Designing labs, research buildings: Sustainability and efficiency
Labs and research facilities house sensitive equipment and must maintain very rigid standards. Energy efficiency and sustainability are also key considerations.
Nedzib Biberic, PE, LEED BD+C, Mechanical Engineer, PAE Consulting Engineers, Portland, Ore.
Michael Chow, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, Member/Owner, Metro CD Engineering LLC, Powell, Ohio
David S. Crutchfield, PE, LEED AP, Division Manager, RMF Engineering, Baltimore
Dave Linamen, PE, LEED AP, CEM, Vice President, Stantec, Edmonton, Alberta
Jay Ramirez, Senior Vice President, ESD Global, Chicago
CSE: Describe your involvement with Labs21. How has this helped guide you in a recent lab project?
Biberic: I attended and presented at Labs21 annual conferences; we also have used the Labs21 website as a resource for lab design. Further, Labs21 roundtable discussions and presentations provided valuable input from different trades involved in lab design, allowing me to better understand overall lab design process and integrate HVAC systems into overall lab design.
Linamen: We have adopted most of the strategies and concepts proposed by Labs21 for reducing energy use in labs. Ideas such as air reuse and low pressure drop air systems. These contribute significantly to reducing energy use in lab building.
CSE: Are you seeing increased demand for renewable energy features?
Chow: There is interest in integrating photovoltaics (PV) into the building itself. For example, PV panels can serve as the building exterior skin. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) systems consist of using photovoltaics in the building envelope such as on the roof.
Biberic: Laboratories are big energy hogs; using renewable energy features along with other energy-efficiency measures provides a path to overall energy use reduction in lab buildings. The Chemeketa Health and Sciences building is a 70,000-sq-ft, two-story teaching facility with dental laboratories, massage practices, and general purpose classrooms. Energy-efficiency measures such as plug load reduction, efficient lighting and HVAC equipment, and air side heat recovery are used to reduce building loads. Further reduction in energy consumption was achieved by installing an on-site PV array capable of generating up to 113 MWh per year. At the Whitman College Science Building in Spokane, Wash., PAE used geothermal water to preheat outside air used for ventilation and makeup air for fume hood exhaust in the laboratory spaces of the building.
With a new Clemson Graduate Research Center project, a true net-zero energy building (NZEB), we are beginning to see our higher education clients push heavily for buildings that perform substantially better than comparable buildings designed just 5 years ago. A U.S. Green Building Council LEED goal is beginning to become secondary to designing buildings that are truly high performing from an energy standpoint and can use renewables for their energy needs. Having the entire building designed with innovative energy reduction concepts allows a total building energy use reduction that can be offset by renewables such as PVs and wind turbines. For the Clemson project, the entire building will be shaded with a structure of PVs that will hover over the entire footprint, and also extend beyond it on all sides to provide shading to the vertical surfaces. The structure provides a two-fold benefit, the PVs themselves generating energy and the shading that the entire array provides to all facades reducing the energy consumption.
Linamen: Wind turbines have not been cost-effective from an energy savings perspective on any lab project we have designed. PVs offer an opportunity for some additional LEED points from renewable energy, but in North America rarely provide a significant amount of the electrical energy required for an energy intensive lab building.
CSE: Do you see retrofitting existing structures to be more sustainable as especially challenging?
Crutchfield: Absolutely. When we go into existing buildings that are going to be renovated and have sustainable goals, be it LEED, Green Globes, or energy reduction goals, we always investigate the envelope first. It’s amazing how some older buildings have functioned for decades with no building insulation, no vapor barriers, and really poor envelope performance. In the past, there seemed to have been very few problems that could not be solved by throwing massive amounts of energy at them, and many of these older buildings have been operated by brute force. When the time comes to renovate the building, fixing these building components is necessary to be able to provide an HVAC system that does not resort to the brute force methods. The challenge is convincing the owners to invest the time and money into adding insulation, replacing windows, etc., which takes funding away from other building improvements. We see that a lifecycle cost analysis (LCCA) helps us show the owner that the building envelope upgrades not only can be a benefit to the lifecycle of the building, but also can provide first-cost benefits by way of reduced system capacity/sizes.
Biberic: Yes. Most of the time structural constraints are the biggest challenges in the existing buildings. Also, the proximity of the adjacent buildings may present a challenge when locating a building’s outside air intakes and exhaust, requiring additional energy (from larger fans, longer ducts, and multiple louvers) to ensure proper design.