Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Parliament House is hotter this week

If you work at Parliament House, and you are preparing to go to work this morning – take note. It’ll be hotter than normal and you’ll need more comfortable clothes.

Until this week however hot it has been outside, and however much hot air has been created inside, the temperature within the massive 4,500-room complex has been maintained a comfortable 22 degrees.

To remove the heat the air-conditioning system sucks up an average of 100 kilolitres of water each day – around twice as much as did the Parliamentary fountains and water features until they were switched off, and about twice as much as do all the building’s toilets...

On really hot days, such as the scorcher earlier this month, the system soaks up almost 300 kilolitres.

A few weeks ago the head of the Department of Parliamentary Services Hilary Penfold wondered out loud how much water could be saved by simply turning down the airconditioning and allowing the building to get hottter.

She was surprised to discover that no-one knew. “The fact is that no-one has ever thought about it, going back 25 years or whenever when they first started designing these things, on-one bothered to think about the relationship between temperature and water use,” she said.

So for four days from today until Australia Day, Parliament House will part of an experiment. The target temperature will be set at 24 degrees, rather than 22. Each day Ms Penfold’s staff will calibrate the relationship between the temperature inside, the temperature outside and the amount of water needed to carry the heat away.

Asked why she had chosen 24 degrees as the target temperature for the experiment Ms Penfold replied: “Because it is two degrees above 22. We probably need two degrees to give us enough difference to be able to measure what we are doing.”

“We will be trying to develop in effect a spreadsheet that will track the relationship between the target temperature, the outside temperature and the water use, and establish what difference it makes to increase the temperature.”

If the trial demonstrates that a warmer Parliament House can save water, and if Ms Penfold doesn’t get too many complaints, she will consider recommending to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate that the temperature be lifted throughout the month of February when both houses are back and the building houses 3,500 people.

In a circular to building occupants she has advised staff preparing to go to work today to take account of the trial in choosing their clothes. It would probably be safe to leave jumpers and coats at home.