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Case Study: Improve the efficiency of car park exhaust fans

Hero Building, Melbourne

Hero Building

Installing a system to monitor and control air temperatures of common spaces, has reduced energy use and made the Hero Building much more comfortable for residents

You can do this project!

The Hero Building was reincarnated as 14 stories of residential apartments in 2001. It was a stunning architectural achievement.

The Russell Street building was once a cream brick telephone exchange and postal hall, first built by the Public Works Department and completed in 1955 after World War II. A relief sculpture of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, holding a telephone dial still adorns the façade.

From 1999 to 2001, architect Nonda Katsalidis converted the building into 149 boutique apartments, cafes, restaurants and retail shops.  He added six additional floors onto the original roof, and featured pre-rusted Corten steel and bright green columns.

The project

Fifteen years on, the building’s Owners Committee has been working hard to keep the iconic building at the cutting edge. They have a vision to keep the building up to date with innovative sustainable technologies like LED, solar and efficient air handling units. The foyer has been renovated using art deco industrial design. They are addressing recycling, waste and have introduced charity bins. They are also looking at viable options for ongoing energy savings.

One recent project has addressed heating and cooling in common areas. Facing north, the building warms up quickly, but cooling the common areas after hot weather was a challenge. Tests showed that during summer, the lower floors could be up to 12 degrees hotter than upper floors, due to poor airflow, and the old cooling system was working overtime to address the heat build-up The fan ran on high, wasting considerable electricity and money.

Several of the building’s residents formed a sub committee to investigate the options. Installing a building management system would have been too expensive, so they engaged engineering whiz Kirkland Kaldor-Bull to explore options and come up with an inexpensive solution for their heating, cooling and ventilation.

Kirkland installed a computer in a cabinet on the building’s roof to monitor and control the building’s water and airflow. The question was then how to get all the data back to the building manager’s office. Dan Hanily, the Facilities Manager for Hero Apartments, worked with Kirkland and figured the data could be carried over the lift security system data lines which also fed back into the manager’s office computers.

Dan can now set the fan to respond to the external temperatures. In hot weather, for example, the fan runs at a low speed during the day, and at a high speed overnight to pump in the cool evening air. Where it used to take four or five days to cool the building after a hot spell, the building now cools quickly overnight.

The system is now monitored each day, and the air filters are checked regularly. The system is simple to operate, and is primarily done so from Dan's office. When it’s blowing a gale outside, the accessibility of this data makes it very efficient and easy.

The system cost around $5,000 to install, and although savings are yet to be calculated, it looks like optimising the fan’s speed for maximum impact will reduce the building’s $80,000 annual electricity bill.

Most importantly, the new system has made the building more comfortable. Common areas maintain a more appropriate temperature, without the hot and cold extremes of the past. On a hot day, temperatures have dropped by 5-10 degrees on the affected floors.

Dan’s Hanily's Advice

Dan also read the entire Smart Blocks website and found the experience and insights of other buildings invaluable. The City of Melbourne also put him in contact with other buildings in the city doing similar projects, so they could bounce ideas around and take note of what has and hasn’t worked.

Dan says with the appropriate expertise and contractor any building can introduce such a system, regardless of the age of their airflow and air-handling units. He’s looking forward to making the building a model of sustainability.