Designing flexible, safe labs: Codes and standards

Safety, budget and flexibility are key factors when designing laboratory and research space

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 16, 2020


  • Jennifer DiMambro, CEng, MIMechE, MCIBSE, Principal/Americas Science, Industry & Technology Business Leader, Ove Arup & Partners, PC, New York City
  • Adam Fry, PE, Project Manager, Associate, Mueller Associates Inc., Linthicum, Md.
  • Paul Harry, PE, LEED AP, Senior Project Manager, Dewberry, Raleigh, N.C.
  • Jared Machala, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, WSP, Houston

How are codes, standards or guidelines for energy efficiency impacting the design of such projects?

Paul Harry: We are seeing an increased use of high-performance fume hoods, better-defined internal loads, clarifying nonlab areas (not requiring 100% outside air), better building envelope and use of HVAC system setbacks while maintaining proper air pressurization.

Please explain some of the codes, standards and guidelines you commonly use during the project’s design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of?

Jared Machala: Besides the standard building codes that are applicable to all projects we use the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories fifth edition and the NIH Design Requirements Manual as references in most laboratory or animal facilities that we design. The BMBL provides guidance on all levels of biosafety laboratories and the DRM provides additional information on the applicable engineering systems employed in laboratories and animal facilities. Both are invaluable references for designers and owners.

Paul Harry: NFPA 101 and 45, ASHRAE Lab design guide (which also provides a good reference list), ANSI/AIHA/ASSE Z9.5, ACGIH, NIH Design Policy and Guidelines, I2SL, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ISPE.

For Vivarium add: AAALAC, ILAR

What are some best practices to ensure that such buildings meet and exceed codes and standards?

Paul Harry: Planning and schematic design phases must include all disciplines along with the architect for coordination of layout, zoning, shafts, structure, fire ratings, etc., as they are all closely related in a laboratory/research building type.

What are some of the biggest challenges when considering code compliance and designing or working with existing buildings?

Paul Harry: With renovations of existing buildings, especially if changing usage type, it can be difficult to determine the original construction code type, wall and floor rating requirements and suitability to new use and code requirements. For laboratory use, there is often a need for more ductwork and ceiling space, shafts for ductwork and piping, utility rooms and rated walls for lab control zones. An increase in outside air and exhaust will require more mechanical room space and increase in chiller/boiler sizes.

What new or updated code or standard do you feel will change the way such projects are designed, bid out or built?

Jared Machala: The Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories fifth edition is due for a new edition soon. The sixth edition of the document should provide additional clarity on some of the more onerous HVAC testing requirements that exist in the current fifth edition such as the zero reversal of airflow clause.

Paul Harry: Although not code-mandated, we are seeing an increased awareness and application of sustainability standards such as U.S. Green Building Council LEED. While safety and performance remain top priorities, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship are also important.