Heatwaves with record-setting peaks, duration, and timing are becoming more and more familiar around the world.
Last week, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service declared that June–August – the northern hemisphere summer – was the hottest such period since records began in 1940, topping the previous record by a significant margin.
In Phoenix, Arizona, a continuous stretch of 31 days of more than 43°C saw emergency rooms filled with patients suffering heat stroke and burns from the asphalt.
One response in the US and Canada has been to turn public spaces into cooling centres, or temperature-controlled facilities where people can cool off for free. As a potentially record-breaking summer approaches for Australia, could a similar strategy be used here?
Managing Director of Atelier Ten Australia and LEED Fellow Paul Stoller, M.AIRAH, believes it could. Stoller is recognised for his environmental planning and design consulting work and has expertise in building physics and façade optimisation, high-performance buildings, and resilient design.
“In places that suffer regularly from extreme heat, we have communities that are vulnerable because they are at risk to health issues from heat and do not have regular access to thermally safe (cool) environments,” Stoller says.
“A classic example is an elderly person on limited income who can’t afford air conditioning, lives in an old house that is subject to overheating, suffers from heat-exacerbated health issues, and during hot nights has no safe place to sleep in a safely cool environment. In response to this, in Atelier Ten’s consulting on new community centres and sports halls, we recommend they be designed to accommodate overnight stays by community members during heat waves and other extreme weather events.”
With regard to our buildings, Stoller says existing residential buildings may not provide adequate passive cooling due to insufficient external shade, old glass without solar control, limited window openings that slow night-time cooling, or air conditioning that was not sized to meet extreme heat loads.
None of these problems can be fixed quickly, Stoller notes, but he says all should be priorities during scheduled building refurbishment or upgrades, or may be worthy of a faster upgrade.
Stoller also says we need to look past the coming summer and consider how we can deal with with extreme heat into the future.
“All communities need plans to provide 24-hour cooling centres capable of accommodating a range of people safely,” he says. “Buildings in design or about to undergo major refurbishment should review their design criteria, and add in more ambitious passive thermal comfort design criteria – like the CIBSE TM-59 Design Method for the Assessment of Overheating Risk in Homes.
“Air conditioning should be sized to deal with higher peak temperatures, and be specified to operate during higher ambient peak temperatures (some equipment cuts out at 40°C). And ground-source cooling and heating systems should be explored more rigorously where suitable as their heat rejection processes do not experience higher ambient air temperatures.”
Australia is expecting hotter, drier conditions this summer as a result of the El Niño phenomenon. But while many countries have confirmed that an El Niño event is occuring, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is yet to do so.
Image courtesy of Andrew Nixon/CapRadio