Leonard Hines, Cushman & Wakefield's Senior Building Services Engineer, Project & Development Services sheds light on the resilience of the built environment and what companies can do to future proof their assets.
How climate resilient is your building?
Many think the climate is just going through a cyclic phase; it has happened before. But what happened to the dinosaurs? Do we want to live in another ice age or age of extremes?
Many think ‘she’ll be right mate….but that’s the way it’s always been…’
But…. there are so many buts; there are more buts than there are on a nudist beach!
So, how about we do something to improve efficiencies and save the planet at the same time?
Personally, I would like to continue to be able to breathe fresh air and drink clean water without having a personal filter. Don’t we want to raise our families in a healthier space, in more efficient buildings and with ways of doing things that create less or no waste?
But what if climate change is real?
The climate and nature’s interaction with the built environment creates a risk for all of us if the building structure, building services and management procedures are not built to withstand the forces of nature.
The risk to the built environment depends on how disposable, resilient or rebuildable the building is, what back-up plans are in place to minimise the risk and how you can maintain building operations after a disaster.
Making your building climate resilient I think is a 2-step approach, first make the building as efficient as possible so as not to further contribute to climate change and second, make the building resilient to the forces of nature.
How climate resilient is your building? Is it going to maintain tenant operations after the event? But I don’t have funds in this year’s budget…. more buts.
Lately, the price of not acting and not being prepared far outweighs the cost of downtime, fixing and replacing buildings and infrastructure. People continue to build on flood plains and rebuild in the same place after being flooded. Housing and infrastructure are still being repaired 8 months after the Brisbane floods in February 2022 – so how long can you sustain not being able to use your building?
Minimising risks starts with initial design. I am amazed to still see new high-rise buildings having high exposure to the sun with dark to black facades, poor orientation to the sun, large sun exposure on east and west facades, floor to ceiling glazing panels, no external shading and relying on high performance dark glass to achieve BCA compliance. Poor building design means bigger air conditioning plants taking up more building space, more energy consumed in construction and operation and services have higher initial and on-going costs.
Minimising risks for existing buildings include changing building façades, upgrading building services, relocating building services, reducing your impact on the environment through efficiencies and having an action plan in place when your building fails, is isolated or shut down.
We already have the technology but it’s about changing our mindset and thought processes.
There are a number of national rating schemes available to assist with designing, building, benchmarking and operating buildings to help achieve maximum efficiencies or even net zero e.g., Green Star, NABERS, WELL and GRESB.
‘But I don’t have time. But insurance will cover it…but but but’.
There are many competent engineers available who can bench mark our buildings, design improvements, monitor activities and further improve.
To reduce the impact on the environment, many companies are committing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across corporate offices and operations to 50% by 2030 from a 2019 base year. This represents 70% of emissions at managed properties, with an aim to set science-based targets by 2025 and reach net zero emissions across the value chain by 2050.
Have you made any improvements to your building since the last disaster? Or do you have too many buts?
In the last three years alone, major Australian cities and regional towns as well as other cities around the world have been severely affected by increasing storm intensity, flooding, rising temperatures, bush fires, smoke affecting outside air quality and interruption to electricity and water supply. All of which have caused damage to buildings, building services and downtime for tenants and lost revenue.
How resilient will your building be to increasing temperatures?
Increasing the capacity of your air conditioning system to combat temperature rise only adds to the climate problem, increases your power consumption and adds to climate change.
Some fixes to reduce the air conditioning capacity requirements and energy consumption include adding external/internal shading devices to your windows, adding green facades and roof, changing your lighting to LED with smart controls, improve building air tightness, review and upgrade building controls and temperature settings. The idea of changing the temperature range of 21-24°C to 21-26°C has been around for ages…. but it’s in the lease, but the market but….it is still rarely implemented.
I am currently sitting in a Brisbane city office with a room temperature around 21°C when outside is 33°C, substantial energy could be saved if the room temperature was 26°C.
Climate resilience is also resilience to strong winds, changing rainfall patterns and local flooding.
When was the last time you had an engineer review the façade or review the brackets and fixings to façade and roof mounted equipment? Are the fixings the correct size or are they corroded?
Reducing water consumption helps reduce dependency on authority infrastructure. Upgrading to water efficient fixtures, fittings and appliances, incorporating rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling and installation of water tanks provide back-up supply when the local supply is compromised. Flood gates can be installed to building entries and carpark driveways to minimise building flooding.
Installation of passive energy generation from solar panels on roofs and facades or wind generators can help reduce carbon emissions, relocate electrical boards above flood levels and installation of back-up power generators provide power when the local grid is interrupted.
What are you doing to improve the resilience of your property?
No more buts, now is the time to act, to improve efficiencies, save on running costs, to future proof your investment and save your tenants from unnecessary repairs and downtime.
Leonard Hines is a mechanical engineer, with a Graduate Diploma in Building Services, as well as credentials in management and energy sustainability. Leonard provides sound technical advice to national and international clients on all building services assets at times of corporate property transactions or re-aligning of business goals. Projects include multi-storey office towers, large retail centres, hotel, student, correctional and retirement accommodation facilities, hospitals, industrial factories, warehouses, entertainment centres, heritage buildings and multi-storey residential properties.