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26 April 2019

How Can We Design and Build More Resilient Buildings?

brush fire

A good example of the need for core services during an emergency is a fire station. In a fire station, the team could be working long hours, in difficult conditions, often for days at a stretch. Hot water for showers and cleaning protective gear is certainly something you and I wouldn’t want to scrimp on in those conditions. The effort put into setting up well provisioned, forward operating bases close to the recent fires in Nelson provides a really good example of this. Luckily these fires were not combined with reduced availability in the essential services of electricity, natural gas and vehicle fuel. Core services, including hot water, could be provided through “conventional” means, by setting fire to fossilised sunlight in the form of LPG.

In the case of an earthquake or widespread floods, these core services will often be cut off, as happened in Christchurch 2010/11 and Edgecumbe 2017. This disruption can last for days or weeks, putting more pressure on already stretched civil defence and other critical agencies. Looking ahead to our future of an increasingly unstable climate, with more frequent and extreme weather events, structurally and functionally resilient buildings become even more important.

This resilience will come in many different forms, e.g. buildings’ location, maximised passive (low/no energy) operation, structural integrity and functioning of core services in extreme conditions. The amount of investment and prioritisation for this resilience should be decided based on the Importance Level of the building. In an individual house, it would be prudent to have options for the operation of absolutely core services, such as an easy to assemble, temporary composting toilet, some potable water storage and food reserves that require no/minimal cooking. These core services are pretty well covered by the civil defence emergency kits recommended for everyone in NZ. A home vegetable garden with private and community fruit trees is a big bonus in this scenario.

Larger buildings, especially with higher Importance Levels, will have fundamental, structural resilience designed in. We also have the opportunity to look more holistically at the resilient provision of core services. Diverse people and organisations should contribute their specific expertise to these plans. Looking at the critical requirements for a safe and healthy existence for people living and working in a restricted environment will provide a list of topics that can be ticked off.

From my perspective, I can contribute to this debate with work Apricus have done recently with Fire Emergency NZ (FENZ), for fire stations in Christchurch and Hamilton, and with Opus for the new Manawatu Wanganui Regional Council (MWRC) headquarters. All are Importance Level 4 buildings, required to continue operation in the most extreme conditions after a disaster. All will have significant numbers of people (>8 & >70 respectively) requiring hot water for an emergency period. All will have a solar hot water system designed to deliver hot water with absolutely minimal external energy, apart from the sun of course.

In an emergency, with back-up electricity and/or gas supply cut, the solar hot water system will automatically divert all the solar energy to a core services hot water cylinder. The solar controller and pump will be run on the core services electrical circuit, ensuring continued operation when on generator power. The powerful resilience value in this application, is that an Apricus solar hot water system delivers from 4kW (FENZ) to 24kW (MWRC) for a load on the generator of less than 0.1kW.

Let’s all contribute to a discussion about how we can support a resilient future for everyone and (almost) all eventualities.

If you are considering sustainable water heating for your next project, contact Marcus to discuss your project requirements, and discover the most effective hot water heating solution.

View more information on Apricus Eco Hotwater, including contact details.
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