How to choose a sustainable site for your new veterinary clinic


Consider orientation and sunlight when choosing a site.

In the old days before modern earthmoving equipment and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, it was necessary to construct buildings that took advantage of breezes, natural weather patterns, the lay of the land, and the path of the sun. We can resurrect some very simple principles from the archives of our collective building history and reuse them to make more sustainable buildings. These principles fall under the category of common sense and as long as they are applied properly, they should not add to the cost of your hospital. Here are some things to consider when choosing a site for your new veterinary clinic that Mark Hafen, AIA, of Animal Arts shared during the Hospital Design Conference at CVC Kansas City.

Building orientation. This means facing the building so that the long sides are exposed to the north and south and the short sides are exposed to the east and west. This is a tried and true guideline that will ultimately have a dramatic effect on your energy costs. Orienting a building incorrectly means that the HVAC system will need to fight additional heat gain on the east and west sides of the building.

Placement of windows. Even though you may be limited by the layout of your building, consider the impact of exterior openings on the energy usage of your building. The worst exposure for solar gain is the west side of a building due to the extremes of afternoon sun in most portions of the continental United States. The best exposure is the south side, because it is possible to use overhangs that block summer sun when the sun is high in the sky but allow solar gain in the winter when the sun is low in the sky. Your mechanical engineer will take into account the placement of your windows when sizing your mechanical system. If buildings are properly oriented and properly fenestrated, mechanical systems will ultimately be smaller.

With all decisions, it is best to temper these rules of thumb with a dose of reality. For example, if orienting your building to the path of the sun creates significantly more asphalt to move cars around the building, or if it causes a great deal more dirt to be moved, then building orientation should be balanced with other good design choices.

The following are some very good and simple principals that do not add dramatically to construction costs:

  • Use a white or light colored roof. These roofs are ubiquitous in our industry, so it is possible to find good, affordable products. Light colored roofs reduce solar heat gain dramatically, which is both good for the building and for the site.

  • Use deciduous plantings to shade a parking area during the summer. In the winter when their leaves are gone, they allow for greater heat gain.

  • Reduce dark, impervious paving. Concrete is actually a better paving choice than asphalt because it is much more reflective. Check with your local construction market to see if concrete is an affordable choice for your area. If possible, also incorporate porous paving products, although these may not be affordable for many projects.

  • People are often interested in green roofs, which grow plants on a rooftop environment. Unfortunately, green roofs are not practical or affordable for most veterinary hospitals, especially because of the need for large, rooftop mechanical equipment.
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