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Learning From Green Buildings: Success & Challenges

On Tuesday 12th of September we held our latest Green Building Tour, where we visited two interesting Melbourne buildings to see their sustainability features in action. 

  Paul talking with the tour group

Paul talking with the tour group

First up was 501 Swanston Street (Melbourne) where we were hosted by the Construction Services and Facilities Manager, Paul Giuliano. Paul was a wealth of knowledge and talked us through the performance and costings of the various features and how they related to the before scenario. 

This building had achieved a 40-50% savings on their electricity and gas usage with a corresponding 15% increase in maintenance costs. This had achieved by a massive building redevelopment, with partial funding received from the Australian Environmental Upgrade Fund. The upgrades included a complete redesign of the lifts, with "regenerative braking" technology allowing them to generate their own electricity. Smart controls, including the first touch screen control panels to be introduced in the southern hemisphere, were a big part of reducing the lifts' electricity consumption, corresponding to a decrease in idle energy usage from 5 Amps to 0.5 Amps.  

  Rooftop garden at 501 Swanston Street

Rooftop garden at 501 Swanston Street

Other energy saving features included solar film added to both sides of the building windows, replacement of lighting fixtures to sensor LEDs, air conditioning and heating upgrades, and replacement of plant room equipment.  

One of the key things that stood out in the building, was the amount and quality of communal space available for tenants. A well frequented wellness centre, sleeping pod, massage chair, extensive rooftop garden, commercial grade kitchen, and conference room were among the features available for tenant use. This related to 15% of total available building space being used as functional communal space.  

  Robert testing out the sleeping pod

Robert testing out the sleeping pod

The other key thing to note from 501 Swanston was the value they placed on the sustainability performance of the building. Maintenance regimes were upkept and the features were able to operate at their optimum levels and deliver on the desired savings. Paul discussed how important the features were for their stable and consistent tenancies, and how the market now demanded that a building deliver on sustainability in order to remain competitive.  

After a quick coffee stop at the sustainable design award winning cafĂ©, Seven Seeds Carlton, we arrived at our next stop on the tour, the City of Melbourne Bowls Club.  

At the CoM Bowls Club we were hosted by club manager, Zac Potier, who talked us through the building's performance from an end-user perspective. The clubhouse was rebuilt in 2009 and designed for environmental sustainability, with a horizontal closed-loop geothermal system for heating and cooling and an extensive sub-surface irrigation system using recycled water. In addition, the clubhouse was designed to maximise natural light and ventilation, and built with a choice of ESD valued materials such as timber, brushed and rough concrete, and external green wall.  

  Interior of the CoM Clubhouse

Interior of the CoM Clubhouse

  Zac discussing the green wall and landscaping

Zac discussing the green wall and landscaping

It was interesting to learn from Zac the challenges that had been experienced beyond the design phase. The features had not always been maintained to a high level, due in part to a lack of clarity in who was responsible (owners or tenants), and the expertise needed to do so. The weather station, which controls the automation of the heating and cooling systems (eg. opening and shutting louvres, activating the air conditioner), was not at the correct calibration and hence needed to be overridden manually to ensure comfort of clubgoers. The automation in general conflicted with club usage, given the frequent opening of doors, the need for quiet during presentations, and preference of customising temperature to satisfy customer desires.  

Despite these challenges, the geothermal system was still delivering on considerable energy savings. The heating and cooling it provided through the concrete floor slab was largely sufficient to keep the clubhouse at a comfortable ambient temperature, without the need for additional heating and cooling. Zac stated that as a result they once went through an entire summer without needing to use the air conditioner.  

  Synthetic and natural warm-weather turf at CoM Bowls Club

Synthetic and natural warm-weather turf at CoM Bowls Club

The sub-surface irrigation system had proven troublesome to some degree. A 140,000 litre underground water storage tank stores captured storm and recycled water that is then used to irrigate the green. Herbicides and pesticides used to maintain the green were transferred to the water storage, causing salination of the water and leading to damage of the green during irrigation. In order to mitigate this issue, chemical maintenance of the green had been decreased and substituted with manual methods, such as airing and combing.  

Zac's honesty of the challenges faced by the club and how they overcame them provided valuable insight. It is not simply through success that we learn, but through encountering problems and henceforth having to overcome them. A valuable part of these green building tours is to learn of the operational challenges of sustainability measures, to inform and inspire better future design. 

Stay posted for Wave's next Green Building Tour, due to take place at the end of October.