Life is full of situations where something feels right intuitively, but until “hard facts” surface to scientifically prove an outcome, a concept can be a tough sell—especially when costs are involved. For instance, more natural light always seemed like a healthier way to design. Then the research supported intuition: natural light reduces absenteeism.
Healthcare design has a lot of beliefs to prove economically as well. The benefits of operable windows finally received some empirical evidence this week.
According to an Advisory Board brief, a study in the Building and Environment Journal showed that not having operable windows in a hospital can save on heating, but be quite detrimental to infection control. In fact, with windows closed, airborne infection risk may increase fourfold!
The research was conducted by the University of Leeds, and the airflow diagrams are compelling, though not surprising, to anyone who has had to rely on natural air flow and cross-ventilation strategies for indoor cooling.
Europe and Scandinavia have been ahead of the curve on natural ventilation in healthcare for decades, primarily because they never subscribed to hermetically-sealing their hospitals as we do in the U.S.
As it turns out, it may not be the untreated air from the outdoors that is the primary risk to hospital patients; it could indeed be the risk from germs already trapped inside the hospital that are being recirculated. Hospitals could reduce the chances of hospital acquired infection (HAI) through the utilization of operable windows in their facilities.
Under PPACA, this is preventable and thus unreimbursed care for hospitals. Cost drives many business decisions, and this is money out of a hospital’s pocket. HAIs are such an explosive liability concern, it is clear the additional utility expenses from a few windows left open are marginal compared to longer patient stays, readmissions, or lawsuits from an HAI.
As a footnote, strike up another win for healthcare simulation, which was the researchers’ preferred method of understanding air flow scenarios in this study. Haskell utilizes simulation in other aspects of healthcare design, and has in-house expertise to help explore and understand existing conditions and new design alternatives—before any construction dollars are spent. We can even help you design your next project with operable windows.