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Research Reflection

My grandfather was hospitalized last week.  It turns out, at 98, he is very resilient and went home within a few days.  I am always amazed by his ability to understand the ever changing world – he has lived through two world wars, a deep depression, and now into the increasingly digital world that we live in.  And he always keeps up!  Sitting on the windowsill at his bedside for those few hours helped me reflect with him on the work that I do here at the University building knowledge on healthier buildings – and how our built environment, like him, can become more resilient and healthier over time.

One of the big projects that I’ve been working on is called “Targeting 100!”  At its core, Targeting 100! is a roadmap for developing hospitals that meet the 2030 Challenge with little additional first capital cost.  What it means to reach that aggressive of an energy target is a re-evaluation of buildings, building systems, and design teams to re-formulate how hospitals are designed, constructed and operated.  I wrote a little bit more about that work in my previous blog post –  “Healthier Healthcare


Part of the solution for creating buildings with healthier footprints is understanding how we use existing buildings today.  W. Edwards Deming was influential in the car industry in developing continuous process improvement and is known for his statement, “you can expect what you inspect.” We are now developing a greater appreciation for “inspecting” the performance of operational buildings in light of improving the performance of new projects.  One of the things that we have been looking at closely at in the Targeting 100! work is how hospitals actually use energy.  We know how much energy buildings use in a holistic sense – how much the total electricity and gas bills are, for example.  But, very little detail is known about how that energy is used throughout the building for lights, fans, computers, and equipment, for example.


Last winter we did an in-depth evaluation of how an operational hospital uses energy.  One aspect of that project was to measure how electric lights are actually used in a patient room – and how that relates to when the room is occupied and the amount of daylight that is available from outside.  The results of that study were somewhat surprising – the lights in the patient room were used very little in comparison to the total amount of electric lighting available (on average less than 20% of the lighting is used).  Another surprise was the bathroom light was often left on for days at a time, even when there was no patient occupying the room, which made that light the biggest contributor to energy use for lighting in the patient room.  This data speaks to how we design the lighting in a patient room, for example, an occupancy sensor in the bathroom would turn off the light when it isn’t needed.  And this data helps inform the assumptions that designers make about when (and how much) energy is being used by lighting.  In this case, the lights are being used much less than previously assumed, meaning that less electricity is being used to electrify the lights, which also has an implication for the amount of heat that is generated as a result of the lights being on (or the lack of heat being generated when the lights are off). For the Targeting 100! project, this measured data directly informed the energy simulation models that we built, providing real occupancy and energy use patterns that are the basis for design.

Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center Energy Use Breakdown.  More details are available on our website:  http://idlseattle.com/Health/study_hospital.html

Example of lighting analysis from Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center Study.  More details, and the complete poster are available on our website:  http://idlseattle.com/Health/study_hospital.html

The ultimate goal of the Targeting 100! project is to create information that can be transformed into implementation of healthier buildings.  The energy simulation models and the cost models for the Targeting 100! project provide a depth of information that, if added up, produce billions of data points of information.  Ultimately, this is clearly too much information to digest as mere data points, or even as a written report.  In a 21st century model, we are working on conceiving a digital tool that will help simplify complex information related to healthier, high performance buildings, in a way that is relatable, yet technically sophisticated.

The goal of the project is to develop an “app” so that the information can be transformed into implementation.


Back at the hospital with my grandfather, we sat and chatted about how hospitals use energy and flipped through the developing “Targeting 100! App.” on my i-pad.  We realized as the sun was setting that there hadn’t been an electric light on in his room all day and his room was getting dark with the onset of twilight.  The sun had provided enough light in the room for him to rest and eat, for me to read my book, and the nurses and doctors to do their work (although the bathroom light had been left on all day despite the room being empty with the door shut!).  The few hours that I spent in that hospital room helped re-affirm and inspire the work that I do in helping create built environments that are healthier, more sustainable, and resilient — for him, and especially for generations to follow.

Heather Burpee is a Research Assistant Professor of the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington and serves as the Health Design Specialist at the Integrated Design Lab | Seattle (IDL). Ms. Burpee received a B.A. in Biology from Whitman College, and an M. Arch from the University of Washington. In the past three years, Ms. Burpee has traveled extensively in Northern Europe studying innovative design and its applicability to design practice in the United States. This research included collaboration with leading experts in sustainability in Stockholm, Sweden and several international architecture and mechanical engineering firms in Scandinavia.

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