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Five Steps for Hospitals to Become Energy Star Rated

energy-star-logo2For hospitals considering how to become Energy Star-rated, the Environmental Protection Agency has a technical five-stage approach.

The steps, which mirror those for other commercial buildings, should be performed chronologically to maximize energy savings, said Clark Reed, Director, Healthcare Facilities Division, Energy Star.

The first three steps are about reducing heat gain in the building, Reed said. After a building minimizes its heat gain, it can then most efficiently address the cooling process.

In general, each of the five stages has an incrementally higher investment level, he said.

“In this economy, almost half of health care construction has stopped. So, capital upgrades are not happening right now. The way to save energy is to break out of the mindset that you need to spend a lot of money to save energy. Instead, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit to be found in fine-tuning your existing building equipment,” Reed said.

Step 1 – Retrocommission your operations.

Retrocommissioning is the process of ensuring that systems are installed correctly and will operate according to the organization’s needs.

“Basically, you take the existing equipment and maximize its efficiency,” Reed said, adding that 12-15 percent savings is pretty typical over an 18-month period. Some hospitals have seen up to 20 percent savings, according to the American Society for Health Care Engineering.

Investment level – low-hanging fruit.

Step 2 – Conduct a lighting evaluation.

A proper lighting evaluation has three components, Reed said.

1. Take out inefficient lighting and put in more efficient lighting. That normally means taking out T12 lamps with magnetic ballast and installing T8s and T5s with digital, or electronic, ballast.
2. Control the lighting. If no one is in a room, the lights should be out. Install lighting sensors and timers.
3. Ensure that lighting levels are correct. The Illuminating Engineering Society has standards and recommendations for lighting levels for various tasks. Hallways should utilize lower light than work areas, for instance.

Investment level – Middle-hanging fruit. The audit is relatively inexpensive, but once a hospital starts replacing lighting fixtures, the costs go up.

Step 3 – Achieve supplemental load reductions.

Hospitals should find ways to reduce the plug load in a building by using Energy Star qualified products, from computers to light fixtures to foodservice equipment in the cafeteria, Reed said. Energy Star equipment generally consumes 20 percent less electricity than industry average.

While there are no Energy Star standards for medical equipment as of yet, the EPA is investigating whether that makes sense, Reed said.

Other options for reducing the plug load are adding “cool roofs” with reflective covering and installing window film on south-facing windows.

Investment level – Low-hanging fruit. Because hospitals are always replacing obsolete equipment, if they commit to buying energy efficient replacements load reductions can be put in place over time.

Step 4 – Upgrade the air handling system.

Many buildings have constant volume handling systems, where the unit is either on or off. More efficient systems have variable air volume controls. “In certain times of the day, you don’t need air volume at full blast,” Reed said.

Investment level – High-hanging fruit.

Step 5 – Right-size the building’s chiller.

“The first four stages have reduced a lot of heat gain, so now the building doesn’t need to be cooled as much,” Reed said.

Different chillers run at different optimum levels, he said, adding, “If a chiller is oversized, you’re wasting energy.”

While it may seem counterintuitive to downgrade equipment, this stage generally involves downsizing a chiller, he said.

Investment level – High-hanging fruit.

The fourth and fifth steps are the most capital-intensive, Reed said, and should only be attempted once the first three steps have been completed.

EPA has a portfolio manager, wherein an organization can enter some building characteristics, plus 12 months of energy bills, then will receive a 1-100 rating. Buildings that perform in the top 25 percent are eligible to be Energy Star rated.

About 65 percent of acute health care facilities, measured in terms of total square footage, have gone through the benchmarking process, he said.

In the future, EPA will address benchmarking for senior health care and assisted living facilities, he said.

For a listing of hospitals that are Energy Star-labeled, visit this link.

This is Part 5 of a series on health care facilities and energy efficiency. Please refer back to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

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