Thinking Beyond Boundaries – Innovative, Technical, Functional & Aesthetic Design Solutions for Today’s Veterinary Hospital

October 3, 2014

What you need in a new shelter, animal care facility or veterinary hospital

We often discuss this with new clients for veterinary hospitals, shelters, and animal care facilities during the initial planning stages of architectural services. We incorporate the below components into our designs to create state of the art animal care facilities.

Innovation + Technology in Animal Care Facilities

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price of electricity has increased more than 85% over the past 25 years.  In California, we have seen increases, averaging 5-7% per year, given stronger environmental legislation and historical underinvestment. As a consequence, veterinary hospital businesses will be required to utilize technology of innovation to improve traffic flow, better utility of space, and new systems that incorporate smart technology to save on operational costs.  The future of profitability will largely hinge on the use of smart technology coupled with intelligent space planning solutions.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has adopted a comprehensive strategy to accelerate the LED market. LED (light-emitting diode) systems are superior to fluorescent lighting and are far more superior to incandescent lighting.  By the year 2020, LED lighting is expected to represent 36 percent of all luminaire sales in the market, yielding an energy savings of up to 19%.  LED Light fixtures produce up to 95% less heat than current traditional lighting which reduces the cost of air conditioning dramatically.  LEDs deliver 70% of the original light output after 50,000 hours of use.   LEDs do not just GO OUT, they slowly dim over time. This is the LED definition of end of life.

Lights used 24/7 = 5.7 years lifetime.

Lights left on 12/7 = 11.4 years lifetime.

What Does Using LED lighting mean?  Use of LED lighting reduces heat gain, thus saving air-conditioning energy and improving thermal comfort.  Using LED lighting in veterinary hospital design is a high return, low risk investment.  You can capitalize the investment up front (as opposed to cumulative higher maintenance costs over time) which will affect your practice value.

High Efficiency VRF (HVAC) Systems

Veterinary hospitals are some of the most challenging buildings to keep comfortable, clean, and odor free.  Traditionally speaking, most hospitals have been using conventional zoned & ducted gas-electric heating and air conditioning systems.  Cooling, heating, and associated operational costs with these conventional systems have been significant.  New Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technology is an energy-efficient method and provides precise comfort to all areas of a hospital.  VRF transfers the refrigerant through a multi-zone compressor that precisely supplies computer controlled heated or cooled air either through a ducted or ductless system eliminating what is referred to as “Thermal Lag.”  The VRF system can simultaneously cool some hospital zones while heating other areas, or just provide comfort control to the zones that are in use.  By using a ductless system with cassettes, up to 30 cassettes can be used both efficiently and effectively well with only one compressor.

We have recently incorporated this new Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) inverter technology on two veterinary hospital projects – The Point Vicente Animal Hospital in the Pacific Ocean Coastal community of Rancho Palos Verdes and; San Clemente Veterinary Hospital in the Southern California coastal community of San Clemente.

For the Point Vicente Animal Hospital in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, the City adopted an ocean viewing ordinance that prohibited the use of any rooftop mounted HVAC units and restricted the building structure to a maximum allowable height of 16 ft.  Due to these two ordinance restrictions, it prompted us to employ a combination “ductless” and “ducted” HVAC design, utilizing the variable refrigerant flow HVAC split system.

The San Clemente Veterinary Hospital in the coastal community of San Clemente, CA was an addition and major remodel project. The original architect was local to the area, and understood the “Spanish Villa by the Sea” city design review requirements necessary for public hearing processing. He submitted the remodeled plans and exterior elevations and a review process which took almost 2 years to complete.  The hospital’s shell was then provided to us to commence the veterinary hospital interior design work. Upon our review, we discovered that the original architect did not provide enough interstitial space for the necessary duct space without having to increase the height of the structure.  This change would have prompted a return back to the City and repeat the arduous and lengthy public hearing review process all over again.  I consulted with our mechanical engineer to investigate using the VRF system.

Ductless VRF technology also helps in the reduction of odor producing bacteria, which is inherently trapped inside ductwork.  We have found that VRF systems are consistently 25% or more energy efficient than that of traditional systems. With energy costs soaring, the additional investment cost of installing VRF can be recovered in a very short time.

Solar Energy

Solar is an investment that pays for itself.  With electricity costs rising between 5-7% per year annually, solar panels can reduce your monthly bill and also protect your bottom line from rising electricity rates.  When you invest in solar panels, you are essentially purchasing 25 to 30 years of electricity at today’s prices.

