Retrofit and save

Experts discuss some of the best upgrades for improving sustainability and wellbeing.

Aged-care providers are turning to external experts and their own team members to find ways of updating existing infrastructure to improve sustainability.

Town planner and board member of the Swan Care Group, Julie Brunner, says the benefits of incorporating sustainable design into existing buildings include a reduction in costs and an adherence to a philosophy of social consciousness that often aligns an organisation’s mission and values. She adds, “Reduction in costs transfers to residents or patients and their families, improving or addressing affordability.”

Peter Hamilton, general manager property and capital works at HammondCare, agrees. “The benefits can be distributed to our residents through lower charges or being able to assist more disadvantaged people,” he adds. “These efficiencies also ensure that as a business we remain viable and are seen in the marketplace as responsible. [They] will help improve our brand.”

Mary Casey, chair of the board of the Living Future Institute Australia and associate director of McLachlan Lister, a management consultant and project management company, says any savings can also be applied directly to improving the quality of care for residents.

But when it comes to sustainability upgrades, Casey says staff must be involved from the outset and be aware of how to use any strategies.

In this issue of Aged Care Insite, we detail some of the top upgrades for improving sustainability, reducing costs and providing better care.


Hamilton suggests that facilities replace any inefficient light globes with low-energy options.

“We used a lighting consultant to assist us [in understanding] the costs and opportunities by analysing the current lighting equipment and [preparing] a detailed business case to identify the cost and payback period,” he says. The team then went about systematically changing the most inefficient globes.

Danielle McIntosh, senior consultant at HammondCare Dementia Centre, says lighting levels must be monitored when switching lights or lamps over to energy-efficient LEDs.

“Replacing an existing light with the energy-efficient version may result in lower lux levels,” she says. “Increasing the light levels helps compensate for changes in the structure of an older person’s eye. Older people need double the amount of light a younger person needs. If you can see, you are more likely to be safer and more independent.”

McIntosh also says newer LEDs can save on electricity costs.

Casey considers lighting to be a king hit item when it comes to upgrades. “Daylighting in particular has been shown as a key component for attraction and retention of high-quality staff,” she says.

McIntosh agrees that natural light should be used. “Sky lights, sky tubes and large windows are a great way to bring the natural light into the building, particularly for dark internal corridors that don’t have any external windows,” she says. “Natural light delivers good colour rendition, which can help a person identify objects. Having good-sized windows can also provide views to interesting and pleasant places and can help connect a person to their environment, including inviting them to go outside and gain the benefits of sunlight.”

She does add that providers must be mindful of glare and manage it using shading devices, blinds or curtains.


Brunner says a key retrofit involves water collection and reuse. She advises that using water from areas such as roof spaces or car parks is an easier and less costly way of meeting landscaping requirements.

“Tanks can be stored below car park areas and connected to existing reticulation systems,” she says. “Water collected from these sources can also be used for flushing of toilets, for example.” However, she adds there are extra difficulties and costs associated with fitting the additional pipes required.

Casey says many efficiencies can be gained when it comes to water, including by checking for faults in the supply.

One of her clients needed to come up with an action plan to reduce water usage and subsequently found the primary culprit was a leak in the underground water piping. “Whilst they had been doing everything they could possibly do at the usage end, they had a fault in the supply, and that had been happening for years but nobody had noticed it.”

The leak was identified due to subsidised meters. “A lot of facilities have poor visibility of the usage of their resources so they can’t troubleshoot when stuff like that happens – they can’t see where the big users sit,” Casey says.

Representatives from the client’s catering, nursing and senior management also went through their uses of water and what could be done to try to save some. “It’s a real brainstorming exercise about how to start thinking about water use in terms of a cycle on site instead of a single use,” Casey says. “The real key with water usage is matching the level of treatment of the water to the use that it’s being put to, so if it’s going to flush a toilet or it’s going to water the gardens it arguably needs a lesser level of treatment than water you’re going to use to cook with or drink.”

She says providers can look at how to use water multiple times before it leaves a site.


Another key area was landscaping. “The simple strategic planting of landscaping can help reduce heating and cooling costs,” Swan Care Group’s Brunner says. “Trees providing shading can reduce the need for cooling of buildings in summer. Placement of hedges can block cold wind.”

She says reducing the number of paved or bitumen spaces can lower the heat transfer effect. These can be replaced by gardens, trees or groundcovers.

“Research also shows that landscaping placement enhances recovery and the wellbeing of patients,” Brunner adds. “Planting of trees throughout aged care therefore can aid in reduction of heating and cooling costs and reduce pollutants whilst aiding in the wellbeing of residents.”

Casey agrees, saying, “Access to views of nature have been shown in numerous studies to be of enormous benefit to the amenities for the residents, but is also a way to save energy.”


Providers can also look to increase shading and ventilation. Brunner says this may be the simplest retrofit and that the installation of canopies, verandahs and screens, particularly moveable ones across balcony areas, are options to consider.

McIntosh says windows that open and let in fresh air are amongst the best ways to update existing infrastructure to make it more sustainable. “Air-conditioning systems for heating and cooling are popular, but they do not replace the benefits of fresh air – the feel of a breeze on your skin, the smell of the air and the capacity to turnover stale air.

“Air high in carbon monoxide can affect concentration levels and level of alertness,” she says. “Older people have thinner skin and lower levels of subcutaneous fat, which makes it harder to maintain body temperature. Opening and closing a window can be easier and quicker to regulate temperature, as well as quickly turning over the air in the space.”

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