The EcoCentre has been designed and constructed according to strict ‘eco-design’ principles

The sustainable building design of the EcoCentre involved a total life cycle approach with attention paid to the environmental impacts which occurred during the construction and the ultimate demolition phase of the building, as well as the ongoing impacts of daily operations.

The design of the building is in line with a key principle of sustainability, the need to live more lightly on the Earth and serves to educate our community about how to live sustainably.

The EcoCentre is orientated with a north-easterly aspect and follows the contours of the basin shaped site to maximise the preservation of trees during construction and the amount of solar energy that could be captured. The length of the building is correctly aligned with the passage of the overhead sun which assists controlling the internal temperature of the building, resulting in lower energy bills and reduced greenhouse emissions.

OVERVIEW

The EcoCentre minimises environmental impacts in a number of ways:

  • Solar energy – 23.4 kW system
  • Ambient ventilation and lighting
  • Rammed earth walls for temperature regulation
  • Rainwater harvesting for greywater use
  • Hebel aerated concrete floor panels
  • Reconditioned carpets (post-consumer) in a modular design
  • Heat and glare reflective ‘smart’ glass
  • Minimal environmental impact through design

ENERGY

The EcoCentre was one of the first public building to have solar panels installed. The original 4.2kW solar PV system were amorphous (thin film) technology with a peak power output of approximately 3.9kW generating approximately 17.5kWh per day on average.

Multiple solar energy technologies

In 2012 a system upgrade was implemented by installing a 19.2 kW multi technology, multi-brand solar system. This upgrade supported the existing 4.2 kW system taking the total to 23.4 kW. Producing upwards of 100 kWh per day, the system generates enough power to manage the requirements of the EcoCentre as well as positively contributing to the reduction of other buildings on the Nathan Campus. The system showcases multiple solar energy technologies and multiple brands on the market, from generic cheaper products to the more expensive, providing an opportunity for the community to compare the energy efficiencies and life cycles of different technologies and different brands in a non-commercial environment. In addition, one set of panels is on a dual-axis tracker, allowing for comparisons between roof mounted and tracker mounted systems to also be made.

WATER

A rainwater tank is used to collect and store rain water runoff, usually from rooftops and gutters. Rainwater tanks are installed to make use of rain water for later use, reduce mains water use for economic or environmental reasons, and aid self-sufficiency.

Any rain that falls on the uphill side of the EcoCentre roof is collected in a split-level, two-tank water storage facility holding 20,000 litres situated under the building. This tank water is used for toilet flushing and non-potable water use in the hand basins. The tank system switches automatically back to mains water supply in times of low rainfall. This system represents a potential saving of 357,000 litres of water per year.

WASTE

Australia has one of the highest rates of waste generation per capita in the world. All waste materials represent an investment of water, energy, and natural resources, such as coal, oil or trees. Once waste goes to landfill, virgin material has to be taken from our environment to produce new products. Reusing and recycling are two processes by which waste materials are diverted from the waste stream, sorted and used to produce new products.

The EcoCentre has been built using non-toxic materials to facilitate recycling the building at the end of its life whilst the steel frame, floor panels, windows and roofing can be reused. To reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills, at the EcoCentre we:

  • use a three bin system to separate rubbish into paper/cardboard, general and recyclables
  • are a collection point for old batteries, mobile phones and printer cartridges
  • use and promote the Terracycle oral care waste collection program
  • use composting bins and worm farms, which also supplies fertiliser for our plants.

Plastic recycling is the process of reprocessing used scrap and waste plastic into new plastic materials. To highlight the growing plastic recycling industry, the EcoCentre have two park benches made from recycled plastics (milk bottles and toners). These are lighter, pest resistant and will last longer than wood products. Recycling old plastic products uses 20 to 40% less energy than manufacturing it from new. If we recycled all of our plastics, we could reduce our oil consumption and save 25% of landfill space. The energy saved from recycling one plastic drink bottle will power a computer for 25 minutes.

MATERIALS

Eight rammed earth walls in the EcoCentre help stabilise interior temperatures. Due to their mass, the walls tend to remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter than the temperature of the surrounding air. This helps to control temperature fluctuations. These walls are also a major design feature inside the building. The clay, sourced by nearby Mount Cotton, was mixed with a binding agent and hand rammed on site in large wooden moulds. The imprints of the hands can be seen on close inspection of the walls. Rammed earth walls are also termite and fire resistant—important for a building surrounded by bushland.

Hebel, the Autoclaved Aerated Concrete used to make the EcoCentre floor is a lightweight, precast building material that simultaneously provides structure, insulation, and fire and mould resistance. Hebel offers advantages over other cement construction materials, one of the most important being its lower environmental impact, using 61% and 64% less embodied energy and 64% and 55% less greenhouse gas emissions than concrete and brick veneer. It is also non-combustible and renowned for its highly fire resistant properties, which makes it a good product for buildings near bushland.

A high level of natural lighting has been achieved inside the building through the use of glass picture windows and heat and glare reflective 'smart' glass panes in the gallery. This has eliminated the need for artificial lighting during the day and reduced electricity demand in all but the most overcast of conditions. Energy efficient compact or strip fluorescent lights are used when this happens. When combined with forms of natural ventilation, as in the EcoCentre, and the correct orientation of the long axis of the building in relation to the passage of the sun overhead, smart glass can contribute to the control of building temperature.

Carpet, as current statistics reveal, accounts for over 70% of all flooring sales in the developed world. The EcoCentre carpet tiles are from the Ontera EarthPlus range. At the end-of-product-life, Ontera Modular carpets provide one of the highest possible levels of environmental stewardship by offering a product renewal and reuse solution. The 903m2 of carpeting at the EcoCentre was given a ‘second life’ through a process in which the carpet surface was cleaned, retextured and superimposed with a new design to refresh the appearance before being cut into tiles. Tiles have been used so that when areas need replacing, individual tiles (or areas) can be replaced, rather than a whole room. The carpet manufacturing industry has a high impact on the environment yet most carpet and underlay is recyclable which could prevent it needlessly filling up our landfills.

VENTILATION

At the EcoCentre a high level of natural ventilation is achieved throughout by using a combination of louvers (ground and ceiling level), casement windows (hinged on the side) and high ceilings, to help move the internal air by convection currents.

Natural ventilation

The height difference between the two levels of louvers helps air move by convection. Lower pressure is created on the downwind side of the building and air is drawn through interior spaces to create a ventilation flow. These design elements help create comfortable interior temperatures under most conditions with a reduced need for air conditioning and, thus, electrical power.

The EcoCentre also has generous eaves to protect the building and shade the windows so they can be used despite rain etc.

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