Focus on Acoustics: LEED for Healthcare – Acknowledging Acoustics in Healing

Anyone who has been to a hospital recovery room, whether as a patient or as a visitor, knows firsthand that the environment can be anything but calm and soothing. Echoes of staff and guests moving around and talking reverberate through the hallways while high-tech gadgets beep and whirr, all under the buzz of a stark fluorescent lamp. How can anyone get a restful night of sleep and recover in a place like that?

As new hospitals are being built, or existing ones are being renovated, efforts are being made to make the time that patients spend in them less stressful and more conducive to healing. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has acknowledged these, and other, unique challenges facing healthcare facilities in its newest rating system – LEED for Healthcare, approved in final voting in mid-November.

LEED for Healthcare is designed to be used for new construction projects and major renovations of all types of buildings where patients are being treated. Developed in collaboration with the Green Guide for Healthcare (GGHC), an extensive pilot program was conducted prior to the approval of the final LEED rating system.

Because of the unique needs of these types of buildings, LEED for Healthcare is the only rating system to date (besides LEED for Schools) that provides credits relating to acoustics. The primary credit relating to acoustics, IEQ Credit 2 Acoustic Environment, can be worth up to two points. The intent of the credit is to “Provide building occupants with an indoor healing environment free of intrusive or disruptive levels of sound.” The points for the credit can be obtained by meeting a variety of criteria including appropriate sound isolation between rooms, background noise levels, reverberation time, and minimizing the impact of exterior site noise. And while patients rejoice at the thought of a decent night of sleep, there is another important result related to achieving this credit: increased patient privacy, a must for healthcare facilities of all types.

The other credit related to acoustics is SS Credit 9.1: Connection to the Natural World: Places of Respite. The design considerations component of this credit dovetails nicely with the portion of IEQ Credit 2 that relates to minimizing the impact of exterior site noise.

USGBC’s recently approved LEED for Healthcare rating system aims to guide healthcare facilities of all types to become high-performance buildings that are both healthy for their occupants and have a limited impact on the environment. In doing so, the rating system has raised awareness of the role that acoustics plays in caring for patients: from helping to ensure that conversations with doctors remain private to reducing noise levels so that patients just might be able to get a healthful night of sleep on their road to recovery.