A number of factors are fueling a nationwide surge in healthcare facility construction and improvements, including updating aging facilities, changing workforce needs and growing consumer demands for specialty services. Industry expansion is materializing to serve both ends of the population spectrum from birthing units and children’s hospitals to cancer centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Leading the industry growth is hospital construction—a white-hot market through 2004, following double-digit percentage gains in the preceding two years. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce, construction of nongovernment-owned hospitals rose 9 percent to nearly $15 billion in 2003. Several organizations predict the growth pattern to continue its upswing, presenting opportunities for electrical contractors who understand the intricacies of this niche commercial market.

One of the biggest drivers of the healthcare halcyon, however, is the need to increase operational efficiency through the wide range of mechanical and electrical systems essential to their operations, said Carlos Petty, associate partner and group manager for New York City engineering consulting firm, Syska Hennessy Group Inc.

“A mechanical-electrical design template that provides for the newest technology using open protocol communications will allow various systems to be integrated while lowering overall operating costs,” said Petty. “Such a design allows for interaction among the equipment of multiple manufacturers and for the global monitoring of all critical functions at several different locations within a facility.”

From silos to integrated savings

Early healthcare construction and its supportive infrastructure typically resemble a series of silos. Today, administrators are reaching a new level of building management—one that recognizes the potential energy savings from connecting systems through software and Internet-based automation technologies.

“There’s more systems integration than ever before and the market has grown immensely,” says James Farina III of West-Fair Electric Contractors Inc., Hawthorne, N.Y. “But from a contractor’s standpoint, you really have to know what you’re doing. You need a foreman and crew with the experience to wire and electronically integrate the various systems.”

Wired and wireless network solutions are centralizing the control and monitoring of a wide range of business critical -systems:

°Lighting

°Heating, ventilation and air conditioning

°Fire alarm

°Plumbing

°Environmental

°Security

°Low-voltage

°Boiler and chiller controls

°Air pressure, temperature and humidity controls

°Information databases

Several energy-efficiency trends are converging to underscore the push for systems integration. According to Petty, the healthcare industry is beginning to respond to sustainable design construction applications for high-performance healthcare buildings.

“Electrical contractors need to understand the certification process and requirements to meet the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] green building rating system. More monitoring and control of water and electric usage will be required, increasing electrical installation requirements,” said Petty.

The MasterFormat 2004 standard has already expanded integrated automation construction subjects in the new Division 25 (Integrated Automation), to further identify and explain requirements to accommodate industry changes.

Lighting controls such as photo cells, dimmers, daylighting systems, timers and occupancy sensors for indoor and outdoor lighting in nonresidential buildings are gaining prominence in the new 2005 updates to the California Energy Commission’s Title 24. The newly revised commercial-energy conservation standard of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1 now addresses requirements for occupancy sensors.

Current Department of Energy statistics illustrate the urgency of compliance with stricter energy codes through integration in healthcare settings. The majority of energy used in hospitals—42 percent—is electricity. According to Tom Braz, general manager of Hubbell Building Automation, the greatest energy conservation opportunity lies in heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting.

“What we’re seeing as a major trend right now is that while the HVAC system is the most robust and tended to come first with systems integration, the HVAC people are now saying that the next best thing to integrate is lighting because you can control 60 to 70 percent of a building’s energy consumption,” said Braz.

Electrical expertise reduces complexity

Braz said that to be successful in this market, electrical contractors need to gain technical knowledge about architectural and engineering systems that interoperate on an open communications protocol or language designed to harvest automation into multiple functionality.

Hubbell’s Simplicity LX Series lighting control panels contain mechanically latching relays, programmable switch stations and employ a handheld touch-screen tablet with a graphical user interface for local and remote management. Simplicity incorporates the LonWorks open architecture protocol designed for seamless integration with other building systems.

A HVAC system using the same protocol allows the lighting and HVAC controls to interoperate.

“What’s very unique is the wiring of the system is simple,” said Braz. “Inexpensive, unshielded twisted pair would be the common, lowest-cost solution of connecting the devices. It is topology free and polarity insensitive, greatly simplifying how you design the wiring pattern be it a star, tee or a looped system.”

Farina agrees with Braz that the wiring is simple, however integrating the different systems can be complex, requires expertise, and testing can be very extensive with the many systems and devices.

“If knowledgeable labor is not employed, labor costs can easily exceed your estimates. However, working closely with a high-quality engineering firm like Syska makes our job easier,” Farina said.

Although it is still a mixed model for systems integration teams, both Braz and Farina see expanded opportunities for contractors who specialize.

“If a contractor’s going to wire and install the devices, why not bring in house the skill set to do the software integration as well, providing a value-added turnkey solution resulting in a new revenue source,” Braz said.

“I’m seeing the opposite as well with software integrations companies branching out and adding electricians,” Farina said. “Systems-integration wiring is complex to install, but with experience and commitment, profits can be made. It’s another growing market that we don’t want to see go nonunion, and it can provide a lot of work.” EC

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached via e-mail at mcclung@lisco.com.