Building Design for Animals

Article by Paul Gladysz, AIA, NCARB, CSI, ICC

Sustainable And Resilient

Environmentally friendly hospitals help pay for themselves through lower energy costs. The right light fixtures and appliances and even the building's orientation are major factors.

When it comes to a project's environmental impact, much is made about building-rating programs such as LEED and Green Globes. People equate a high rating with a good environmentally sound design and assume that no other steps can be taken. While LEED and Green Globes are legitimate rating programs, and there can be value in demonstrating to clients that your hospital earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) plaque, understand that the cost of registration and processing alone can run from $10,000 to $20,000.

The typical hospital owner is more interested in putting that kind of investment toward something with more tangible, sustainable results. Given the veterinary business model, only the rare project can support such an expense.

So, what can you do to go “green” and lessen your hospital's environmental impact? Over the years, BDA has developed a strategy of sensible sustainability by focusing on features that offer operational savings through energy reduction and more efficient use of labor. We look at the return on investment of installed building materials and systems and identify ways to cut energy consumption, use fewer materials and reduce landfill waste.

In the U.S., 48% of the total energy use is attributed to buildings. Of that, only 10% is imbodied in construction. The rest is in the operational energy — lights, heating and cooling, and the equipment that people use.

If you want to make a meaningful impact, focus on operational reduction. Let's explore what hospital owners can do towards sustainability and still remain within their budget.

1. Proper Siting
For new construction, orient the building to avoid unnecessary energy loads. This means a solar orientation relative to the window placements that minimizes summer heat gain and takes advantage of winter sunshine.

2. Higher Efficiency Exterior Materials
The more infrared light a roof reflects, the lower your use of cooling energy. Similarly, wall and door selections can directly impact building energy needs and occupant comfort levels.

3. Daylight Harvesting
Use free, natural light to illuminate a building's interior. The more you can use the sun without undue solar heat gain, the less you'll need artificial light. About 44% of standard building energy use is related to lighting.

4. Smart Solar
In keeping with daylight harvesting, capturing energy is much better than purchasing it. Solar panels generate electricity that can power light fixtures; however, these tend to be expensive systems, and solar power can have a long payback period in areas without robust incentive programs. Solar panels are, at best, less than 30% efficient. Instead, light tubes — a kind of skylight — are 100% efficient and far less expensive, and unlike skylights, they deliver virtually no solar heat gain.

5. Light Fixtures
When it comes to artificial lighting, the widespread use of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) has reduced power needs more than any other current building technology. The growing variety of fixture types and falling prices mean there is no reason to use any other kind of fixture today.

6. Automatic Regulators
Light controls such as occupancy sensors are useful in non-clinical and housing areas. In fact, most energy codes require them.

7. Delivery Costs
Assuming equal performance, locally sourced construction materials are better. Transportation is the 2nd biggest user of energy, so minimize where you can.

8. More Layers
We recommend insulating buildings beyond energy code minimums. Up to a point, more insulation is a small expense relative to the impact. A high-performing exterior shell is an upgrade that keeps on giving.

9. Plug Holes
Air sealing is an often-overlooked advantage. In a new, standard code-compliant building, you lose more energy to air leakage than through roof and wall insulation. Making sure the shell is airtight improves a building's performance and, when properly done, the indoor air quality, too.

10. Equipment Selection
Installing things like efficient domestic water heaters, Energy Star appliances and low-power IT systems will have as much of an impact as a high-efficiency air conditioner.

11. Water Savings
Some veterinary practices, especially those that offer boarding and grooming services, can use a lot of water. Low-pressure wash and vacuum systems will reduce water consumption considerably.

12. Recyclability
For parts of a building that would reasonably be replaced as part of normal wear and tear, we select options that can be recycled. Finishes, casework, furniture and fixtures that would be upgraded after perhaps 10 or 15 years should be made of recyclable materials and not be sent to landfills.

Carbon Neutral and Robust

Finally, there is resiliency, a concept closely related to sustainability and one that is gaining momentum in the architectural profession. Resiliency means making structures not only more carbon neutral but also more robust. A building that can withstand natural disasters is more earth friendly than one that must be rebuilt. Making structures resistant to wind, water and fire damage and keeping them operational is the goal.

What makes a building resilient is very location dependent. A building that is hurricane and tornado resistant is quite different from one designed to survive a wildfire. In general, we look for materials and building systems that hold up over time, are low impact and are good neighbors.

As architects, we at BDA have an obligation not only to our clients but to the community and world at large. We work to guide clients along that path.

This article was originally published in Today's Veterinary Business. Read the full text here.