more unusual than this record breaking heat wave was visible in the city landscape: blokes in suits. Slacks, shirts, ties and even jackets adorned office workers travelling between meetings. Surely, this could not be so?

The only sense I could make from this vision was that those workers expected that their offices would deliver enough cold air to offset the heat exhaustion they must have faced on the city streets.

Thermal comfort, the temperature that our body regulates, is different for every person. This has been evident this week in City of Melbourne’s own green building, CH2. Despite the heat overnight the building managed to maintain a daily temperature of 23-25 degrees Celsius yet murmurs of discontent began early in the week. I wondered if there were suits in the building. To maintain 23-25 degrees with an outside temperature of 44 degrees was a credit to those that designed it and our team who maintain the building.

On the issue of thermal comfort, office tenants need to shift their expectations.

I was most acutely aware of my impact in the office environment when I worked in Indonesia, where humid, hot conditions are a way of life. In the kantor (office) we were regularly briefed on the buildings energy performance and the implications of our actions. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007 the Chair, Rachmat Witoelar announced ‘we can negotiate in short sleeved shirts, in fact we have to or our buildings will not cope (with the 10,000 attendees).”

In Melbourne, the energy network, still reliant upon coal powered electricity, failed early in the week due to unprecedented consumption. Electricity bills for tenants likely soared as the wholesale price rose above $12,000 per MWh almost at the price cap; and infrastructure maintained and paid for by building owners was pushed to the limit.

Building owners can make a difference to their building’s performance during the year and in preparation for these extreme temperatures, which climate change science shows will only become more frequent.

Cool roofs (painted white or layered with plants) can reduce your buildings’ roof temperature by up to 5 degrees. Installing solar can ensure your building has a more reliable energy source during the peak periods when tenants are using energy – this will keep your tenants cool and happy they are not wearing the brunt of spiking energy costs. Retrofitting your building’s heating and cooling systems and lighting with low energy consumption technology reduces the energy demands of the building.

City of Melbourne staffers will now be seen in shorts during heat waves, a small but significant shift to suit a changing climate.

For building owners, our 1200 Buildings Program can provide you with the advice you need to negate the impact of heatwaves on your building and its occupants.

Our CitySwitch Program assists tenants to think differently about resource use in the office.

And if you are looking for finance to help upgrade your building, Sustainable Melbourne Fund can provide both owners and tenants with attractive finance.

Michelle Isles is Team Leader of Sustainability Programs at the City of Melbourne.

 

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