Energy savings study targets local hospital

Legacy Salmon Creek part of a national effort

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



A national effort to squeeze energy savings out of power-hungry hospitals is under way, and Vancouver’s Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center is on the forefront of the movement.

A federally funded study of the Salmon Creek facility’s energy usage has dug up data that capsize long-held assumptions about which parts of a hospital use the most energy.

Imaging equipment, hot water and elevators are not, as it turns out, large consumers of energy.

The single biggest user of energy at Legacy Salmon Creek? Air-reheating equipment, accounting for more than 40 percent of energy consumption.

The 57-page study, scheduled for release Monday and led by the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab and Eugene, Ore.-based SOLARC Architecture and Engineering Inc., likely will have a national impact, influencing both the design and construction of hospitals, and retrofits of existing ones.

That’s because the data was gathered from the 220-bed Legacy Salmon Creek, a relatively new, state-of-the-art facility that “provided a good foundation” for understanding how a hospital “uses electricity and natural gas for its complex operations,” according to the study.

Heather Burpee, research assistant professor of health design and energy efficiency at the UW’s Integrated Design Lab, said everyone from engineering firms and the U.S. Department of Energy to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers will be able to use the data to make better energy saving decisions when it comes to hospital design.

“The leaders that we’ve been working with nationally have been really keen on getting this data,” Burpee said.

The study of the Salmon Creek hospital is part of a larger program aimed at evaluating how to radically reduce energy consumption at hospitals nationwide. The program, which covers a total of six cities, is funded by $1.3 million in federal stimulus dollars issued by the U.S. Department of Energy and from some matching dollars from the nonprofit Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

The over-arching goals of the broader program are to cut power costs, generating bottom-line savings, and to prod hospitals to do their part in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Health care organizations in the U.S. spend more than $6.5 billion annually on energy costs, and that figure is rising, according to, the website for Energy Star, a joint program of the federal Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, which opened in two phases beginning in 2005 and finishing in 2009, already gets high marks for energy efficiency.

For example, the national and state average Energy Use Index for hospitals is about 270,000 British thermal units per square foot annually. By contrast, the Salmon Creek facility’s Energy Use Index is lower — 215,000 British thermal units per square foot annually.

Researchers collected most of the data about Legacy Salmon Creek’s energy use during a four-week period from Jan. 6 to Feb. 3 of this year. Researchers, working with a team of hospital officials, collected everything from utility billing data to electric and natural gas consumption information.

The study focused on Legacy Salmon Creek’s 466,000-square-foot main hospital building, excluding two medical office buildings and a parking garage. Legacy built the entire campus — hospital, office buildings and parking garage — for $275 million.

The study’s major findings showed that, surprisingly, imaging equipment accounts for less than 1 percent of energy use. And hot water turned out to be another relatively small energy user at the hospital, accounting for less than 2 percent of total energy use.

The hospital’s reheating system, where air is cooled to a common low temperature and then reheated to provide comfortable air temperatures, was the single largest energy user, gobbling up more than 40 percent of the facility’s energy use.

The data, while having national implications, also will help further boost the Salmon Creek facility’s energy efficiency and provide useful data for other Legacy medical facilities, said Pat Lydon, sustainability coordinator for the Legacy Health system.

“It’ll help us target a building tune-up,” Lydon said.

Aaron Corvin:;; 360-735-4518;

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