The federal government provides an investment tax credit, which covers up to 30% of the installed cost. Additionally, state and local incentives can provide financial assistance.  We actually did that for our home, through the California State Energy Commission, utilizing “Net Metering.”  Most solar systems also qualify for tax advantages such as modified accelerated depreciation. You should check with your accountant or tax attorney when considering whether to go solar.  It is very mesmerizing to go outside and watch the meter now running backwards.  We are saving anywhere from $2,000 – $3,000 per year.

Traffic Flow and Space Efficiency

To improve upon traffic flow and space efficiency, we start by first measuring them. Trip distance efficiency is measured by distance traveled over time. Time + Distance = Money.  The time spent going from one area of the hospital to another is a quantitative measurement that is intrinsically linked to productivity.

Traffic Flow Analysis

In this Traffic Flow Diagram, you can clearly see the traffic flow patterns between the doctors, the staff and the clients.  Defining these movements in concert with the hospital’s functions during design eliminates conflicts and promotes optimization.

Centralization & Optimization

How we achieve more output with less space

As architects, we analyze space, not only for aesthetics, but also for its physical relationships to other spaces.  Using technology and alternative design approaches in space planning, we can influence the hospital’s efficiency and profitability in the working environment.

Two Examples of Centralization & Optimization are:

1) The Fishbowl Concept: Both specialists and general care practitioners alike can benefit by incorporating a glass-enclosed and centralized doctor’s communication center within the treatment area to at once monitor in-patient operations, have better acoustics, and enhance improved interaction on the case work.

2) The Exam Pod Vestibule: Whereas the exam rooms are clustered around a controlled vestibule with single door access into each exam room. The result is more exam rooms in less space than the conventional two-door exam room.

Technology throughout Architectural Services

An Example of “Construction Illustration Modeling”:

The Designs you are about to see were all created using a CAD technology called “Rev-it.”  We utilize it 100% to convey to our clients “Design Intent” of the spaces created. The use of this technical methodology allows the Client to better understand the quality of the space. I also incorporate these 3D images into the construction drawings. I coin it “Construction Illustration Modeling”.  This method underscores “What you see is truly what you get.”  These illustrations also have enormous benefit to the contractor during the construction process, often eliminating interpretation that could otherwise lead to change orders.


This treatment room at Pacific Animal Hospital in Oceanside incorporates a centralized “Doctor’s Communication Center” or “Fishbowl”.  A centralized arrangement improves visibility into treatment while providing a sound-attenuated office for call-backs and enhances communication between doctors and staff alike.

A great example of the Exam Pod Vestibule is at Pacific Animal Hospital (PAH) in Oceanside, CA.  The exam rooms are clustered around a controlled vestibule. A “Pod” configuration allows for more exam rooms in less space than the conventional two-door exam room.  The sizes of each exam room can also be reduced since it does not require the additional circulation space unlike conventional 2-door type exam rooms.  You also get more wall space for monitor displays and other furnishings.

 Acoustical Innovations

Poor acoustics is a disruption to the veterinary workplace, but hearing loss is the most pervasive physical disability in the US, affecting approximately 31.5 million people.  There are approximately 14 million employable hard of hearing people between the ages of 16 and 64.

“Barking” is often cited as the primary distraction.  The sound of barking dogs left unmitigated without proper sound attenuation measures creates fatigue.

Acoustical design does not necessarily have to mean compromising the visual appearance of the veterinary hospital. TVAH’s ceiling system incorporates “paw print” acoustical ceiling panels that traverse overhead.  These prints are a lot fun, get much attention, and create a sense of place.

Biophilic Design

As architects and designers, we have a fundamental responsibility to positively influence the quality of life with biophilic design.  This responsibility goes far beyond functionality, for it influences people’s senses, their emotional state of wellbeing and even their physical health.

Biophilia is the basic instinctive satisfaction that humans enjoy through contact with nature. This contact is characterized by people’s love, wonder, and bond towards nature’s beauty and complexity.  It is the inherent love of nature that we all possess in a deep and very fundamental fashion.


As Winston Churchill once said, “First we shape our buildings and then they shape us.”

This is such a profound statement – for the architectural environment under which we live, breathe, and work in is indeed our “Second Skin.”

Architecture influences and affects our senses, performance, thought processes, and moods. Architectural design either enhances our quality of life – or diminishes it. Veterinary medicine, as a business, is evolving at an ever-increasing pace.  To remain profitable, it must embrace new technology; enhance its functionality; inspire innovation and; incorporate biophilic design to compete successfully in today’s marketplace.

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