Developing Walls for Tomorrow’s Apartment Buildings

Housing is changing rapidly in Australia, with mid-rise (5–9 storey) apartment buildings becoming much more common. The construction of these new buildings presents many opportunities to improve the indoor conditions in which we live and reduce our impact on the environment. This project focuses on the development of advanced, multifunctional steel-intensive wall cladding systems and products which optimise both Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) and energy usage using both passive and active systems.

Almost half of current carbon emissions are caused by the construction and use of buildings, and due to the relatively long lifetime of buildings, the performance of the buildings that we build now will continue to affect us and our environment for many years into the future. Utilising construction systems with lower carbon footprints help to reduce the negative impacts that new apartment buildings can have. Improvements to the thermal performance of building facades can reduce the energy needed for air-conditioning and heating, and improve the indoor environment, producing healthier, more resilient communities.

This project is developing new adaptive façade systems for apartment buildings. Such systems are able to adapt to the current weather conditions in order to either take advantage of available (free) heating or cooling, or protect the indoor space from adverse outdoor conditions, as needed. A broad range of technologies have been evaluated using computer simulations, and full-scale experiments are underway at the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, to test the most promising designs.

UOW researcher Wenye Lin is part of a research Team within the Steel Research Hub whose area of research has focused on the performance and optimisation of current transpired solar collectors (TSCs). TSCs are a building façade with perforated holes which generate warm air that is able to be drawn into the dwelling to provide renewable thermal heating and improved IEQ.

The research so far has found that the performance of adaptive façade systems is closely tied to the maximum heat transfer that they can achieve. Some relatively simple systems have been able to improve indoor temperatures by several degrees, with very little energy expenditure. For example, experimental assessments of transpired solar collectors have achieved very high thermal efficiencies.

The quality of the apartments we build now is important, because we will be living in them for decades to come. The façades developed in this project are contributing to a future where buildings interact harmoniously with their surroundings, saving energy and improving living conditions.