A green hospital is a comfortable hospital
Hospitals use more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building, so they’re a prime target for greener design. But nobody cares about energy efficiency when they’re rushing to the hospital, right?
The builders of the new Swedish Issaquah hospital and medical center, opening next month 18 miles east of Seattle, hope to convince patients and visitors that greener design doesn’t just save money and carbon emissions – it also makes for a more comfortable treatment environment.
I toured the 550,000-square-foot facility this week and found a host of smart design features to back up that claim. The building is oriented around a large courtyard garden, reducing lighting loads and providing natural light and views of greenery to all inpatient rooms. Heating comes from a network of steam pipes, forgoing energy-intensive electric baseboards and recapturing excess heat that otherwise would be vented out. The steam-based heating system also keeps surfaces warmer, making for more comfortable rooms. And a high-efficiency ventilation system will provide fresher, higher-quality air than conventional setups.
The goal is to use less than 150 kBTU (British thermal units) per square foot per year, which would make Swedish Issaquah the most energy efficient hospital in Washington and well below the national average of 246 kBTU, according to Kevin Brown, chief strategic office at Swedish. If it can get usage below 100 kBTU, it’ll be the most efficient hospital in the nation, he said.
Building a new hospital isn’t cheap – the latest reported cost for the project is $365 million (which includes the 18-acre land purchase). The nonprofit Swedish network has help from Puget Sound Energy, which is offering between $2 million and $4 million in grants and rebates for hitting efficiency targets. The utility also gave input on the design, suggesting, for example, larger ducts that would require less energy for ventilation.
The hospital uses Energy Star lighting fixtures and appliances, though it’s still limited by the offerings of medical equipment makers, according to Chuck Salmon, Swedish’s executive director for Issaquah operations and development. “Energy efficient equipment has not really caught on in the medical equipment industry,” he said. “They just want to make sure things work.”
But what about the number one factor in green building – location? The site near Interstate 90 gets a paltry Walk Score of 28 out of 100, compared to 78 for downtown Issaquah, a Seattle exurb tucked into the Cascade foothills. There weren’t any 18-acre sites available in the town center, Brown said. And because the hospital will serve a large area, from Lake Washington to the west to Cle Elum, over the mountain pass to the east, quick access from the highway was more important than a walkable location, he said. Fair enough.
When I toured the facility, I was struck that hospital executives talk about time efficiency in much the same way that environmental wonks talk about energy efficiency. In the emergency room, there is no waiting area or triage area. Instead, patients will be brought directly to one of 28 treatment rooms where they can receive diagnoses and treatment in one location.
“Any time in which a patient is not getting value-added treatment is wasted time,” said ER physician John Milne.
One more thing: Hospital chef Eric Eisenberg hopes nearby residents will stop by the hospital even when they don’t have medical issues to address – for the food. Seriously. It may sound like a bad joke, but the facility includes a stylish Café 1910 that offers local organic fare like Alki Bakery bread. He knows that convincing people to stop by a hospital café, even one with a separate outside entrance, is a tall order. The location will help, positioned between the highway and a profusion of new housing subdivisions without many businesses to serve them.
Whether or not outsiders stop by for the food, I’m sure patients, their families, and hospital staff will appreciate the non-cafeteria-style offerings. Chef Eisenberg said the approach fits the effort to see diet and medicine as part of a broader understanding of community wellness. The same holds true for energy – these things can’t be separated.