solar hot water at fire station

How can we design and build more resilient buildings?

A truly resilient building needs to continue to provide core services in the event of a prolonged emergency or natural disaster. Domestic hot water is one of these services.  For example, 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. Luckily in most cases, fires are not combined with reduced availability of 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.

Apricus Eco Hot Water and Heating has in recent years contributed by installing resilient hot water systems for 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 an Apricus 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 Apricus Solar Hot Water systems will automatically divert all the solar energy to a core services hot water cylinder.  The Apricus 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 the Apricus 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.

Relevant Case Studies:

Fire Stations – Christchurch & Hamilton

Te Ao Nui – Sustainable IL4 Office Building

Apricus Eco endeavours to ensure that the information provided in this blog article is reliable and accurate at the time of publishing, please note that the information detailed can change with the passage of time.