Swedish’s Issaquah Highlands hospital is ‘green’ by design
June 21, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Facility is built to lessen impact on environment
In health care, physicians pledge to do no harm.
The oath applies to the environment as much as to patients at the Swedish Medical Center campus about to open in the Issaquah Highlands. Cutting energy use is a challenge, because a hospital is always on and medical equipment gulps energy. The result: Hospitals rank near the top among industrial energy users.
“Hospitals are among the highest energy users per square foot, so there’s lots of opportunities for them to save energy,” said Marcia Karr, energy engineer at the Washington State University Extension Energy Program.
The team behind the highlands hospital focused on such opportunities and, as a result, the facility is in line to be the most energy-efficient hospital in the region and, perhaps, in the United States — at least until the next “green” hospital opens.
“Many hospitals do want to show that they are reducing their carbon footprint and that their ‘green’ buildings are providing a healthier work environment for their employees, and healthier for the patient,” Karr said.
So, as Swedish planned the campus, energy efficiency emerged as a focus. The idea to minimize the impact on the environment came early as the 101-year-old hospital system started envisioning the highlands hospital. The process required a balancing act between creature comforts and energy efficiency.
“That was one of the early design considerations: How do you create a building that’s aesthetically pleasing to the patient?” Lee Brei, director of facilities services for the hospital system, said last week.
Hospital planners adjusted major elements based on specific energy-use targets. The figure is not firm yet, but the hospital could receive between $2 million and $4 million in grants and rebates from Puget Sound Energy for energy efficiency steps.
Exceeding a ‘green’ goal
Still, the project presented a challenge for designers seeking a “green” standard.
“In a hospital, people are there 24/7. Sometimes you’re doing surgery, maybe not around the clock, but close to around the clock,” Brei said. “It’s up and running all the time, so that’s part of it. The other part of it is, there’s lots of equipment running.”
MRI machines and other equipment used to diagnose injuries and combat disease also contribute to hospitals’ outsized energy bills.
“The medical equipment manufacturing world hasn’t discovered ‘green’ yet. They’re focused on producing a quality product that delivers this high technology and accomplishes its goals,” Brei said. “Saving energy — I don’t even know if it’s on their radar.”
Because medical equipment is not yet built to ultra-eco-conscious standards, planners incorporated “green” elements into the highlands hospital’s structure.
The average hospital uses between 230,000 and 260,000 British thermal units per square foot per year. Swedish set a goal to use 150 kBtu per square foot per year, or the equivalent of powering more than 2,200 homes per year. Brei said the hospital is on track to use 135 kBtu — and perhaps even less.
“We’re hoping to get it down lower, but we’re really cautious about patting ourselves on the back until we get a year down the road” he added.
The campus’ initial phase opens to patients July 14. The portion containing the hospital beds is due to open in November.
The initial step to foster energy efficiency is more common sense than cutting edge.
“The first place we start with energy conservation is just building a good building envelope,” Brei said. “Good windows make a world of difference, lots of insulation. Just doing that, it takes less energy to heat it in the winter and it takes less energy to cool it in the summer.”
From the ground up
Besides abundant natural light and a 6,000-square-foot landscaped rooftop deck, patients, employees and guests might not notice many of the eco-conscious flourishes.
Holly Townes, PSE senior energy management engineer, worked closely on the project.
“Usually, the things that save energy are not so sexy as solar panels and green roofs and all of these things that people talk about,” she said. “It’s just making systems more efficient.”
The push for efficiency starts at how the building sits on the 12.5-acre site. The hospital is oriented to receive full sun on three sides, and includes a daylight basement. The design features super-energy-efficient windows.
Crews recycled 93 percent of building materials during construction.
The medical office building — the phase scheduled to open next month — features a hydronic heating system, rather than electric radiant heat. The hydronic system sends heated water from a boiler through tubes beneath the floor.
The hospital includes high-efficiency chillers to capture excess heat to help warm the buildings and water. The ductwork in the facility is wider to reduce friction as air moves through the facility.
The hospital hired a building control engineer to focus on the complex systems.
Energy Star office equipment, appliances and lighting are installed throughout the facility. Some lighting operates on motion or occupancy sensors to further reduce energy use.
Swedish targeted a 10-year payback for energy efficiency measures. The hospital is on track to meet the goal and, in the meantime, serve as a showcase for a “green” health care facility.
“If you look at the amount of energy being used, I think we’ll be right there in the top few percent,” Brei said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.