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Targeting 100! A bigger impact

When I think about growing up in the late 1970s, I distinctly remember dealing with an energy crisis. President Jimmy Carter and my dad both installed solar panels on their houses. Almost every building, store and school took out half of the lightbulbs. And we all wore sweaters in the winter: ugly, shapeless sweaters. Today we face an environmental crisis of greater magnitude, and, as an architect, I realized that I have an opportunity and a responsibility to influence a much more effective response.

A few years ago, I started looking closely into how much energy the types of projects that I work on consume: It’s a lot. It turns out that healthcare buildings are the second most energy-intensive building type in the country, accounting for almost 10 percent of all building-energy use, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Looking out even further, that’s about 5 percent of all energy consumed in the United States today, including energy for industry, transportation and building infrastructure. Can I do anything to help ease this massive burden? Yes, I can.

About two years ago during project research, I came across the Targeting 100! report by the University of Washington (UW) Integrated Design Lab about reducing energy use in hospitals. I knew that I had to share it. In October 2012, the BSA and a diverse group of industry sponsors helped bring the UW researchers, Heather Burpee and Joel Loveland, to Boston. In presenting their work, they have ignited a series of discussions on how we can make a difference in reducing energy consumption.

Begun almost five years ago as an interdisciplinary effort, their research looks at how several overlapping techniques could contribute to lower energy use and achieve a target: 100 kBtu per square foot per year. This goal is a 60 percent energy-use reduction from the current U.S. average, and it would fulfill the 2030 Challenge. Adopted by the AIA, Payette (where I work), and many other firms and organizations, the Challenge goal is to reduce energy consumption incrementally over 20 years to net zero.

Why start at targeting 100 kBtu? Putting it in perspective, the average U.S. hospital today uses between 250 and 350 kBtu/sf per year; the average office building uses between 80 and 100 kBtu/sf per year. However, the researchers found that the average hospital in Northern Europe uses approximately 100 kBtu/sf. Why is this? It comes from many factors, including alternate code focuses, higher energy costs and different cultural values.

In Burpee and Loveland’s presentation and reports, the message of Targeting 100! is one we know well: Building should heal and not hurt. However, it is the simultaneous depth and breadth of the research that elegantly codifies this.

No single system or solution will achieve everything, but many overlapping methods can. First, build a well-insulated building envelope. Second, protect glazing from solar radiation to reduce peak system loads. Third, separate the ventilation systems from heating and cooling systems, and use displacement air delivery. Fourth, implement high-efficiency boilers and chillers (with geothermal or co-generation as good alternates). Unfortunately, we all know that getting things like these into our projects is easier said than done.

Where the Targeting 100! research excels is in testing first- and life-cycle cost benefits to make these system integrations feasible. Last year, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant expanded the initial work in the Pacific Northwest to the nation’s other most populous climate zones, with the ultimate goal of an online tool to help us (architects, owners and engineers) educate others and implement its findings. There are some difficulties, though. The research focuses primarily on solutions for new construction and, regardless of the project type, separation of construction and operations budgets to protect the status quo of practice.

I am encouraged that Targeting 100!’s message is becoming more familiar across the United States. In New England, a greater opportunity awaits. We don’t build many new hospitals here, but we do have some of the oldest and most valuable building stock in the country. We can bring together professional practice, academia and the construction industry to tackle the pressing issue of renovating for healthcare. Extrapolating this research into a practical set of guidelines for healthcare buildings in the Northeast and beyond is smart and reasonable. It’s healthy for people, our profession, our economy and our environment.

Michael Hinchcliffe AIA, LEED AP is an associate principal at Payette who focuses on academic, research and healthcare facilities design. He studied at Carnegie Mellon and taught design studios at the BAC and Wentworth, where he is a frequent guest critic. Hinchcliffe founded Payette's Grassroots Green sustainability initiative, speaks frequently at industry conferences and leads several in-house research efforts on energy use reduction, communications and building technologies.