Creating efficient, effective labs

Laboratory and research facility operators must produce precise, reliable results every time in order to stay in business—and they insist upon that same precision from the engineers working on their buildings.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 27, 2015


H. Jay Enck, CPMP, CxAP, HBDP, BEAP, LEED Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, QxAP, Chief Technology Officer, Commissioning & Green Building Solutions Inc. (CxGBS) Duluth, Ga.

Ian Marchant, PE, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Mechanical Engineer, CDM Smith, Latham, N.Y.

Mike Walters, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Confluenc, Madison, Wis.

CSE: Please describe a new laboratory or research facility project you’ve worked on.

H. Jay Enck: One of our most recent laboratory projects includes the three-story 92,181-gross-sq-ft Mississippi Central Crime Lab in Jackson, Miss. The project commissioning scope includes whole building commissioning (building enclosure, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and life safety systems) and integration of sustainable development goals. CxGBS applies a holistic commissioning process that begins in predesign with the development of the owner’s project requirements through the end of warranty. The functional requirements of the crime lab include medical exam, autopsy, morgue, storage, and physical analysis of crime-scene evidence; and evaluation and analysis of chemicals, biohazards, DNA, firearm and tool marks, etc. The complexities of this type of building are the building interior interactions between HVAC supply, exhaust, and return air to achieve correct pressurization needed to prevent cross contamination, health and safety of occupants, and controlling the overall building pressurization in all sections of the building to be positive to the outside.

Ian Marchant: CDM Smith’s project for a university in Ohio consisted of the complete renovation of floors one through four of the College of Public Health. The building contains faculty offices, classrooms, dry research areas, and wet laboratories. The 66,000-sq-ft building is expected to house 87 faculty and 600 students by 2016. The project included construction of new elevators; new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; a new roof and windows; and an improved way finding system. The facility attained U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver certification for new construction and met the House Bill 251 requirements for energy efficiency. CDM Smith served as engineer of record for HVAC, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and LEED administration-and for expertise.

CSE: Please describe an existing building retrofit of a laboratory or research facility project you’ve worked on.

Marchant: CDM Smith led the design of a new 12,000-sq-ft data center within an existing building to support a high-performance computing program for a high-profile research program. This facility houses a computer system that debuted among the top 20 of the world’s top 500 most powerful supercomputers in 2014. To house the new data center, a 6,000-sq-ft high-bay area added an intermediate floor to create a two-level computer area. In addition, the design included installation of a 1,400-ton chiller plant dedicated to cooling the computers and a 4,000 kW backup power system capable of doubling the capacity for future expansion.

Enck: Building #4487 is a two-story 323,621-gross-sq-ft structure originally built in 1957 and currently serving as office and laboratory space to support NASA’s Avionics Department, Engineering Systems Department, Engineering Technology Development Office, and Space Optics Manufacturing Technology Center, located at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The existing building commissioning scope focused on improving occupant satisfaction and energy efficiency. As with most buildings, the functional requirements of the building to support the current mission of the occupants has changed significantly over time, resulting in numerous modifications to the HVAC systems, which were the primary focus of the commissioning effort.

The commissioning process began with the development of a baseline of the buildings’ performance prior to implementing commissioning, and development of the current facility requirements followed by investigation and identification of issues affecting the building and occupant’s performance, which resulted in implementation of repairs and low-cost modifications within the project’s budget. Benchmarking of the changes in building and occupant satisfaction are scheduled at the end of the project. The challenges with these types of projects are the changes that occur over time within the building, many of which only address architectural programming requirements to support the change in the occupant residing in the new space. Missing are the requirements the new occupants need to efficiently perform their mission. Not fully considering the current facility requirements and evaluating what changes are needed beyond the relocation of walls and types of finish lead to occupant satisfaction issues, decrease in productivity, increased energy usage, indoor air quality issues, etc. Additional challenges include deferred maintenance that degrades the systems serving the occupied space and having sufficient budget to make needed repairs.

CSE: On what aspect of the project do you see the most emphasis being placed by building owners?

Mike Walters: I’ve seen a very significant increase in our clients’ focus on total cost of ownership as a defining question, both for new facilities in planning and design but also for the building portfolio they already own and operate. Certainly this relates to lifecycle cost and sustainability issues, but also illustrates an evolving focus on operating these buildings as complete systems including technical and human resources. Many of our clients are in the public higher education sector and, as budget stresses have continued and increased, managing total cost of ownership is a must.

Enck: Most owners’-especially long-term-primary emphasis is a building that performs as intended and is maintainable at the lowest possible cost. Our experience is that short-term owners are more cost-conscious and willing to trade maintainability and energy efficiency dollars for increased profit with an emphasis on aesthetics. Our experience with long-term owners is their emphasis is on durability, maintainability, energy efficiency, sustainability, and occupant satisfaction.

