Engineering - a solution to senior living and care energy use

“When faced with an aging commercial office that still has ‘good bones’ but doesn’t suit the current market, too often the focus moves to major alterations or a full knock down rebuild approach,” says Northrop Associate and Senior Sustainability Consultant, Ian Van Eerden. “But re-lifeing buildings and changing their use can yield great results both financially and performance wise.”

One such project is the soon to be completed LDK Greenway facility in the ACT, formerly the headquarters for the Department of Social Services. Cromwell, the building owner, has teamed up with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop a new model for senior living and care, aiming to deliver a truly sustainable facility.

Given the building structure and facades were still in good condition, the project team looked to retain these and bring the almost 30-year-old building up to modern performance requirements. Northrop was engaged to work with Cromwell to assess how this could be achieved; modelling the building to evaluate building fabric performance; options for improvement; plant operational energy; and overall building performance.  A range of simple yet effective energy management and minimisation actions were implemented.

  • Insulation and impede fabrics - Often with refurbishments, design teams look to minimise costs by working out how to avoid major upgrades to building fabrics and facades, however this approach may result in unintended consequences. For example, removing or not having sufficient underfloor insulation makes the floor colder in winter. Any initial savings made will be offset by residents as they increase the set point on their heater. For the LDK project, Northrop modelled the possible outcomes, keeping in mind the actions of residents as they seek to stay warm. Investing in good installation and impede fabrics simply made sense. The project design exceeds the energy performance of minimum code compliance by circa 6.5% based on improved building fabric alone.
  • Lighting  - Lighting efficiency and operational improvements are regularly incorporated into the design phase of a facility, however they are often removed to save construction costs. Incorporating LED technologies and motion sensors throughout the LDK project, the energy used for lighting has been more than halved. This has been achieved through several measures including major improvements in lighting power density across the floor plate and the installation of time clock controls and motion sensors throughout common areas, which the code assumes to operate 24/7.
  • Improved HVAC efficiency - Given the ACT’s recent grid transition to 100% renewables, there was an early focus on how the site could operate without the heavy use of gas in heating systems. Wel also wanted to avoid any unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Highly efficient heat pump technology was implemented to improve the performance of the heating systems. Through the introduction of heat recovery on some systems and the grouping of resident spaces, Northrop were able to greatly improve the mechanical system performance from a standard performance building. Additionally, as a result of the improved building fabric performance, the projects HVAC systems were able to be rationalised, reducing cost, offsetting some of the additional capital cost required to install more efficient systems. 
  • Solar - The project is installing a 750kW solar array. This is expected to offset over 20% of the sites total power consumption reducing costs for both residents and operators, and actively contributing to a major reduction in the peak energy demands of the site. The solar array is a key piece in the site’s sustainability strategy allowing the project to demonstrate circa 60% reduction in carbon emissions compared to our modelled National Construction Code compliant building.

In addition to operational energy performance, other project benefits included:

  • Embodied energy - Incorporating the entire façade and structure of the existing building into the new project will result in a massive reduction in energy use and associated carbon emissions. It has also allowed the project to compress construction timeframes significantly, reduce construction costs and the impact on both the environment and local community.
  • Roof - As part of the building fabrics assessment, it was determined that the roof would not last as long as the building was expected to operate. The roof was also critical to support the proposed solar array and to improve the ease with which the project could install roof and ceiling insulation. It was therefore determined that the roof would be replaced. In order to do this in a manner consistent with the rest of the project’s sustainability aims, all the materials in the old roof were sent to recycling and the new materials installed were sourced from World Steel Association accredited facilities.
  • Reduced substations - The improved performance of the building allowed the facility to reduce the number of substations required for the project from three to two. This saved time and capital expenditure for the project, allowing Northrop to account for some of the immediate flow on effects of our sustainability actions. 

By focusing on outcomes and cost management from an operational perspective, it was determined that the project was likely to achieve an impressive 50-60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it will deliver a supportive and liveable space for aging in place.

For more information on the services we offer, our team and recent senior living and care experience, click here.

Associate, Group Manager, Senior Sustainability Consultant
Ian Van Eerden

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