Make your building more energy efficient


From the windows to the walls, smart construction leads to big energy savings.

With energy costs going through the roof and increasing environmental awareness, building an energy-efficient building is more important than ever. And thankfully, it's not a complex or impossible goal. Local governmental agencies, suppliers, and the Internet can all be helpful resources on the topic. However, your best sources are your architect and contractor. To get you started, I put together this list of practical, down-to-earth ways to make your facility perform more effectively and save you money.

  • Entryway. A 6-foot-by-8-foot weather-lock entry vestibule keeps the outdoor air from entering and the indoor air from escaping every time the door opens and closes. This approach also helps guard against escaping pets.

  • Operable windows. To a large degree, engineers have driven modern facility design toward hermetically sealed buildings. Theoretically this makes your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system more efficient, but simply opening a window to let in a little fresh air can often make your building feel more comfortable.

  • Adequate insulation. When insulating your building, choose more, not less. Increasing the insulation in walls and ceilings quickly pays you back in energy savings. In walls, use a 6-inch batt of insulation to create an R-20 rating, and in the ceiling, use a 12-inch batt for an R-40 rating.

  • Quality insulated windows. Always buy high-quality windows. Choose insulated glass that's tinted or coated. The window frames should be wood, vinyl-coated, or aluminum with a thermal break to keep cold air from penetrating the window frame.

  • Orientation. Take some time to think about how to orient your building on the site and where the windows and openings occur. In cold climates, you should minimize openings on the north side of the building. Use roof overhangs to protect south-facing openings and remember that windows on the west side of the building will face the setting sun, which can cause excessive heat.

  • Water systems. Use low-flow water fixtures for toilets, faucets, and showerheads. I've found high-pressure spray systems work well, and you eliminate the need for hot water when you use chemical disinfectants with these systems.

On-demand hot water systems also save energy and water costs, because you don't keep a tank of water heated all the time. Instead, a gas-fired boiler fits directly into your hot water line, replacing the tank. The system heats water only when you turn on that specific faucet.

  • HVAC systems. Today, you can easily find efficient hot-air furnaces and hot water boilers. They're typically compact and can be mounted almost anywhere—including in closets, crawl spaces, and attics.

Heat recovery systems, available for rooftop units, capture latent heat from air released from the building and preheat the air the system takes in.

Lastly, any HVAC system should provide general ventilation using unconditioned air on days when the outside air temperature falls within normal comfort ranges. This "economizer" cycle eliminates the need to heat or cool air when you simply want ventilation.

Now you're ready to sit down with your architect and contractor to discuss strategies for building an energy-efficient hospital. They can help you decide which ideas will work best for you and guide you to local resources, specific systems, and available materials.

Mark R. Hafen, AIA, is a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and architect at Animal Arts/Gates Hafen Cochrane Boulder, Colo. He'll speak on key issues for renovations and additions and on how to harness new trends and innovations at the 2006 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference, Aug. 23 to 25 in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, visit

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