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.