The Ultimate Guide to Healthcare HVAC
The healthcare industry is the most unique in the world. The only other field that deals so heavily in the exchange of life and death is, of course, war.
While war is in the business of ending life, however, healthcare is in the business of saving it. Hospitals, doctors’ offices, ambulances, and other healthcare services are responsible for the lives of millions of people every year - and they need to be ready for that burden constantly.
This means specialized equipment with impeccable reliability. You can’t very well run a hospital if your defibrillator can’t be trusted.
Good healthcare professionals know that every little detail matters - nothing can be left to chance. That precision extends to HVAC.
Let’s dig into the process of selecting an HVAC system for your healthcare facility.
HVAC Needs for Different Types of Healthcare Facilities
“Healthcare” is an extremely broad term that covers a spectrum of very different services. In order to proceed with our selection, we need to define some of these services. HVAC needs will, of course, be different for different healthcare facilities.
Ambulances are highly specialized. They cost around a quarter million dollars fully equipped - part of the reason riding in one can be so expensive. Supplies have to be constantly replenished, and everything must be sterilized after each ride. Obviously, some ambulance rides are “dirtier” than others; ambulances often need to be deep-cleaned dozens of times a week.
With this sort of cost, it's reasonable to expect that the HVAC system is equally complex and costly. Interestingly, however, it isn’t!
Ambulances are not designed for comfort. The goal is to get someone with a severed jugular out of their home and into a hospital bed before death. Ambulances are designed to sustain a life as the driver attempts to make a 10 minute ride take less than 5 minutes. There’s no room in this process for a state-of-the-art, highly specialized air filtration system that needs constant attention.
Of course, there are biohazard vehicles that require special HVAC treatments, but they will be grouped with “Clean Rooms” down below.
Instead, ambulances usually have the standard AC systems that came with the vans they are based on - usually a Ford or GMC van. These are reliable, keep the inside of the ambulance at room temperature, and need very little maintenance.
2.) Doctors’ Offices
Doctors’ offices are a lot like ambulances in terms of their HVAC needs. While they contain a lot of specialty equipment, and are very expensive to equip and maintain, they are actually just regular offices at the end of the day.
Any commercial-standard HVAC system, with good power and reliability, will do. In fact, many doctors’ offices are run in strip malls or buildings with rented out space. The HVAC system of a doctors’ office may not even be the choice of the doctor or managers - but of the property owner.
The HVAC needs for a hospital are considerably different. Because the host patients with compromised immune systems and open wounds within the same building as patients with contagious infections, air must be filtered very effectively.
The best way for a hospital to do this is with a high-grade HEPA filter and a powerful air conditioning system. HEPA with a Minimum Reported Efficiency Value of at least 8 are capable of stopping most bacteria, but are not so restrictive as to prevent air from cycling as often as possible.
You may notice, next time you are in a hospital (hopefully not as a patient), that all of the nurses and doctors are wearing light jackets or long sleeves under their scrubs. The reason for this relates directly with the HVAC needs of a hospital.
Infections, in general, spread faster as temperature increases. The HVAC system in a hospital will be tuned to a specific temperature - cold, in order to slow infections, but still warm enough for nurses and doctors to be able to focus.
The HVAC system in a hospital will vary with the type of hospital and the geographical area. Some colder places will need heaters in order to satisfy their needs.
4.) Operating Rooms
The OR of any given hospital will have an HVAC system in one of two configurations, depending on the typical use case for the room.
If the OR is used for routine surgeries that need no particular attention, the HVAC system of the hospital at large will simply integrate the OR, just as it would a normal room.
If the OR is used for specialized surgeries (spine and heart operations, brain operations, etc.) the room may be a self-contained HVAC system. The idea is that, because this room will be kept sterile at all times, the system will have no trouble processing out the contaminants. If it were connected to the hospital’s HVAC system, the filtration would have to contend with the other patients’ illnesses, the dirt tracked in my shoes, the foot particles from the cafeteria, etc. By establishing a self-contained unit, the risk of infection or foreign object contamination in the patient is reduced.
5.) Clean Rooms
Clean rooms are the most specialized HVAC environment possible. Designed to have the number of contaminants in the air as close to zero as possible, these rooms need highly specialized HVAC and filtrations systems installed entirely separate from the rest of the hospitals.
Clean rooms are used for the most sensitive patients and operations. Patients with no effective immune systems cannot, by any means, come in contact with a disease. Deep brain surgery requires essentially pure air to prevent any contaminants from entering the brain.
Clean rooms do not use the same filters as residences or even hospitals. Instead of HEPA filters, they use ULPA (Ultra Low Particulate Air) filters. These filters are extremely dense - so dense, in fact, that installing one in any regular AC system, will slow the air flow, creating strain on the system. It will even prevent the air from cycling as much, which, with regular everyday operations bring dust and other contaminants in the room, will leave the air more dirty than a HEPA filter.
ULPA filters are only used in rooms where operations are in place to prevent dust and contaminants from entering (the use of booties over shoes, for example.) Additionally, ULPA are only placed with specialized high power HVAC systems that can account for the restricted air flow and keep the air cycling.Choosing the right HVAC system and filter for your healthcare facility is important. Filter King’s online store has HEPA filters in just about any size, and in any strength, you need. Find your size, pick your MERV, and get your filters delivered in days. You can even set up a subscription, so you never forget another replacement. We’re the Filter King for a reason!