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.