Vertical Smarts

By Janette Corcoran

Melbourne is becoming a smart city – but how might this improve our vertical liveability?

“Alexa – turn on lights”. “Alexa – play Jingle Bells”. “Alexa – stop now. Please STOP!”

Named after the ancient library of Alexandria, Alexa is Amazon’s voice control system and it promises to fulfil your spoken commands - at least simple ones, like dimming your lights or playing music.

From the opposing camp comes Google Home, which uses the same voice-activated technology as Google Assistant, offering to set your alarm, announce your calendar appointments, check traffic or play games (it’s especially good at trivia!).

Apple, however, is delaying launching its Siri-powered HomePod until early next year. It similarly promises to direct your home appliances in accordance with your wishes, but claims to do so with a “superior sound quality”.

These devices are just a few examples of what is known as “the internet of things” and they are making our homes “smarter”. What this means is that by equipping our homes with network-connected products – or “smart products”. These devices will control, automate and then optimise functions such as temperature, lighting, security, safety or entertainment – and they can do this either remotely (by phone, tablet, computer) or from a separate system within your home.

The claim is that installing smart products will give our homes (and us) greater convenience and save time, money and energy. In particular, there is a growing emphasis upon smart homes conserving our resources by using integrated home controllers to regulate our energy usage – automatically!

However, not all is rosy (or should that be green?) in smartsville.

According to researchers from RMIT University (Dr Strengers and Dr Nicholls) and Lancaster University (Dr Morley and Dr Hazas), smart devices might also increase energy demand. In addition to the always-networked, always-ready, standby power consumption, they have identified three hidden energy impacts.

Firstly, smart homes typically need a home control centre and/or network located within the residence (ie to run the array of smart devices) and this, itself, requires energy for cooling or heating. Secondly, the rapid emergence of new software for household appliances, such as refrigerators, may lead to more frequent upgrades (as has been the case with TVs and computers). Thirdly, new products and services are constantly emerging, such as smart versions of mattresses and toilets that can constantly monitor and report upon your health.

So, how might this smart revolution benefit our vertical villages?

The distinguishing feature of our mode of living is that our homes are apartments located in high-rise buildings – which raises the question  “how smart are our buildings?”

Like a smart home, a smart building uses automated processes to control operations such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, security, etc, but on a building-wide basis and may also include additional elements such as integrated elevators, shared facilities and load spreading.

Significantly, the frequently stated aim of smart buildings is to make occupants more “productive” through optimising their work environment (ie lighting, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation, etc), all at lower costs.

And Dockland’s 720 Bourke St (the Medibank Building) is a prime example of a smart business building, having been officially announced as the first existing Australian property to receive a WELL Gold Certification (an international rating of features that support and advance human health and wellness).

Less evident, however, are our smart residential buildings – or are they?

This is a question that Anthony Bugden, the new managing director of Smart Blocks, is well placed to answer.

Smart Blocks is a national apartment sustainability program, previously run by the City of Melbourne and the City of Sydney. Early this year, Smart Blocks was put out for competitive tender and a consortium headed by Integrated Strata Solutions, Urbanise (a strata software provider) and several supporting companies won the rights to expand and relaunch the program, which they plan to do in early 2018.

As regards our vertical villages, Anthony believes that owners’ corporations (OCs) face similar order challenges to the business sector to improve their building’s environmental performance in energy usage, water efficiency and waste management initiatives – but with all the complications of dealing with people’s private homes.

However, Antony holds that with access to the right information, decision-making tools and assistance with finding the right suppliers, these challenges can be overcome. And in doing so, the running costs of our common areas can be reduced, better environmental outcomes achieved, property values increased and communities brought together with a stronger sense of shared values.

Currently Smart Blocks is developing a new public website with updated information and new auditing and project management services to assist strata schemes find credible service providers.

Next year, after the relaunch of Smart Blocks, this column will provide a detailed overview of the new and improved Smart Blocks – and how it can assist vertical villages become smarter.

If you would like links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.

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