Five Pro Tips for a More Energy-Efficient Healthcare Facility

By Shawn Callahan

I recently moderated a panel on energy savings and efficiency in healthcare facilities at the 2015 Electro Expo. The panelists were Paul Slebodnik (Cleveland Clinic); Dale J. Kondik, PE, CEM (Johnson Controls); and Joe Hofstetter, PE, CEM, LEED AP (Karpinski Engineering).

Our conversation revolved around the two most energy-inefficient locations in a hospital, laboratory spaces and operating rooms. Their inefficiencies are derived from the high lighting levels required, coupled with the number of air changes required to meet code. (If you are looking to improve your facility’s energy performance, look at these two spaces first.)

But the points we discussed ranged more widely and can be applied more generally across a hospital. Some are relevant to existing buildings or new construction, while others are more relevant to new construction. Here’s a summary of the panel’s key points, with some additional thoughts.

1. Remove the human element from the equation.

This pertains to building controls. People tend to do the easiest thing, for example, not turning off the lights. Make equipment automatically controlled, through vacancy sensors or through a building integration system that detects when a room is unoccupied and reduces temperature and air changes.

Also, allow building automation system changes by the users to be only temporary (24 hrs). When a system is not performing as desired, people tend to make a manual change to the controls. But they may not follow up or get to the source of the issue. The manual change may impact the entire system’s performance, making it less efficient. To avoid unintended consequences, allow those changes to be only temporary.

2. Design systems that are scalable and adaptable.

Most of the design effort is spent on modeling and system analysis for the worst case scenarios – the coldest and hottest days of the year. How does the building or space perform the other 363 days a year? Optimize building systems for the rest of the year via modeling and controls (e.g., proper set points).

3. Simplify designs.

Simple designs are often more easily maintained. Additionally, an energy-efficient building is a well-maintained building. Therefore, a simple, thoughtful design can lead to a more energy-efficient building.

4. Dimmer lights create dimmer voices.

It is proven that as lighting levels drop in spaces, people’s voices lower as well. Dimming the lights at night not only saves energy costs and increases lamp life, it has also been found to help increase patient satisfaction regarding noise at night and to increase HCAHPS results.

5. Perform retro-commissioning.

Having a building commissioned during a construction project is extremely important. One thing often overlooked, though, is having the commissioning agent return one year later to make sure the building systems continue to operate as designed. The panelists suggested that retro-commissioning occur regularly throughout the life of a building to help maintain its peak performance.

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