by Jim Lister
Healthcare facilities manage strict budgets, and are often forced to make tough decisions about where to allocate precious resources. In the new world of COVID-19, those resources are under unprecedented strain, and hospital owners, developers and facility managers are under even more pressure to be smart about expenses.
Research shows that professionally-installed mechanical insulation, when done right, is a crucial investment for large, mechanically-intensive facilities like hospitals, to optimize energy efficiency and generate massive cost savings.
A study by the National Insulation Association (NIA) yielded that proper mechanical insulation can save a hospital 149 kBtu/sf/yr of energy per year on average, which is 78% or more of total energy use. That translates to up to $85 billion in savings annually, a shocking total that would indisputably be better used toward patient care, staffing, and critical PPE for caregivers.
When one considers the vastness of mechanical system applications in a hospital’s operations, versus many other commercial facilities, it becomes clear that energy efficiency must be top of mind for hospital operators. For example, the NIA noted that hospitals, which typically operate around the clock, year round, rely on steam and water for sterilization, humidification and laundry utilities. Hospitals must also ensure that the air in the facility is clean, filtered, and properly ventilated at all times, and that moisture, which feeds bacteria and fungus, is controlled, to maintain a safe environment for at-risk patients. All of these systems can be exponentially improved with the presence of quality mechanical insulation.
Mechanical insulation minimizes the energy required to achieve the right conditions for various operations, by controlling the environment through which air, gas, water and steam must travel. It directly prevents the condensation that would create unclean air in the facility. And in addition to saving hospitals millions of dollars on energy costs annually, mechanical insulation also extends the lifespan of other machines within the hospital, which caregivers rely on each day for patient testing, by ensuring that the machines don’t need to overwork in order to meet the conditions needed to perform.
Hospitals in Boston, some of the best in the world, depend on mechanical insulation to keep their budgets lean. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the state has not yet taken advantage of these benefits. So, why is mechanical insulation, which is the most obvious way to save money on energy, overlooked in many Massachusetts hospitals?
It’s because, to save money on the bottom line, a developer might mistake insulation for an unnecessary expense. But for hospitals and other commercial facilities that rely on heavy machinery to operate, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a penny wise, dollar foolish mistake.
In any health care setting, every dollar counts. But in the case of mechanical insulation, the return on investment is so high that it becomes an imperative step for all health care facilities to take. Most hospitals do insulate their systems, at least in part, because without insulation, the energy and distribution systems loss would be so significant that the facility wouldn’t be equipped to sustain operations.
But there is also a critical gradient in quality of services available that must be taken into account when a hospital does choose to insulate its systems. The insulation trade is an unlicensed profession in the Commonwealth, so it is important to do your research and have a full understanding of the product you are receiving before potentially hiring an unqualified team that won’t ultimately be able to deliver the cost savings you seek.
For more information on how much your facility could save on energy costs each year with mechanical insulation, visit the Whole Building Design guide, which has a series of helpful calculators on its website.
Massachusetts thanks our front-line caregivers for their heroic and critical work throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mechanical insulation is one small way to make sure that a health care facility’s resources are preserved.