In many parts of the world, things are hotting up. Take Australia, for example. Having recorded its warmest day in history (46 degrees Celsius) as recently as 2009, the Victorian capital of Melbourne notched up a record four straight days of above 40 degree temperatures last month. That same week, the South Australian capital of Adelaide was officially the world’s hottest city for a day.
In this environment, cooling systems are in overdrive and power bills are rising, raising questions about whether air-conditioners designed for more temperate conditions are up to scratch and whether or not designers and engineers are creating systems that will be adequate in an environment of higher temperatures.
Anecdotal evidence this is not the case. On Melbourne’s hottest day, for example, I am told by a resident of a city skyscraper that the air-conditioning system shut down, leaving residents sweltering for around three hours in a building unfit for occupation. Such situations are particularly dangerous for elderly occupants as well as the young.
The problem is particularly acute in skyscrapers where façades are built with glass. Having lived in one such building for many years, I can say it would have been unfit for habitation during summer had the cooling system failed to function properly.
This has ramifications for a number of players in building and construction. Air-conditioning manufacturers, for example, could be subject to legal proceedings whereby designs fail to account for the likelihood of raising temperatures bought about by climate change, whilst the consequences of system failures raise serious health and safety issues in an environment whereby the cost of overhauling a system may be prohibitive. Likewise, building surveyors could also become caught up in litigation in the event they issue an occupancy permit where it could be established the air-conditioning system was unable to function (thus making the building unfit for occupation) in high temperatures.
Bottom line: the frequency of extreme temperatures is on the rise and the building industry is on notice. Anyone who fails to heed the warning may face serious consequences.