Melbourne's apartments are failing the heat stress test

University of Melbourne

By Sustainability Matters Staff
Thursday, 16 March, 2017


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If a heatwave hit Melbourne and the power blacked out, most of the city’s apartment buildings would simply bake as air conditioners failed and indoor temperatures exceeded international health standards.

This is the result of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne, who modelled how six common Melbourne apartment designs could cope with excessively high temperatures by testing them against the heatwaves that hit Melbourne in January and February 2009. They also chose a worst-case scenario by modelling west-facing apartments that are most exposed to the sun.

All six failed the standards for new buildings set in France, the UK, Germany and the US. There are no health standards to ensure against heat stress in the Building Code of Australia.

“The research highlights to the public that heat stress inside apartments is a real issue and that we need to do more to control for this, not only in new buildings, but also for existing buildings,” said lead researcher Chris Jensen.

To improve existing buildings, the study found that the easiest and most effective strategies for apartments include:

  • improving ventilation both physically and operation by occupants;
  • using external heat reflective coating and paint;
  • installing appropriate shading;
  • building greater awareness among occupants of what they can do in heatwave conditions to keep comfortable.

Jensen said that it is possible that under a new standard that was tailored to the Australian climate more buildings would pass, but it is still unlikely many existing apartments would. And with scientists predicting longer and more frequent heatwaves, the need for action is more pressing than ever.

The results can be viewed in full here.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/ktsimage

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