Back in the summer of 2022, the NHS became the first health service to put net zero into legislation through the Health Care Act 2022. With an ambitious target, a new report ‘Delivering a Net Zero National Health Service’ sets out the path to achieve this goal by 2045. In this article, we look at what net zero targets mean for construction projects in the healthcare sector.
Step number five on this path is the construction of 40 new ‘net zero hospitals’. It probably comes as no surprise that the construction industry is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. So, how do you build 40 new hospitals and achieve net zero?
Interestingly, these new hospitals account for less than a fifth of the secondary care estate. Across the whole NHS, estate and facilities comprises 15% of the total NHS carbon emissions. So it seems as well as looking at building new hospitals, work will need to be done to adapt current facilities to make them more energy efficient.
In this article, we take a look at some of the recommendations in the report and how they apply to building projects in the healthcare sector.
Upgrades to existing healthcare buildings
There are many options when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of old buildings. HVAC might be a good place to start. Air conditioning and ventilation are vital in healthcare centres. They play a significant role in the safety of hospitals, keeping the concentration of airborne bacteria at bay.
By joining up HVAC and introducing smart controls, you can better control the way the system is used. Turning off ventilation in unoccupied consulting rooms or increasing the flow in particularly busy areas. Upgrading old equipment, whilst a significant one-off cost, can save on long terms costs as new technology tends to be more efficient than old.
Improving insulation can mean that less energy is needed to heat buildings in winter. Sometimes something a little more drastic is needed, such as the redesign of part of the hospital building that will deliver ongoing energy savings, through better insulation, door seals, and effective airflow.
The NHS Energy Efficiency Fund will look to spend £50m upgrading the lighting systems across the estate. LED lights use up to 80% less energy than traditional lightbulbs. Just a simple switch could save up to £3billion over the next 30 years.
Brand new net carbon hospitals
A new Net Zero Carbon Hospital Standard has been available since spring 2021. The aim is to apply it across the 40 new hospitals to be built as part of the government’s Health Infrastructure Plan.
One of the answers lies in design. There are some steps that can be taken early in the process, that can help buildings to avoid getting too hot in the summer or needing too much heat in the winter. For example, the layout and orientation can help support ventilation systems. Whilst some areas of hospitals will require carefully managed ventilation systems, innovative design can allow other areas to rely on natural ventilation.
Design with thought to natural daylight can reduce the need for artificial lighting. Conversely, solar shading can reduce heat gains. It may be worth considering how roof space is used, and whether this can be optimised for solar panels or green roofs to help with insulation.
All of these design elements require careful balancing in order to identify the most sustainable option.
These design choices will ultimately lead to a building that produces less carbon throughout its operational lifecycle. However, much of the embodied carbon in building projects comes from the production of building materials itself. Concrete, steel, aluminium and glass account for 11% of all global carbon emissions. To tackle this, new hospitals will need to be built with low-carbon materials. This may also include applying circular economy principles to building materials.
Healthcare projects have always been more complicated than your typical building project. These new guidelines mean that new and innovative techniques will need to be applied. You’ll need an experienced team by your side as you tackle your next healthcare construction project.