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How to improve your buildings resilience to Bushfires and COVID-19

 

During the 2020 Australian bushfires, air quality in parts of Sydney were reported as being equivalent to Sydney residents smoking 34 cigarettes per dayAs many Australian homes are quite ‘leaky’, thousands of suburban residences and its occupants were exposed to toxic levels of smoke and smog for extended periods of time.

Naturally, the bushfire crisis called for new building design systems to be installed in new residential and commercial buildings to improve indoor air quality (IAQ). 

But what about engineering solutions to address the need for internal safety in response to the current COVID-19 crisis?


COVID-19 and PropTech

COVID-19 gave rise to innovation on a scale never seen before, particularly in PropTech.
 
While COVID-19 has detrimentally impacted many industries, it has, in turn, highlighted the need for a sustainable and resilient real estate sector, and opened doors for new technology to allow for simple, sustainable leaps towards safer, healthier buildings.  

One of many examples of innovation that Neuron brings to the property industry, is the ability to understand upfront the design options and costs involved in future proofing new buildings against changes in climate, health and safety measures. 

While many of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still unknown, the real estate sector must be poised for swift action to provide energy-efficient buildings in order to meet future buyer and tenant demands. 
 
Thankfully, developers and investors are already looking to achieve long-term resiliency; by mitigating risk of future physical or market shocks, as well as increasing focus on meeting sustainability targets.

Therefore, managing COVID-19 in buildings can and should be addressed in the building design phase.


Changing priorities for home buyers

About a million people live in apartments in Greater Sydney, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, accounting for a fifth of all homes — the highest percentage in the country. 

With changing priorities around climate and sustainability, educated buyers are now making informed decisions on their residential home purchases, particularly in medium to high density residential apartments.

As consumer demand shifts towards more high-quality, energy-efficient properties that offer safe, healthy living and working environments for themselves and their families, developers need to consider environmental impacts of their buildings much earlier in the design phase. 

Our ability to reimagine the way we design buildings will determine the speed at which this industry can keep up with buyer demands.  


COVID-19 in residential buildings

About a million people live in apartments in Greater Sydney, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, accounting for a fifth of all homes — the highest percentage in the country. 

Once benign surfaces such as light switches, door handles and elevator buttons are now understood as possible infection vectors. Simple gatherings at homes are considered ‘high risk’ encounters. 

For developers, this presents a series of confusing and high-risk decisions. This is particularly true in Australia, when the need to keep air out of residential buildings for protection against bushfire hazards, contradicts the need to provide sufficient ventilation and airflow to COVID-19 impacted buildings.  

How do we meet these conflicting priorities? Paired with the need for super sustainable, energy-efficient buildings, the solution lies in smart buildings that can respond to these events.  

Neuron has compiled a list of considerations for developers to assist in the process.


Effective COVID-19 management in residential buildings

To effectively manage the long-term processes of COVID-19 in the coming decades, residential developers can consider implementing the following:

  • Pressurised corridors to contain potentially infectious air within apartments and out of common areas. 
  • Finding the right balance between outdoor common areas and indoor common areas/amenities. This is a great way to provide safer amenities when faced with lockdowns.
  • Provide touchless entryways, taps and lift buttons in common areas. 
  • Automate sliding doors for use without handles. 
  • Introduce a garbage chute system with a hand wash station.
  • Have a people management procedure, i.e., provide separate entryways for occupants and delivery services to reduce transmission rates.
  • Where people bottlenecking cannot be avoided, such as in car parks, significantly increase the ventilation rate within those spaces. 
  • Additionally, increase ventilation to common areas such as parcel collection and bicycle storage areas.
  • Early research suggests aerosol transmission plays a part in COVID-19 transmission. If this is true, locally exhausting/removing aerosols may decrease transmission by removing COVID-19 particles from occupied areas. Exhausting from the point of aerosol release could help to maintain safer base-line levels of indoor pollution/contaminants, without having to significantly increase the quantity of outside air being processed by the mechanical ventilation system. The power behind this strategy is smart sensing technology, which is already being installed in buildings around Australia.
  • Include an indicator light noting COVID-19 is within the building. This notifies residents, guests and delivery personnel that: 
    • Masks must be worn
    • Common property facilities will be shut
    • Extra precautions should be taken, such as not gathering in common indoor areas (lobbies, lifts, car parks, garbage rooms and stairwells).
  • Encourage occupants to wear masks when transiting through common areas, to be attentive with hand hygiene, and obviously to not go out when infected. 
  • During an internal outbreak, implement systems to enable safe delivery of food, packages, and limit apartment removal/move-in dates to manage people flow through the building. In addition, daily hygiene clean downs of common areas including garbage rooms would be beneficial.
  • Assign dedicated lifts to COVID-19 infected persons (when possible) and consider installing UV Light Devices to disinfect the lift while it is unoccupied, as early research suggests this inclusion could safeguard common, high-traffic areas.


Responsive services that can be switched on and off when required will enable us to balance the need between sustainability, increased ventilation, reduced ventilation, and to maintain safe environments for occupants throughout various health and safety scenarios. 

Neuron’s technology provides fast, simple and cost-effective means to digitally map out all options, and assesses:

  • How you might incorporate solutions in the building design
  • The impact of the system on the building
  • Hidden risks to consider 
  • The cost


The Neuron difference

We don’t know what the future will bring, but we can make informed decisions to future proof our buildings for the longevity of the building and its residents. 

In the face of an uncertain future, we need to build more complex buildings can react to a changing climate, when and if it’s needed. In new building design, it is not only important to future proof against external environmental aggressors such as bushfire smoke, but internal ones, too.

Neuron uniquely provides innovative engineering solutions to address health and safety requirements in new buildings, right from the get-go. Our cutting-edge advice and effective solutions rise to the challenges facing our industry.

If you would like to arrange a workshop for Neuron to review your building, please email steve@neuron.build to set up a call. 

 
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