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Health Information Harnessing Heat and Light: Efficiency and Comfort in the New Hospital

The new hospital building at Rush University Medical Center, which opened in January, turns heads with its innovative exterior design.

And in this case, beauty is more than skin-deep. The functional design inside the new hospital also warrants attention, including a central element of any building: heat and light control. These everyday concerns are elevated to a new level within the hospital.

"We designed the hospital to provide a comfortable, energy-efficient environment for patients, visitors and staff," says Michael Wisniewski, director of medical center engineering at Rush.

Efficient temperature control
While older heating and cooling systems monitor temperatures floor by floor, the state-of-the-art building automation system in the new hospital monitors each of the more than 1,500 thermostats individually and monitors temperature in every airflow and ventilation component. Each is set at 72 degrees, and users can adjust the temperature no more than six degrees in either direction.

And air conditioning in the new hospital actually does double duty. Air conditioning works by pulling heat out of the air, which creates condensed moisture within the air conditioning system. This condensation is then captured and recycled. Some is used to water vegetation across the campus. Some goes to replace evaporated water in the central energy plant's cooling towers, where hot water from the air conditioning process is cooled. In all, this recycling will save about 1.3 million gallons of water each year.

The latest in lighting
The new hospital is among a limited number of buildings nationwide using light emitting diode (LED) lighting today, Wisniewski says, which yields up to 80 percent energy savings over incandescent bulbs. Timers gradually dim the lights in the evening for further energy savings — and to promote a calming atmosphere. "Your body's natural clock knows when it's night, and bright lights can create a level of stress," Wisniewski says. "Slowly dimming the lights mimics the setting of the sun for a soothing effect. It also naturally signals people to slow down and speak more quietly, which further helps relieve stress."

Green — and white — roofs
Shade from rooftop gardens, as well as natural cooling processes of the soil and plants, help insulate the hospital from summer heat and reduce cooling costs. Other roof areas are painted white to reflect heat from sunlight. Both techniques also help counter the urban heat island effect, which makes cities hotter than surrounding areas. And the patient and family garden on the fourth floor also provides a relaxing space to help visitors unwind.

Natural light
The hospital's unique butterfly shape allows every patient room to have a window to the outside. That means a better hospital experience for patients, plus less need for electric lighting.

Harnessing heat makes sense economically — but in a hospital, it has even greater value. "Ultimately, these innovations mean patients will receive better care," Wisniewski says. "We never stop striving for that kind of excellence."

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Harnessing Heat and Light: Efficiency and Comfort in the New Hospital

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