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14 April 2017

New Research Highlights the Dangerous Overheating Potential of Melbourne Apartments

Global temperatures are on the rise, and in countries such as Australia where the heat can often reach unbearable levels without the extra kick from climate change, this could cause substantial problems in the height of severe heatwaves. This was proven during late January and early February of 2009, when temperature records were smashed across much of the country, culminating to a peak on the February 7th; on this day, 24 of Victoria’s 35 long-term weather stations broke temperature records again, with Melbourne reaching 46.4°C while Hopetoun reached 48.8°C. Sadly, the extreme temperatures experienced during this time are attributed as the cause of an estimated 374 deaths in Victoria.

In an effort to stop such an event from occurring again in the future, researchers from the University of Melbourne are calling for an upgrade to the Australian Building Code to include measures designed to prevent the issue of overheating during the design stage, as well as plans to retrofit improvements to vulnerable apartments, after a recent study conducted by the University showed that an alarming number of Melbourne apartments are particularly vulnerable to heatwave conditions and could pose a health threat to residents as a result.

The research team used data from the 2009 heatwave to model the performance of six apartment designs typical to Melbourne in relation to overheating issues. They then proceeded to run the buildings in a typical manner except without the use of artificial cooling methods, which according to lead researcher Chris Jenson was done in order to see “what happens from a health and safety perspective if the air conditioner breaks or the grid power goes out.”

All of the tested apartment designs failed the international “summer comfort” standards from the UK, France, Germany and the United States. With heat stress claiming more Australian lives than any other natural hazard, this is a problem that needs addressing urgently.

According to Jenson, even the worst-faring apartment designs improved enough to meet two of the four international standards when modelled in such a way as to include the effects of retrofit strategies such as insulation, light-coloured walls, natural ventilation, and the changing of thermal mass. This begs the question as to why these apartments are not built with such strategies in mind.

“There is one fairly glaringly obvious outcome: that proper use of natural ventilation by the occupants was reported both in the literature and in the study to be highly effective and very under-used,” says Jenson.

He goes on to say that the study could be further applied to analyse apartments across the country, although varying heatwaves profiles would have to be taken into account: “The further north you are in Australia, the less temperature variation there is – further inland also has higher variations, so one would expect Mildura to be pretty severe (but there are basically no apartments).

“I would expect Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne to be the worst, possibly Canberra as well, but … it is subject to there being apartments, and a weather pattern with severe heatwaves.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.