There could soon be a green solution to cooling aged care homes, thanks to a new research project by the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and Griffith University.
The Queensland Government-funded project will investigate the impact of greenery on aged care residents and facilities to develop a heat adaptation model for Queensland’s aged care industry.
Lead researcher Professor Claudia Baldwin said she had long been aware that greenery could be beneficial in aged care homes.
“About ten years ago I did some interesting work with seniors, asking them what assisted them and what were barriers as they aged, both in their home and in the community,” she said.
“A number of them talked about how important the environment was to them.
“What they kept saying was how important it was to have air circulation through their building, how they didn’t like air conditioning. They liked green spaces, listed things that they appreciated like being able to walk in the shade and things like that. So that’s stuck in my mind.”
Adding greenery, like shrubs and trees, to reduce heat loads in aged care facilities will be the key focus of the project, titled Green Infrastructure for Mitigating Heat Stress in Aged Care Facilities. Smart technology will record baseline heat loads, target areas for heat reduction and track improvements in greenery and heat stress over time.
Professor Baldwin said it would be important to track energy savings, as cost was a key concern for aged care facilities.
“Many of the not for profit aged care facilities have to be very, very careful with the funding that they have. And so they’re really concerned about the costs.
“One of the things that we’re doing as part of our study is looking at the cost benefits. In particular, we’re looking at energy savings from green infrastructure. The study isn’t long enough to actually see the energy savings, but we’re putting in place a mechanism so they can measure it over time. And we want to track that over time with them.”
The evidence-based heat adaptation plan will be made available for aged care homes around Queensland.
“(The Queensland Government is) interested in us taking that plan and showing it to aged care providers around the state to see how well it would work for them,” Professor Baldwin said.
“We know that places like Townsville and Cairns are going to have completely different levels of heat to deal with. So what we want to do is to develop an adaptation plan for heat that can be adapted to each individual circumstance.”
“Once it’s accepted across Queensland, then hopefully it will be more widely applicable across Australia too. Because what we’re doing is providing a formula rather than a specific adaptation plan for each facility all around Australia.”
The project team will also conduct sector-wide workshops across Queensland to determine whether heat adaptation plans could benefit other aged care facilities.
Professor Baldwin and Dr Matthews published a paper earlier this year on Planning for Older People in a Rapidly Warming and Ageing World: The Role of Urban Greening.