Marchant: Adhering to overall budget and schedule is the most common concern of building owners. While often an early desire, achieving sustainability through a third-party green building or sustainable construction ratings organization is one of the first to be eliminated when costs start to increase.

CSE: How have the characteristics of such projects changed in recent years, and what should engineers expect to see in the near future?

Marchant: Sustainability and energy efficiency are increasing areas of focus for all major projects. The USGBC’s LEED rating system was an early driver of this movement. More recently, standards such as ASHRAE Standard 189.1 and Standard 90.1; Unified Facilities Criteria 1-200; Executive Order 13514; and the recent Executive Order: "Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade" signed on March 19, 2015, are making such aspects of many projects mandatory, particularly when public funds are used for the project.

Enck: More and more mainstream owners are driving their new and existing buildings to achieve higher performance because it is good business. Lowering the total cost of ownership boosts the value of a building. Improving occupant satisfaction increases productivity that improves the bottom line. Businesses and universities, and municipal, county, state, and federal governments are seeing great benefits from high-performance buildings, including reducing greenhouses gas emissions. A common characteristic of high-performance buildings is how they are achieved through good communication, collaboration, and teamwork facilitated through good building commissioning, design, construction, and operation. The true measure of high-performing buildings is how they perform over their lifetime, which cannot be achieved without continuous evaluation through design, construction, and operation over the life of the building.

High-performance buildings need the infrastructure to measure and record key operational parameters, analysis to identify operational issues affecting performance, and an operational team with the budget, authority, and incentives to make the ongoing modifications needed to maintain performance while supporting the occupants in their mission. Engineers should expect to see codes driving the built environment toward increased energy efficiency, including use of daylighting, air barriers, and more control requirements such as control of plug loads. The importance of using building commissioning to document owner’s requirements, and evaluation of the design, construction, and operation relative to those requirements is to facilitate achieving, maintaining, and improving performance for the life of the building.

CSE: How does engineering systems for corporate facilities differ from educational/institutional facilities?

Marchant: Corporate facilities are typically built with a specific product-driven program in mind. The design of such facilities focuses primarily on meeting program requirements, with return on investment a high priority. The end user is usually highly trained, and complex system functionality is often required to meet the technical aspects of the facility. The facility must operate for the duration of the original program requirements. System reliability is important and redundancy is often built in. The lifecycle is typically between 3 and10 years. Operating personnel tend to be long-term employees who understand the operation of the building systems and are focused on a small number of specialized systems or buildings.

Educational/institutional facilities are generally designed for a longer lifecycle. The technical requirements are more generally defined. Simplicity of systems operation is important because there is often a high turnover of operating staff or a large number of different staff covering a wide variety of buildings in a campus setting. Because the lifecycle of these facilities is typically longer than that of corporate facilities, longevity and robust construction of systems are important factors.

Enck: The big difference between educational/institutional building and corporate facilities is the length of building ownership. Owners of educational and institutional buildings keep their buildings for generally 50 to several hundred years, where the typical corporate facility changes ownership frequently. This difference affects design, construction, and operational budgets. We term educational and institutional owners as long-term owners. Corporate owners’ profiles range from long-term to very short-term ownership. Our experience has been that the shorter the ownership, the lower the owner’s expectations are about high-performance buildings. As states adopt new versions of codes, these short-term owners will be forced to meet increasing energy-efficiency requirements. In stark contrast, long-term owners are very interested in implementing a wide range of sustainable development practices that include stormwater collection and processing, water efficiency, preferred parking and charging stations for alternative fuel vehicles, alternative transportation, energy efficiency, measurement, and verification-all of which reduce the total cost of ownership.

CSE: What unique tools, software, or systems do you use when specifying systems in or designing such projects?

Marchant: Energy modeling is a key factor in decision making for building design and system selection. In my personal experience, the most common software used for energy modeling is Carrier’s Hourly Analysis Program and the Dept. of Energy’s eQUEST.

Walters: We have developed our own set of proprietary tools to support our work, which is focused on resource planning with a primary focus on energy, water, and financial resources. We have found that the technical analysis aspects of our projects are not the roadblocks-plenty of tools exist there, but rather creating a productive decision environment is where additional support is needed. Our integrated planning models bring many options, and portfolios of options, together in the context of a broad set of metrics to facilitate insight for the individuals who eventually must make difficult decisions with inherent trade-offs.

Enck: CxGBS does not design or construct; we are a third-party independent commissioning and sustainability consultancy. Our focus is on all of the building systems because building systems do not operate independently of each other; they interact. These interactions are often overlooked, but must be understood and accounted for in order to commission effectively. CxGBS uses a variety of tools to perform energy, lighting, and daylighting modeling, and hygrothermal and thermal bridging analysis. Some of the programs we use include Trane TRACE, eQUEST, TRNSYS; ADELINE WUFI-ORNL/IBP, and LBNL THERM.