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Hospitals are arguably some of the most important facilities on the planet. They promote the health and well-being of each one of us specifically, as well as our communities. But they are also among the most energy intensive. They use nearly three times the energy per square foot of an average office building, and are the second most energy intensive building type in the United States.
Now, the health care industry has a green building rating system tailored to its energy-intense, 24/7, indoor environmental quality-focused needs. LEED for Healthcare, launched this past April, addresses issues such as reducing exposure to indoor chemicals and pollutants, increasing access to daylight and views to the outdoors, and minimizing traveling distances from parking facilities.
Research shows that the buildings we live, work, and heal in have a profound effect on human health. And green hospital buildings not only use less energy and water and have less of an impact on the environment, but also can promote a more positive hospital experience.
People who are treated and heal in daylit health care facilities with improved indoor environmental quality are shown to heal faster, and subsequently have shorter hospital stays. A 2008 study by McGraw-Hill Construction found that green buildings reduce instances of asthma and air contaminants that lead to 2 million patients annually acquiring infections during hospital stays. A 2004 University of Pittsburgh study showed that patients with access to sunlight required 20 percent less pain medication, leading to lower medical costs.
Given the 24/7 nature of health care facilities, reducing energy consumption is a key focus in the newly-launched LEED for Healthcare rating system. In fact, the LEED Energy and Atmosphere credit category makes up nearly 40 percent of the 100 total LEED points projects can earn — the most of any credit category. Because of their huge energy profile, health care facilities, particularly inpatient hospitals, are the ideal setting for employing renewable energy technologies, such as combined heat and power, biomass and geothermal. They are also in an ideal position to invest in on-site renewable power, from photovoltaics to wind turbines, which ensures passive survivability in the case of an electrical grid failure.
High energy use in health care facilities isn't only draining our economic and natural resources; it poses a health risk, especially to patients with compromised immune systems. Extended operation schedules and use of equipment, such as backup generators, process boilers and heaters, can be a major source of airborne contaminants.
A new credit in LEED for Healthcare, Community Contaminant Prevention — Airborne Releases, rewards projects for avoiding potential contaminant emissions, such as exhaust gas or flue gas. Products of combustion are emitted as a result of the ignition of gasoline, natural gas, diesel fuel, fuel oil or coal from various stationary combustion equipment. Projects are rewarded for selecting equipment that meets California South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) standards for all products of combustion, which are regarded as the most stringent regulations in the country.
Building commissioning, especially when done early in the design process and after systems performance verification is completed, is an especially important strategy for health care facilities.
Extended operation schedules, high cooling loads and ventilation rates of health care projects make them particularly susceptible to energy waste. Poorly constructed building envelopes can lead to air leakage and excessive heat gain. They are also culprits for mold and mildew growth, which can expose patients to bacteria and viruses, and pollutants and particulates from unfiltered outside air — lengthening patient recovery times and increasing infection rates.
When used in concert, building envelope commissioning, retro-commissioning, measurement and verification help identify issues early on and promote optimal operation and energy savings. Any additional costs associated with enhanced commissioning are quickly recouped, and are generally offset by lower ongoing energy and maintenance costs.
LEED for Healthcare: Start to Finish
LEED for Healthcare passed USGBC member ballot in November 2010, and builds on the early work of the Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC), a project of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and Health Care Without Harm.
There are more than 225 health care projects that have received LEED certification, with nearly 1,180 in the pipeline, representing a diverse pool of project types, including inpatient, outpatient, assisted living, long term care facilities, medical offices, and education and research centers.
Visit www.usgbc.org/leed/healthcare to learn more about LEED for Healthcare, order a Reference Guide and participate in a rating-system-specific workshop.
— Ashley Katz
Healthy And Green With LEED For Healthcare