Hospitals taking the LEED

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One of the newest trends in hospital design and construction is LEED certification for sustainability. Output specifications for the new William Osler Health Centre project in Brampton, Ontario, require designs that could be certified at the Silver level under LEED, and many other hospitals are examining the system as well.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. An assessment tool developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), it has become a common benchmark for sustainability in North America. LEED also includes education programs, design guidelines and accreditation of design professionals. A sister Canadian Green Building Council is currently proposing adaptations for standards and practice in this country.

“The LEED certification process allows users to compare their project’s design against a set of standardized criteria,” says Dunlop Architects Inc. principal Craig Applegath, a LEED accredited professional. “It also translates some fairly complex calculations into four benchmarks levels that people can easily grasp – Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified.”

Project owners or designers evaluate the building design/performance in six categories:

  • sustainable sites (1 prerequisite and 14 possible points)
  • water efficiency (5 possible points)
  • energy and atmosphere (3 prerequisites and 17 possible points)
  • materials and resources (1 prerequisite and 13 possible points)
  • indoor environmental quality (2 prerequisites and 15 possible points)
  • innovation in design (5 possible points)

They submit applications and supporting documentation to the independent USGBC, for evaluation and certification.

Beyond the seven basic prerequisites, a facility could score up to 69 possible credits. A score of 26 – 32 points qualifies for LEED’s Certified rating; 33 – 38 points would give a Silver rating; 39 – 51 is Gold; Platinum requires 52 – 69 points.

“LEED’s point system is designed to encourage owners to add sustainable features to their projects,” Applegath says. “If your facility ends up scoring 30 or 31 points, there’s a huge incentive to bump up to the Silver level. And the same thing happens at the thresholds for Gold and Platinum.”

Applegath and fellow Dunlop Architects Inc. principal Jane Wigle have recently spoken at the Ontario Hospital Association conference, CleanMed in Chicago and the American Society of Healthcare Engineering’s Planning, Design and Construction conference. “We’re seeing a definite interest in sustainable hospital design across North America,” Wigle says.

Health-care facilities face some more challenges than other building types for achieving sustainability. For example, she says, infection control demands a very high turnover of fresh air in surgical and other high risk areas. That presents unique challenges for energy efficiency. However, it’s still possible to make substantial savings in energy use for the facility as a whole – with a positive impact on budgets and on the environment.

“Some people think sustainable design has to cost a lot more up front,” Wigle says, “but that’s not true. Some features can actually lower initial capital costs.” Life cycle costs should also be reduced significantly, Applegath adds. “Operating a properly designed ‘green’ building will be a lot less expensive, and have a positive impact on the environment. That’s why, whatever system we build under, it’s really important not to separate the capital budgets and the operating budgets.”

As well, Wigle says, many of the design features that contribute to sustainable design are also ones recommended for reducing stress levels and improving patient health. For example, “when you protect and enhance natural areas on site, create green roofs, and increase the use of daylighting, that all helps to create more of the views and gardens recommended by healthy design principles.”

Providing individual controls for temperature and lighting can reduce energy use, she says. It also helps increase the patient’s sense of empowerment – which is believed to contribute to reduced stress and improved health outcomes.

The LEED process allows people to get appropriate credit for design and building health care facilities with a co-ordinated approach to sustainability.