Proving the Pudding

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-By John Boley

Rudds Consulting Engineers believes in “Innovative Engineering for the Future.” Founded some 40 years ago by a Brit, Donald Rudd, the company quickly established itself as a progressive provider of building services in the ACT and beyond, always with an eye to the future and a good understanding of the latest in technology.

As a means of demonstrating this trend-awareness, Rudds unveiled its new office in Fyshwick in September 2011. To be more precise, it was unveiled by ACT’s Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Simon Corbell, who said the building was a case study in sound environmental initiatives and featured numerous energy-saving technologies. “I applaud the achievements of this 40 year old Canberra-based company, which is backing up its record in innovative and environmentally friendly engineering by constructing a beautiful low-impact building as its own headquarters,” the Minister said.

Some of the innovative features of the building include high-performance solar thermal collectors, which are incorporated vertically into the facade to heat water for space-heating via hydronic pipes buried in the slabs. The building also includes a number of different solar photovoltaic (PV) panels applied to the roof, mounted as shade awnings and integrated as vertical spandrel panels of the building. The total PV system is rated at approximately 32kW. The façade also showcases the latest in thermally-broken curtain-wall window technology from Europe in combination with the best double-glazing technology from Australia. Many of the light fixtures have been provided by suppliers to showcase new energy efficient technologies. Minister Corbell commented: “A more sustainable ACT will come from good, open relationships between government and industry, be they builders, engineers, or consultants. If you add innovation and creativity into the dialogue between government and the building industry you can fast track sustainable ideas and practice. This building embodies those exciting qualities.”

Lou Forner, joint principal (with Andrew Beattie) of Rudds Consulting Engineers, told us the new headquarters would serve as a highly effective ‘live’ demonstration of what can be done nowadays with a building to reduce carbon consumption and – not entirely coincidentally – produce a very agreeable living and/or working environment inside.

“In this building we’ve incorporated a lot of energy saving devices, both active and passive. One of the main reasons for constructing this building was that we do designs all the time and it was time to ‘put our money where our mouth is’ and build something to show people what can be done at an affordable cost.” The offices cover around a thousand square metres. “It’s not a typically big building but we’ve got solar systems here that haven’t been used much in the southern hemisphere yet. For example we have building-integrated PV panels which are quite rare in Australia. They are integrated into the facade of the building, almost looking like a window. But they’re not, they produce power. We also have a thermal version integrated into the façade and in winter-time when the sun is lower in the sky, it heats the thermal panels that reticulate water.” That water is used to heat the slabs on both floors, “so we essentially get free heating when the sun is shining in winter.” Integrating the solar PV panels and solar thermal collectors into the facade is very cost effective as the cost is offset by savings on glazing and other façade finishes.

Another rare trick is to harness the energy output of the IT. “There is a small server room which generates constant heat 24/7 and we’ve put a new high-performance heat-pump from Japan in there, which sucks the heat out of the air in the room and converts it very effectively into hot water for the showers and the kitchens. This heat-pump uses CO2 as refrigerant rather than ozone-depleting refrigerants that are commonly used. We also have a smart rooftop chiller system from Italy, which is unusual for Australia. Here we can actually do heating and cooling at the same time from the heat that’s produced from the cooling cycle. This means that on one side of the building we could be cooling because the winter sun shines into the building very strongly, while on the other side we could be heating because the building is still in the shade and needing some extra warmth.”

Manufacturers and suppliers have eagerly cooperated with Rudds on this practical showcase, in particular with the building-integrated PV and solar thermal systems, says Lou. “The window system that we have finally chosen, for example: we did a number of different studies on what the best façade would be. These studies have reconfirmed what we knew anyway, which is to keep the sun off the window area for most of the year. So we’ve got fixed sun-shades constructed from toughened laminated solar PV panels, hence producing solar power all year round. These PV shade-awnings were implemented in conjunction with LAROS Technologies, employing high-quality PV products from Bosch, Germany, and guaranteed by Bosch itself.

“We have also selected RAICO thermally-broken aluminium curtain-wall and window frames for the building, another first for Australia. We got those imported by LAROS Technologies and had a fabricator here in Canberra trained up to install them. We are still developing more items with them. For example we’ve made provisions for external motorised blinds to go on the building to keep the sun off the building. These blinds have been ordered and we are working with LAROS Technologies and RAICO to develop an extrusion that clips onto the outside of the window that holds the blind as it comes down. We continuously get involved in the co-development of more efficient technologies for commercial buildings. Only a couple of weeks ago, we installed additional non-penetrating as well as one-axis tracking solar PV panel systems on the roof, which very few people in Australia have done before.” Rudds uses its building as an example of what can be done. “We get a lot of interest from architects, and also from [Australia’s] embassies. A lot of the embassies in Europe are keen to implement some of the technologies that are much more common over there than they are here in Australia.”

Among the suppliers that are using Rudds’ headquarters as an active experiment is Tridonic, a manufacturer of lighting control equipment. “They provided most of the electronic ballasts,” explains Lou, “which is a component inside a light fitting. 50 Marcus Clark for example [Rudds carried out the building services design of 50 Marcus Clarke St, which achieved a 6 star Greenstar v2 Office Design rating, a fantastic achievement given the intention was only to gain 5 stars and a 5.5 Star NABERS rating] has a DALI (digital analog lighting interface) system, so it is a ballast inside the fitting and you can talk to all the fittings through a computer to see when they are on, when they are off or if the lamp has failed – as much information as you want – how long the lamp has lasted, anything like that. It is continually being improved; it’s a fully automated lighting control system with movement sensors and daylight sensors, so it automatically controls the lighting throughout the whole building, internally and externally. It’s a 40,000 square metre liveable area building but overall it’s about 63,000 square metres if you include the car parks and everything else, so it’s a relatively large building for Canberra. They have the key components in those light fittings, controlled by Clipsal, another large company in Australia. It’s a good system.” Like any system, there were a few teething niggles, but “I think we’ve got that going quite well now and running at very low energy consumption.”

Clipsal is part of Schneider Electrical. “They’ve helped us out with our own building as well with components for light fittings and so on, as well as Australume and Tridonic. They’ve provided DALI ballasts for some fittings, which were made in China by Led Lightworks. The control equipment was a little bit rudimentary so we actually got Tridonic and Australume to replace the control gear for us at a cost and we then turned it into a DALI fitting so we could control them through the Clipsal system that we have installed here in the new building.”

This building is one of the first sites in Australia that has these new Clipsal DALI movement/ daylight sensors and DALI light switches. “We will continue to be involved in that sort of thing; we like to be on the leading edge of technologies where we can,” says Lou.

Lou is confident the new offices can actually become energy-positive (i.e. with a negative carbon footprint). “I think in another 12 months’ time we’ll be close. There are more things that can be done. There are lots of new things that are happening with building materials and façades for buildings that are going to make things easier to do in the future.”

Rudds has a reputation among other things for being able to right the wrongs of other companies. “We don’t try to compete on price but on quality. It doesn’t always work that way. We did get a name for ourselves: when something goes wrong we always get the call, “˜help us out of this problem.’ That happens quite a bit. We look at it as ‘what do we have to do to fix this problem’ – it doesn’t matter who created the problem, we’ve just got to fix it.” In terms of new technology, “we are continually pushing the envelope to improve things. Quite often that relies on having a client that is willing to push the envelope as well, and that is hard to find.” However, Lou believes the amount of old buildings that will need to be upgraded will substantially enhance the knowledge bank around areas relating to helping the environment.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 11:04 AM AEST