Skip to main content

Technical due diligence for climate resilience

Due Diligence By Bill Grover, Principal Engineer, Building Performance – 16 October 2023

Sunlight through thick brown smoke from bush fires shrouding suburban houses and homes in Sydney, Australia.


Bill in a white shirt and dark jacket with hands in pockets smiling to camera outside

Bill Grover

View bio

The basic premise of buildings is that they will protect us from the elements. But global boiling and other climate change impacts are demonstrating that many of our buildings including homes, workplaces and public spaces are not resilient to sharp shocks like extreme heatwaves, storms and bush fire pollution.

Part of the problem is much of the property sector effort has gone into the emissions mitigation effort - which is laudable - but does not necessarily mean adaptation has been addressed. To be blunt, the most energy-efficient mechanical cooling available will not be helpful during episodes of grid failure in the midst of a heatwave. If someone is working or living in a fully-glazed building that relies on mechanical systems to keep them from roasting, this is a major vulnerability.

Likewise, if a building has no back-up power to keep essential lights, communications, vertical transport and running water operational during a prolonged power outage, people are at risk. One of the flaws in the design and delivery of many multi-storey residential buildings is that they rely entirely on grid power, and the grid is vulnerable, particularly during severe storms and peak heat events.

For prospective purchasers of a new property, or for asset managers of an existing building, technical due diligence (TDD) for climate resilience is the new termite inspection. It’s an essential first step towards identifying risks and opportunities for ensuring a building is resilient to climate impacts and lays the groundwork for a practical adaptation pathway. Because adapt we must.

Where to start

As part of a standard comprehensive TDD the building systems are generally audited for age, condition, energy and water consumption profile and emissions factors. A resilience TDD takes this one step further to understand how building services will perform in climate risk scenarios.

For example, it is not uncommon for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to have effective operating parameters that do not deliver sufficient cooling at temperatures above 38 degrees. Or perhaps the building management system (BMS) has set points that came out of the box, instead of being properly commissioned following installation.

A TDD can also whether the ventilation system is fit-for-purpose to filter pollen and bushfire smoke, to protect both indoor air quality and human health.

So, what else can be done?

  • Drinking water system – is potable water available in event of a power outage?
  • Electrification – for tall buildings solar PV is unlikely to meet base building needs completely AND tenancy/occupied areas – but can it meet life support systems?
  • Can it charge a battery for a static uninterrupted power system (SUPS)? Where in the building could a SUPS be located, and is the BMS fit for purpose to connect it to identified life support services?
  • Natural ventilation – what are the options for safely introducing it?
  • Conversely, is there a need to improve building sealing to reduce cooling/heating loss and prevent the ingress of bushfire smoke and other airborne hazards?
  • Zoning opportunities – using the ‘crumple zone’ theory from automobile safety, what parts of the building can safely fail, and where are the human refuge zones in the building?

Ultimately, a resilience TDD maps out the opportunities for making buildings more resilient while also improving their energy efficiency, reducing operational carbon emissions and future proofing them for the changing climate. It’s the proverbial win, win, win.

“For prospective purchasers of a new property, or for asset managers of an existing building, technical due diligence (TDD) for climate resilience is the new termite inspection.”

Bill Grover