Healthcare settings provide unique challenges for those designing and maintaining the building systems. Some examples of this include increased risk of pathogenic contamination (which can increase technician and client liability), 24-hour use patterns which increase the difficulty in shutting down vital systems for testing and repair, and different funding structures which may make it difficult to justify up-front system upgrade costs even if the payback period is short.
However, as stated in “Top 6 Myths About Optimizing Healthcare Facilities,” the 24-hour use pattern can be a benefit as well. As Frederick Woo states, “[w]hen operations run 24/7, the opportunities for savings are constant.”1 this provides a compelling case for maintaining hospital & healthcare-related HVAC systems at their maximum possible performance levels. Recommended procedures can include “an energy dashboard and fault detection software” to make the user more aware of any shifts or anomalies in their energy use that should prompt a maintenance check or user re-training1. Some more modern facilities are shifting towards more automated systems, which turn off non-essential energy streams like room lighting when they are not in use. With healthcare facilities increasingly transitioning to digital recordkeeping and secretarial services, it’s more important than ever that electrical costs are kept low elsewhere.
As Tim Vogel and Glenn Esser state in “What Engineers Need to Know About Fire & Smoke Dampers: A Collection of Technical Articles and the AMCA Guide for Commissioning and Periodic Performance Testing,” a large concern when testing and balancing hospital HVAC systems and safety features is the risk of pathogen contamination. The risk of disease for the technician, and even the risk of contaminating sanitary components of the HVAC system with those that have been exposed to pre-filtration air, is serious. This can not only put people at risk of serious harm, it can increase insurance premiums for the technician and the healthcare facility. One way the industry is evolving to combat this risk is through remote testing of fire dampers, which is slowly replacing physical testing of curtain damper triggers. This shift is matching the shift of the entire HVAC industry towards more digitally-actuated components, including fire dampers which are now equipped with digital sensors and motors. This means technicians don’t need to physically access the area in order to test it, reducing the risk of contamination2.
Finally, HVAC systems in hospitals differ in the range of acceptable settings. Whereas commercial buildings can find some energy savings by programming their HVAC systems to keep the building interior within a broader range of comfortable temperatures, healthcare providers must have stricter standards. Temperature-sensitive medications, equipment, and injured people are all depending on the proper functioning of the HVAC system within a very narrow range. This makes maintenance all the more critical.