Elliot Chmielinski, channel manager for Projects at Somfy UK, discusses how utilising the power of daylight can help the health sector improve efficiency
Exposure to natural daylight has been found to aid recovery
Architects, engineers and building owners are continually looking for new ways to make buildings more sustainable as our awareness of the impact of climate change continues to grow.
However, ‘going green’ for commercial buildings is one thing, but what about healthcare facilities, which require vast amounts of energy for their operations and supply chain to function?
Hospitals, in particular, need an uninterrupted power supply to provide 24-hour care for patients.
In the UK, research found that NHS trusts spend an estimated half-a-billion pounds a year on gas and electricity. At the same time over 35% of current EU building stock is more than 50 years old, and many of those buildings were constructed before 1945, meaning there is a clear need to modernise in order to reduce energy consumption and boost efficiency.
But how can this be achieved?
In recent years there has also been a greater focus on the ‘user experience’ and in health and care facilities this goes for patients, visitors, and staff.
Here, we ask what role does daylight play in this vital user experience, and how can technology support it?
Access to natural daylight in hospital and care environments can be crucial to a patient’s wellbeing and long-term recovery.
And ensuring levels of warmth and light are balanced can have significant benefits for both patients and staff.
Many healthcare facilities currently rely on outdated legacy systems which require up to three times more energy than standard commercial buildings
There is evidence to suggest that patients who are exposed to regular natural daylight during their time in hospital benefit in a multitude of ways, including a reduction in the amount of time they spend in hospital, faster post-operative recovery, and a reduction in the need for pain relief.
But, how exactly does it help?
Natural light regulates our body’s circadian rhythm, which helps control our sleep and wake cycles, as well as impacting our emotional health, heart function and body temperature.
When a room is exposed to a balanced amount of daylight it can help post-operative patients feel less anxious about their procedure and lower blood pressure, which is essential to the recovery process.
In windowless rooms our bodies can become confused by artificial light and the circadian rhythm can become disrupted, which leads to lack of sleep, stress, and a delay in recovery.
Research also found that natural light can help reduce the need for extra pain medication by up to 22%.
However, it’s not just patients who benefit.
Exposure to daylight can create a more-relaxed and productive working environment for staff. This can be vital in potentially-high-stress settings such as hospitals, as it allows them to focus on taking care of people’s health.
Many healthcare facilities currently rely on outdated legacy systems which require up to three times more energy than standard commercial buildings.
It is widely recognised that the adoption of new technologies and sustainable methods will deliver long-term goals.
Solutions such as smart solar shading can help to create a balance of daylight – harnessing the positive impacts and eliminating the more-harmful and negative aspects, such as the temperature levels in hot summers.
Balancing daylight could be one of the key contributors when it comes to reducing energy consumption, but it’s equally as important to understand its role in our health and wellbeing
And, importantly, this can be achieved without a patient having to leave their bed or request a member of staff do it for them.
By using real-time data from environmental controls like weather stations and using sun tracking functionality, the shading is programmed to respond to the data received, therefore it is optimised for the building needs and user experience.
With the additional possibility of individual controls, a room can be tailored to personal preferences and needs, ensuring they have the optimal environment to aid their recovery or boost their feeling of wellbeing.
In a study conducted by Dr Ulrich in 2008 it was suggested that exposure to natural light can positively influence recovery time following an operation by up to 8.5%.
From a staffing perspective, nurses or carers can’t always respond instantly to patient requests, so when the glare of the sun or overheating is an issue, it can leave individuals in an uncomfortable environment.
If the shading is automated, it responds without the need for manual intervention, or if a particular adjustment is required and patients have access to controls, they can adjust the shading to suit their needs.
Automation also removes repetitive daily tasks such as opening and closing blinds or screens, adjusting heating or operating air conditioning systems for patients. And it frees staff up to focus on what’s important, caring for patients.
The addition of new smart technologies which allow different services to communicate with each other will be key to hospitals achieving sustainability goals and zero-carbon targets in the future
These solutions not only optimise the comfort of patients and staff, but also contribute to energy efficiency.
The addition of new smart technologies which allow different services to communicate with each other will be key to hospitals achieving sustainability goals and zero-carbon targets in the future.
Architects and building owners are continuing to find innovative solutions to address the issue of climate change, but there is still much more to be done.
Balancing daylight could be one of the key contributors when it comes to reducing energy consumption, but it’s equally as important to understand its role in our health and wellbeing and how, when combined with technology, the positive impact it could have on the healthcare sector as a whole.