Using a Test Lab to trial design solutions

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat

Learning and adaptation at the frontier of guest-controlled comfort

Winters in Glenorchy can be very cold, with temperatures falling below freezing at night. Locals often use a lot of energy keeping their homes warm when the thermometer dips.

Camp Glenorchy’s Zero Energy goal required them to be mindful of every bit of energy used, while at the same time providing cosy cabins to keep guests comfortable regardless of how cold or warm it is outside.

The existing staff house near the campground was turned into a living, working ‘Test Lab to try out systems that could potentially be used in the new buildings.

To experiment with the best way to do this, Camp Glenorchy turned the existing staff house near the campground into a living, working ‘Test Lab’. A team worked throughout the winters of 2015 and 2016 trying out systems that could potentially be used in the new buildings. What started out as a test of different types of control systems ended up teaching the design team a lot about how important it is to get the balance right between guests’ needs, preferences, technology, and the local climate.

Testing heating systems

Burgess and Chloe, students specialising in electrical engineering and user experience design, took a break from their studies in America and arrived on site just as winter 2015 kicked in. They immediately began working with the company that developed the energy management system for Camp Glenorchy.

Burgess was highly motivated to connect the energy management system to the hot water and heating in the Test Lab: with his four housemates each wanting hot showers each morning, he needed to learn what worked most efficiently very, very fast! Real-life testing also allowed him to determine whether the systems were working and, more importantly, how to control them to work in concert with each other to keep the house warm and the showers hot while using as little energy as possible.

‍Test Lab's space and water heating system

Testing automation

Camp Glenorchy’s energy use is reduced in part by switching things off when they’re not needed, sometimes automatically. The Test Lab was an opportunity to figure out when powered devices weren’t needed. Rooms were fitted out with three types of sensors to help test this:

  • LUX sensors measured the available ambient light within rooms and controlled the LED lights.
  • Temperature sensors monitored room comfort, and turned the heating up or down automatically.
  • Presence sensors determined whether a room was occupied, and turned the lights, heating and power plugs on or off when no one was 'home'.
Testing the automation system beforehand helped the team determine what worked best for guests at Camp Glenorchy

Finding a balance

Chloe’s background in user experience (UX) design helped her design the first prototype of the app that allows guests to control the temperature in their rooms and the lengths of their showers, while showing them how their choices are reflected in the site’s energy use.

Living in the Test Lab with their housemates gave Chloe and Burgess insight into how the app and the various automated cabin systems would – and wouldn’t – end up working well for guests. As the winter progressed it became clear that while it was possible to use technology to control many aspects of the indoor guest environment, sometimes it got in the way.

For example, presence sensors didn’t always work when people were sitting still, as Burgess found out when the light automatically switched off while he was reading in bed. And relying solely on an app to switch lights on and off turned out to be confusing even for Chloe, who found herself instinctively reaching for wall switches when she entered a room.

Taking the lessons to Camp Glenorchy

The Test Lab was invaluable for figuring out what worked best for guests at Camp Glenorchy. Not only did it allow the team to test the energy control systems for cabins, it also provided an incubator where discipline experts who don’t normally talk to each other on a project were proactively sharing their knowledge and exploring new ideas together.

The lessons learnt from the Test Lab have helped design and build comfortable, energy-efficient cabins guests can enjoy year-round.

The lessons learnt from the Test Lab have helped design and build comfortable, energy-efficient cabins guests can enjoy year-round. The cold showers Burgess, Chloe and their housemates experienced when they moved into the Test Lab, and the confusion caused by searching for light switches that weren’t there are examples of what was tested and fixed. As a result, the cabins at Camp Glenorchy welcome guests into a comfortable, healthy environment using the least energy possible – whether it’s snowing, or sunny and delightfully warm outside.

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