Renewing Dwell: Building Safe, Cool Spaces Under Hot Conditions
Tucked away in the western suburbs of Melbourne is a community space known as Dwell, at the Ascot Vale Church of Christ.
Dwell is a community space, hosting many groups, events and providing services for vulnerable people. And with the help of several partners, this prized community hub is thinking about the possibility of becoming a safe cool refuge for extreme heat events.
A Vision of Resilience Unfolds
In 2022, the Ascot Value Church of Christ was nominated to participate in a transformative project funded by the former Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. This project, aptly named the “Building Vulnerability Assessment of Potential Refuge Buildings in Melbourne’s West” aimed to bolster the resilience of 40 facilities across the western region of Melbourne. This was done by identifying heat related risks and recommending upgrades which once implemented can help prepare them to serve as safe havens during extreme weather events such as heatwaves. The local Western Alliance for Greenhouse Action was crucial to this process, they led the creation of a Heat Safe Spaces Working Group and consulted with member councils about potential facilities, including Dwell.
At the helm of this project was Phani Yeggina, the Building Resilience Project Officer from Yarra Energy Foundation. Employing the Building Vulnerability Assessment (BVA) approach, Phani conducted site assessments for council and community facilities and highlighted challenges posed by extreme heat and some cost-effective interventions.
Decoding the BVA Approach
The Building Vulnerability Assessment approach systematically evaluates components of a building’s design and structure in the face of extreme heat. The assessment delves into how these components react to stress induced by climate events, determining their exposure and sensitivity. These insights are then translated into ratings that measure the impact, functionality, and then determine the overall vulnerability of the building. Importantly, this approach provides targeted areas for improvement.
A Path Forward: Addressing Vulnerabilities
Phani found that while the facility wasn’t currently up to scratch as a cool space, a few simple steps could make a world of difference. Firstly, the assessment found that the sun-filled western courtyard (while a beautiful spot to sit!) was transferring heat through non-glazed windows and a poorly insulated building envelope. Additionally, Phani’s work highlighted the risk of potential power outages that could leave Dwell without air conditioning or services during a real weather event.
To navigate these risks, YEF offered some clear recommendations, including the integration of shading elements near windows and the western courtyard, ‘coolscaping’ (i.e. selective planting for shade), along with several energy-efficient upgrades such as insulation, efficient air conditioning, draft-proofing and double glazing. The YEF team also highlighted the value of backup power to enhance Dwells’ resilience in blackout events in the long term.
Moonee Valley Sustainability: Turning Vision into Reality
In 2023, local champions Moonee Valley Sustainability (MVS) stepped in to help Dwell action these recommendations. Securing a $10,000 grant from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, MVS assisted the facility in installing a much-needed shade sail on the western court area, started landscaping to increase cool air flow and co-ordinated insulation for the facility.
Pulling in the help of MVS group members and volunteers, these efforts have already made a huge difference to the building’s thermal inertia and comfort. But MVS won’t be stopping there. Plans are already underway, assessing potential solar and battery systems that could provide backup power during blackouts, creating a facility that’s not only comfortable but prepped and ready for all possibilities.
Charting the Course Ahead
With each step towards energy resilience and efficiency, Dwell draws closer to its vision of a safe and cool space for vulnerable community members. As summer approaches, MVS is working closely with Dwell to create the processes they need to be a sanctuary of relief and support. This collaborative effort to transform a much-loved community hub into a safe cool space is a shining example of what collective action can achieve.