21 September 2010 – The Investa Sustainability Institute launched its on-line Green Buildings Alive tool Monday 20 September, an interactive hub of graphs, raw data and information about the energy and water use and carbon emissions of Australia’s buildings.

To help learn more about the tool, an introductory live blog session took place from 12 noon Wednesday (22 September) on the Green Buildings Alive website.

One of the key features of the site is an interactive “datalyser” made up of charts that draws on eight years of monthly data from over 50 office buildings all around Australia.

The site has a wealth of information and interesting snippets on the performance of buildings such as:

On older buildings

“Why do the buildings that are more than 30 years old appear to perform well compared to newer buildings?

Given that it’s World Green Building Week, it’s a sensible time to be asking some probing questions about what makes a building truly “green”. This year, I think we should use real performance data to answer questions such as those posed here last week by Romilly Madew of Green Building Council of Australia about whether the age of a building determines how much energy and water it will use.

The media and commentators spend column inches on buildings that are attractive young things, but what about a graceful old dame, maintained with love?

It’s fairly obvious that recently-constructed buildings are designed to use less energy and water than their counterparts. There are a number of schemes and certificates around the world that encourage ever-higher design standards, like LEED in USA, Green Star in Australia, BREEAM in the UK, and CASBEE in Japan.

But why do the buildings that are more than 30 years old appear similar to new buildings in this visualisation? …[perhaps] because the typical life of plant and equipment is less than 30 years. Most of the older buildings now have more modern equipment installed, thanks to repairs and refurbishments. But many mid-aged buildings were constructed to provide premium, but energy intensive, services like air-conditioning. Today, they are not yet old enough to warrant an upgrade of plant and equipment.”

From Jesse Steinfeld  – “The buildings’ attributes could also help explain why some older buildings are performing better than newer buildings. It seems like older buildings (>30 years) generally have more concrete and less glass in their facades, whereas many newer buildings have fully glazed facades (and often poorly insulated framing). This could have a big impact on the amount of light and heat penetrating the buildings’ and on their insulating and thermal properties. What do you think?

From Beck Dawson – Interesting point Jesse. It looks like the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Research Sciences Council) in the UK is doing some preliminary work into this question, considering the building attributes and age of thousands of domestic buildings, as well as non-domestic buildings. Perhaps they would be interested in telling us more?

From Romilly Madew – Anecdotally, we know that the newest and the oldest buildings tend to perform the best – buildings in the 30-year age range tend to be the least green. Can you provide some visualisations about the performance of buildings, depending on their size and age? I’d be interested in starting a discussion about this. Why is this the case? What can we do to address the challenges of retrofitting buildings in this bracket?

From Beck Dawson – Great question Romilly. I can provide a visualisation with data from over 50 office buildings in Australia, sorted by age. It indicates some interesting trends that we hope will prompt discussion this week. Check here in the next hour for the visualisation.”

On Water
“Generally, the best savings are immediately after an action is undertaken but the performance declines as leaks emerge. Vigilance is essential to keep on top of this – lots of small leaks equal a big leak. The key is to detect them and fix them before they go on too long and cause major issues.

“Well it looks like Australia’s worst drought on record is officially over. Thank goodness. So why should we care about saving water? Surely we can now relax a little: splash it about, have a bit of fun, let it leak!

“In Melbourne earlier this week, one of the most interesting things I heard in conversations with property sector people was the general dismay about the easing of water restrictions. It seems a lot of people would prefer to go on conserving water, despite the encouragement of their elected officials to let it flow (Melbourne’s dams are almost 40 per cent full and its desalination plant, the largest in Australia, is scheduled to open in late 2011).

“Water use is an emotional issue in Australia. Every time we are in drought people on the land suffer, crops fail and livestock dies. City people are affected by water restrictions too, but it is a common criticism that city folks are wasteful while those in the country pay the price. To play our part as responsible members of society, we think that commercial buildings need to make every effort possible to conserve water.

“What we’ve found though, is it takes a special kind of attitude to be an effective water-saver. It can become an obsession and, at the very least, requires a lot of commitment.

“Similar to the energy story of a couple of weeks ago, the portfolio improvement trend has flattened out as the company has sold ‘improved’ buildings and acquired buildings with improvement potential. But look behind the consolidated results to any individual building and you see something very interesting. Leaks!”

“And not just leaks, but wildly erratic consumption as well. And here’s the thing – that’s normal. Put a whole portfolio of buildings together and you get the nice smooth seasonal profile.

“Water savings are a bit different to carbon dioxide emissions: they go in peaks and troughs (pun intended), but are not necessarily seasonal. Generally, the best savings are immediately after an action is undertaken but the performance declines as leaks emerge. Vigilance is essential to keep on top of this – lots of small leaks equal a big leak. The key is to detect them and fix them before they go on too long and cause major issues.

“You can look at water use for cities, against temperature or even for individual buildings at our custom-built building datalyser

On whether there is a “limit’ to emissions:

A halving of emissions at 320 Pitt Street, which raised the questions of whether the 80:20 rule of effort to effect make improvements beyond 60 per cent too much of a hurdle?

On seasonal energy demand:
Cumulative results of building owners’ investments in both technology and people skills to manage buildings (a seasonal, saw-toothed pattern). If your heating controls are not set properly, you can actually create a demand for cooling in winter, which is pure waste.

Click here to view the Green Buildings Alive website