Monday, June 24, 2024

Melbourne project breathes new life into city offices

An innovative research project by City of Melbourne Council has found that simple changes to ventilation systems can significantly decrease the transmission of COVID-19, while also reducing energy consumption in office buildings. 

The Council’s BREATH pilot tested and evaluated three different ventilation systems in a vacant CBD building over three months: displacement ventilation air conditioning, in-ceiling air filters and natural airflow through open windows. 

The first-of-its-kind study aims to support the accelerated return of up to 400,000 CBD office workers. 

“Bringing people back to the city safely remains a key priority for the City of Melbourne, and that’s why we have undertaken this pilot study,” said Acting Lord Mayor, Nicholas Reece.

The project found that all three ventilation systems reduced the potential transmission of airborne viruses when compared to standard ceiling-based air conditioning, improving safety for office workers. 

Displacement ventilation air conditioning – which supplies air from floor level – was the most effective and energy efficient system tested, reducing COVID-19 transmission by 83%, while also reducing energy consumption by 20%. 

Melbourne A/Lord Mayor, Nicholas Reece.

It was also the most expensive to install, but had no additional ongoing maintenance costs. 

In-ceiling air filters reduced virus transmission by 49% but resulted in a minor increase in energy consumption. 

Opening windows in the building reduced virus transmission by 53%, but increased energy use by up to 20%with seasonal temperature variations. 

The open windows approach was also found to be not available to all office buildings and not a viable solution due to Melbourne’s climate.  

“This industry-leading research has identified simple but effective changes that can be implemented in office buildings to help workers feel safe, comfortable and protected,” said A/Lord Mayor Reece.

“The research findings are publicly available online and free for any organisation to access. We encourage building owners, tenants and partners to take them on board, and to help us create more healthy and sustainable workspaces in the CBD.” 

The BREATH project was led by Council and delivered in partnership with Cbus Property, University of Melbourne, AG Coombs, SEED Engineering and Westaflex, with peer review by AURECON.  

“We’re proud to be leading the way with this research, which will not only help to protect Melburnians from the transmission of airborne viruses but can also benefit businesses by helping to reduce their environmental footprint and operating costs,” said Sustainable Building portfolio lead Councillor, Elizabeth Doidge.

“We’re committed to working closely with our partners and will continue to support the creation of buildings that are more sustainable for our environment and for the future of our city, its businesses and its people.” 

For more information about the BREATH project and findings, visit the City of Melbourne website. BREATH Project assets are available here.

Table: BREATH project key outcomes:

*NABERS is a simple, reliable sustainability rating for the built environment, which measures buildings’ efficiency across energy, water, waste and the indoor environment. NABERS provides a rating from one (making a start) to six (market leading) stars. 

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