Blog, Senior Living Facilities

MEP Design Considerations Unique to Senior Living Facilities

February 28, 2019
A group of elderly people sitting around a coffee table in a wheelchair.

Since the last recession, the multifamily sector has contributed significantly to the boom in new construction.  The sector’s niche market — Senior Living — is a driving reason.

As Baby Boomers age, the demand for senior living options has dramatically increased.  For those who don’t design Senior Living facilities, it’s easy to assume the design is similar to any other multifamily facility with the exception of being age restricted. It is so much more! Senior Living design requires specific knowledge and expert know-how to address the needs unique to the facilities’ occupants and owners.

Special MEP Design Considerations for Assisted Living, Memory Care and Skilled Nursing Facilities

Assisted Living (AL), Memory Care (MC) and Skilled Nursing (SN) facilities provide specialized care to their residents, and thus require specific MEP systems to help deliver that care.  The MEP designer will take design cues from the architect and operator while also taking the building’s functionality into account.  They will likewise build their design to meet all relevant codes and state health department requirements.

These considerations and restrictions can present a challenge for the MEP design.  For instance, AL, MC and SN facilities frequently contain centralized plumbing systems to allow for more efficient maintenance whereas the mechanical systems often consist of centralized boiler/chillers, water source heat pumps or VRF systems to allow a more energy efficient system as well as a higher level of individual control for all occupants. The electrical systems typically include some degree of backup power to not only meet NEC requirements for essential Electrical systems but to give the operator the flexibility to run the facility during power outages and natural disasters, thus not requiring a relocation of the tenants.

MEP Systems Designed Specifically for Senior Living Facilities

The amenities and services provided in the facility, and any mixed-use of the building, determines the complexity of the MEP systems design. When facilities are mixed-use, it can include everything from commercial office space, restaurants, and retail areas to hospital-level care.  These different needs enhance the need for a well-thought-out MEP design that can accomplish the multiple goals and uses of the facility.

Regardless of the facility type, MEP systems should function flawlessly behind the scenes.  For this to occur, however, regular maintenance is required.  The goal is to perform this regular maintenance with little to no disruption to the facility’s tenants. This presents a challenge for Senior Living facilities as their systems should be designed to maintain a certain level of access control for those trying to enter the building and for those who reside within. Balancing the ease of maintenance with the individualized needs of the occupants is achievable with proper space planning and MEP systems in place.

Special MEP Design Considerations for Independent Living Facilities

There is, however, one type of Senior Living project that does closely resemble traditional multifamily design — Independent Living (IL) projects.  These facilities are typically designed as age-restricted apartment buildings.

Even though they are designed to follow the rules and codes of apartment building design, there are some differences from an MEP standpoint. Below are just a few we consider when designing the MEP system for IL projects:

  1. The hot water systems often use a centralized boiler system instead of individual water heaters in each unit. This allows the IL operator to more quickly and cost effectively manage and service the hot water system.
  2. Depending on the long-term goals of the developer and operator, the mechanical systems — from standard DX split systems and water source heat pumps with cooling towers to VRF systems — can vary greatly.
  3. The electrical systems can also vary significantly. For instance, for projects located in hurricane-prone areas, a back-up generator system may be essential to meeting the occupants’ needs. Another example involves metered electrical services.  IL facilities typically have single metered electrical services in lieu of multi-metered apartments. While this is dependent on the local jurisdictions and utility to approve, a single-metered system makes sense when there is no need to track individual electric consumption.

Having an MEP firm on the design team that is experienced in the nuances of senior living facilities can guide the entire team through many of the pitfalls that can, and do, occur during both design and construction. This ensures a smooth-operating facility that makes both the owner and the residents happy. Contact us and let us be your guide.

About VP Engineering

VP Engineering is a full-service mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and plumbing engineering firm, serving clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. With experience in a wide range of building types, from housing to commercial, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals.