12 August 2014 — Australand’s Fairwater development in Blacktown is raising the bar for green initiatives, including being the first masterplanned estate to provide geothermal energy systems for heating and cooling as standard for every home.
The urban infill project, the first to register for a Green Star Communities rating in Western Sydney, also incorporates a high degree of ecological restoration and considerations around promoting healthy outdoor family lifestyles.
Australand sustainability manager Paolo Bevilacqua said the company was taking leadership with the sustainability approach to provide something “meaningful and with long-term benefits for residents”.
The Fairwater development comprises a mix of detached dwellings, townhouses and low-rise “townhome” apartments to cater for the area’s demographic mix. Mr Bevilacqua said that in Blacktown it was common to have multi-generational family groups living together, so the home designs were flexible in terms of living spaces, some including multi-purpose rooms that can function as extra bedrooms, studies or retreats for teenagers or adults. Some of the homes also include a Fonzie apartment above the garage.
On completion, the development is expected to contain around 800 dwellings and be home to around 2000 people. The first dwellings are already complete, and the company expects to complete between 100 and 120 a year, with low rise apartments part of the later stages.
The 38 hectare site was formerly a private golf course, and a key part of the planning has involved the restoration of ponds, waterways and wetlands ecological communities, and the incorporation of these areas into the stormwater management approach. The creek running through the site was a concrete culvert, and this is being rehabilitated back to a natural creek with appropriate vegetation.
“We are improving and enhancing the ecological value of the site,” Mr Bevilacqua said.
Green Star target
Fairwater is targeting a 5 Star Green Star Communities Pilot rating. To meet the benchmarks of the tool, the development is addressing areas including community governance, active living and liveability in design. Residents will also have access to public transport in the form of buses and are within walking or cycling distance of Blacktown train station and the Blacktown CBD.
Planning for healthy, active, outdoor family lives
Inherent in the design approach is the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle. Specific initiatives include the construction of bike paths, park areas, nature reserve areas, picnic areas, playgrounds, fitness stations, pram ways, a children’s water play area, learner’s bike paths as well as walking trails that link the site to the broader Blacktown community. On completion, the open spaces will be handed over to the local council as public land, and an agreement is in place for council to undertake the long-term maintenance.
“This is for Blacktown a fairly unique development, and it will be quite aspirational for some families in the area who are looking for a home as a long-term investment,” Mr Bevilacqua said.
“I think this development will attract more owner occupiers, it will be somewhere people can stay for a while because they have the flexibility within the home design to cater for changing family needs.”
He said that while these home buyers are not asking specifically for sustainability, they will be happy to have it.
Innovative geothermal supplied as standard
For example, the QPS GeoAir systems that are being installed will dramatically reduce the amount of energy required for heating and cooling, both of which are required seasonally in the western Sydney climactic zone. The full system, including ground loop, heat pump and fully-ducted airconditioning system, is being installed for each dwelling, with zone controls in living areas and upstairs bedrooms.
“A typical four person household might expect to save up to $500 per year based on current electricity prices,” Mr Bevilacqua said.
“We investigated ways to reduce energy costs and improve efficiency and the benefits of the GeoAir systems were apparent after we piloted the geothermal technology for 24 months in our Lidcombe sales office.”
Australand is also trailing the technology at one of its industrial warehouse developments in Eastern Creek that is due to commence construction this month.
The pilot of the QPS GeoAir system at the Eastern Creek project is something Mr Bevilacqua said could have much broader applications across industrial developments. It is initially being trialled for the airconditioning of the office area of an industrial project, but the efficiencies it offers could be of enormous benefit for climate-controlled warehousing facilities where cooling is required around the clock for large parts of the year. The cooling cycle, he explained, is where the system achieves the largest gains in terms of energy efficiency.
- See our story Domestic scale geothermal innovation attracting interest
Design elements – an efficient envelope and healthy interiors
The fabric of the Fairwater buildings is being designed to achieve at least a five star NatHERS rating. Key elements include high performance glazing, strategic use of natural light and solar orientation for winter warmth, and shading elements used to reduce thermal transference in the summer months. Improving natural light levels has been a major consideration.
“We are using best-practice PVC and steel, and have undertaken a high level analysis of all the high impact materials,” Mr Bevilacqua said.
“The housing uses a lot of natural materials, some of these [such as timber] we consider standard. We are also sourcing materials locally where possible.”
Within the dwellings, low-VOC paints and finishes will be standard, as will LED lighting. Mr Bevilacqua said Australand had been installing LED lights as standard across multiple projects. Gas hot water will be standard across all Fairwater dwellings, and there is the ability to install solar if owners wish to. Some homes will also incorporate rainwater harvesting for garden irrigation.
A learning trail is planned through the site, which will educate residents and visitors on the value and functionality of key sustainability aspects, including the geothermal power systems.
The main sales centre has also been constructed for a lighter footprint, with a design that allows it to be moved and reused around the site as the project proceeds through the various stages.
BASIX does not factor in geothermal accurately
Mr Bevilacqua said that in terms of the BASIX rating of the dwellings, the geothermal system, while saving on energy use, did not benefit the rating.
“We would have been better off from a BASIX point of view with solar power, which would have generated less power than we are saving with the geothermal systems,” he said.
Australand is in discussions with BASIX about geothermal and how it can be properly accounted for in energy efficiency modelling.