When Geelong-based Four18 Architecture won a design tender for new toilet blocks situated at strategic sites along Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road, illume Skylight Alternatives were integral to achieving the minimal visual impact, sustainability and low-maintenance objectives for the facilities.

Commissioned by State Government-supported local foreshore management group, the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC), Four18 Architecture has so far designed and overseen construction of three toilet blocks at North Lorne, Jan Juc and Elephant Walk. There are four more planned to complete the picturesque route section of the Great Ocean Road that stretches from Point Lonsdale to Lorne.

According to Four18 director Richie Schultz, one of GORCC’s core objectives is to be seen to be environmentally friendly.

“GORCC seeks to be a community leader in environmental and conservation issues,” Schultz says. “When they decided to build new toilet blocks, they were looking for facilities that were low-cost, low-maintenance and low-profile.

“They had to blend into the surrounding environment, demonstrable in their sustainability and easy to manage on a day-to-day basis and over the longer-term.”

Four18 initially considered using traditional shafted skylights and solar power connected to the mains, but this would have added significant capital costs in building materials, PV (photovoltaic) solar cells and grid connection, with minimal return on investment.

In addition, the extra infrastructure would have accentuated the visual impact of the toilet blocks on surrounding pristine environments, and significantly increased life cycle maintenance processes and costs for the facilities’ managers.

Having used the illume Skylight Alternatives – which are manufactured by Melbourne-based Kimberley Products – in a previous $3.5 million GORCC foreshore project to redevelop Fisherman’s Beach in Torquay, Four18 knew they were a low-cost, sustainable lighting option.

illume Skylight Alternatives are designed to bring ambience not unlike day lighting, but without needing to compromise the roof structure. The products are designed to convert the sun’s energy to light – they auto-adjust brightness levels to match external conditions in the same manner as a traditional skylight would.

“We looked at a variety of building materials and natural light solutions that could be complemented with energy efficient lighting at night,” Schultz explains. “In the end, the solar-powered illume Skylight Alternatives were selected because they didn’t require holes to be cut in the roof to let natural light in.

“Instead we can just fit a small, lightweight solar collector panel on the roof with an electrical cable running to a low profile LED light panel mounted internally on the ceiling. This, in turn, meant that we could use a self-supporting, insulated roofing system without the need for expensive building framework.

“As a result, it delivered major benefits to sustainability, low-cost and low-maintenance,” says Schultz.

To allow for 24/7 light transmission, a transformer is connected to a light sensor so that the low-energy LED light panel automatically switches over to mains power when the light levels drop below the designated threshold.

“They’re working really well,” Schultz adds. “The first one that was built at Elephant Walk has been in operation for over 12 months now, including a full summer when traffic is at its highest, and there has been no maintenance required at all, while the cost of powering the facility has been negligible.

“As an architect, I can see enormous value from this sort of technology and broad applications for illume Skylight Alternatives in all sorts of buildings, whether they are commercial, residential or community infrastructure.

“This sort of technology is a logical replacement for traditional skylights because there is no waterproofing maintenance issues, no compromising of roof structure and no heat transfer from the light itself or from the sun, all of which are ongoing management issues with traditional skylights.”

Schultz continues, “You can use also them on multistorey buildings where traditional skylights can’t be fitted, as you only need to run a cable from the solar panel to the light panel without the need for direct access to sunlight.

“Having used them in a number of applications now, I would have no hesitation in recommending them to other designers, architects and facilities managers.”

Schultz says that there has been no negative feedback from the community or GORCC since Four18 installed the illume Skylight Alternatives at Fisherman’s Beach and in the toilet blocks.

“They want to use them more and more in other facilities they manage because they are inexpensive to install, they meet environmental and sustainability guidelines and require little or no maintenance,” he says. “They have even found that they are less susceptible to graffiti and other vandalism because they are so low-profile.

“Over the period of time since we installed them, only one has been tagged and that was easily cleaned.”

Solar-powered exhaust fans

Meanwhile, Schultz says that he has also had great success with another product from Kimberley, which again has great potential as a low-cost facilities management solution. Combining the same sustainability principle of using solar energy to replace mains power on-site, Four18 has recently been involved in solar-powered exhaust fans in the toilet/shower blocks at Torquay’s main caravan park.

“The park uses a small solar panel to drive a series of exhaust fans in the amenities facilities,” he says. “It is so much better than relying on a wind-powered turbine system, as it is on the hot, breathless days when these facilities most need the help to extract moisture and heat from the buildings.

“A solar-powered exhaust fan keeps working even when there is no wind and can also be easily fitted with a mains power back-up for the relatively low amount of time when these facilities are being used in the dark, which is also when heat retention is not such an issue.

“I would urge all facilities managers to take a look at the potential to use low-cost, low-maintenance, self-sustainable solar-powered solutions in public, residential or commercial applications such as these.”