5 Tips for More Sustainable Medical Office Building Design

Med­ical office build­ing designs in the U.S. are trans­form­ing rapid­ly in response to reg­u­la­to­ry pres­sures, eco­nom­ic chal­lenges, advances in tech­nol­o­gy, and changes in employ­ee needs and patient demands. Med­ical ser­vice providers are much more con­scious of the health, occu­pant well-being and envi­ron­men­tal impacts of their build­ings than they have ever been before.

Accord­ing to the US Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA), med­ical facil­i­ties are some of the high­est ener­gy-con­sum­ing build­ings in the Unit­ed States, account­ing for more than 8% of total ener­gy con­sump­tion across the coun­try. It is esti­mat­ed that the med­ical sec­tor gen­er­ates more than 2 mil­lion tons of sol­id waste each year, account­ing for 1% of the total amount of waste gen­er­at­ed with­in the coun­try.

Yet, this is only one of sev­er­al fac­tors med­ical build­ing own­ers are inter­est­ed in achiev­ing today in their con­struc­tion projects.

Solutions to Common Design Problems

The pro­vi­sion of many med­ical ser­vices is mov­ing from larg­er and more cen­tral­ized facil­i­ties to small­er and more geo­graph­i­cal­ly dis­trib­uted build­ings clos­er to where patients live and work. These med­ical office build­ings are more com­plex and cost­lier to build. Giv­en these chal­lenges and con­straints, it may be hard­er to achieve the sus­tain­abil­i­ty goals of the build­ing own­ers. The fol­low­ing build­ing design tips can help keep these goals in reach.

1. Indoor Air Quality

To ensure both the health and wel­fare of the patients being cared for, as well as the med­ical staff attend­ing to them, med­ical facil­i­ties need to be opti­mized for human health. Indoor air qual­i­ty is there­fore an impor­tant fac­tor to con­sid­er when design­ing med­ical build­ings.

The first step to indoor air qual­i­ty is to ensure that the entire build­ing enve­lope is designed to min­i­mize air infil­tra­tion into the build­ing. That means that walls, roof, foun­da­tion, win­dows and doors need to be designed (and con­struct­ed) to pro­vide a con­tin­u­ous and effec­tive air con­trol lay­er. Any defect in the air bar­ri­er sys­tem can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on air leak­age and indoor air qual­i­ty.

The build­ing enve­lope and the HVAC sys­tem are two parts of the same air qual­i­ty deliv­ery sys­tem. Prop­er­ly designed and bal­anced mechan­i­cal sys­tems with high-effi­cien­cy air fil­tra­tion, elec­tron­i­cal­ly con­trolled ven­ti­la­tion, and (in some cli­mates) dehu­mid­i­fi­ca­tion are vital.

Mate­ri­als, fin­ish­es and paints used for the inte­ri­or sur­faces should not con­tain poten­tial­ly harm­ful volatile organ­ic com­pounds (VOCs) that can neg­a­tive­ly affect the health of peo­ple exposed to them. Prop­er flush-out process­es dur­ing build­ing start up and com­mis­sion­ing can also sig­nif­i­cant­ly con­tribute to the reduc­tion of harm­ful con­t­a­m­i­nants inside the build­ing.

2. Energy Consumption

Today’s med­ical ser­vice providers want to be good busi­ness­peo­ple and good stew­ards of lim­it­ed nat­ur­al resources at the same time. Ener­gy effi­cien­cy is impor­tant to reduce the cost of oper­at­ing and for reduc­ing the envi­ron­men­tal impact of the build­ing.

An impor­tant step is to design med­ical build­ings that are well-insu­lat­ed. This not only ensures a com­fort­able envi­ron­ment for the patients and staff, but will be more cost-effec­tive in the long-term as the build­ing will require less ener­gy for heat­ing and cool­ing.

Anoth­er step is to design med­ical office build­ings with ener­gy-effi­cient HVAC equip­ment and LED light­ing or oth­er ener­gy sav­ing light fix­tures. Before any invest­ment is made in renew­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion on site, the build­ing should be designed to the low­est ener­gy use inten­si­ty pos­si­ble. Once that is accom­plished, the instal­la­tion of on-site renew­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion, such as pho­to­volta­ic (PV) solar, become more scal­able and cost-effec­tive.

3. Cost Efficiency

The build­ing design, of course, needs to be with­in the bud­getary con­straints of the client and also pro­vide a prof­it to the project devel­op­er. Besides the cost of build­ing mate­ri­als, the over­all cost of con­struc­tion is also affect­ed by the amount of time and labor required to get the job done.

Labor inten­sive projects that take a long time to con­struct typ­i­cal­ly equate to more expen­sive build­ing projects. Opt­ing for mate­ri­als or build­ing sys­tems that are time and labor effi­cient usu­al­ly also tend to be much more cost effi­cient, and in many cas­es can reduce build­ing costs con­sid­er­ably. Mon­ey saved dur­ing con­struc­tion can be prop­er­ly invest­ed in oth­er sus­tain­abil­i­ty ini­tia­tives that will pro­vide long-term val­ue to the build­ing own­ers and occu­pants.

4. Sound Reduction

A build­ing lasts only as long as it effec­tive­ly deliv­ers the qual­i­ty and types of spaces and func­tions required for its intend­ed use. Build­ings that no longer meets these require­ments will require sig­nif­i­cant ren­o­va­tions or may be pre­ma­ture­ly replaced well before its engi­neered life has been exhaust­ed. In too many cas­es, build­ings fail to meet the health, com­fort and well­be­ing require­ments of build­ing occu­pants.

Any med­ical facil­i­ty needs to have ade­quate sound proof­ing to ensure the pri­va­cy and com­fort of patients, and a pro­duc­tive work­ing envi­ron­ment for staff. Noise reduc­tion is para­mount in a med­ical office build­ing, and choos­ing a mate­r­i­al for wall con­struc­tion that pro­vides an effec­tive sound bar­ri­er can alle­vi­ate the need for installing addi­tion­al sound proof­ing to achieve this.

5. Natural Resource Use

Reduc­ing the pres­sure on nat­ur­al resources by using mate­ri­als more effi­cient­ly and spar­ing­ly is one way to reduce our impact on the envi­ron­ment. Using few­er build­ing mate­ri­als to achieve the same goal will not only save costs, but will also reduce the envi­ron­men­tal foot­print of your project.

This does­n’t mean you should skimp or cut cor­ners to shave costs, but rather that you should choose mate­ri­als wise­ly. For exam­ple, there is more than one way to con­struct walls that are strong, durable, high­ly insu­lat­ing, and safe. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it is com­mon to find that the more func­tion­al­i­ty and per­for­mance that is required of a wall assem­bly, the more com­plex, cost­ly and inef­fi­cient it becomes. How­ev­er, with an inte­grat­ed wall sys­tem like the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem, a high­er lev­el of per­for­mance can be achieved with few­er mate­ri­als, few­er resources, less labor, and low­er cost.

Com­bined, these tips can ulti­mate­ly improve the qual­i­ty of med­ical ser­vices, increase prof­itabil­i­ty, and reduce the over­all impact on nat­ur­al resources of expand­ing our med­ical infra­struc­ture.