Lab, research facility design: Fire, life safety

Learn tips on how to design labs and research facilities — some of the most high-tech buildings around

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 24, 2019


Kelley Cramm, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Associate/Mechanical Technical Leader

Henderson Engineers

Kansas City


Bryan Floth, LEED AP, AIA

Senior Project Manager

Burns & McDonnell

Kansas City, Mo.


George Isherwood, PE

Vice President, Health Care/Laboratory Group Leader

Peter Basso Associates Inc.

Troy, Mich.


Adam Judge, PE

Associate/Mechanical Project Engineer

TLC Engineering Solutions

Tampa, Fla.


Iain Siery, PE

Senior Mechanical Engineer




David Wilson, PE, LEED AP

Senior Engineer


Raleigh, N.C.


Kelley Cramm

Henderson Engineers

Cramm is an associate and mechanical technical leader at Henderson Engineers. She received a 2019 ASHRAE Exceptional Service Award and has more than 30 years of industry experience.


Bryan Floth

Burns & McDonnell

Floth leads architecture and integrated design-build projects across the U.S. for the company. With nearly 30 years of experience, he has partnered with clients throughout his career to design and implement complex higher education, commercial, industrial, institutional and mission critical facilities.


George Isherwood

Peter Basso Associates Inc.

Over his 35-year career, Isherwood has worked on numerous new-construction and renovation projects. His health care work includes patient towers, ambulatory care facilities, operating rooms, cardiac catheterization labs and more.


Adam Judge

TLC Engineering Solutions

As Associate/Mechanical Engineer, Judge works on a broad range of project types. He has a wealth of laboratory experience, including recent renovations at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.


Iain Siery


Siery brings 14 years of progressive experience to the science and technology sector to CRB. His areas of specialty include mechanical utilities, HVAC, industrial ventilation and plumbing design for critical environments in R&D and manufacturing.


David Wilson


As senior engineer with Dewberry, Wilson centers his work on mechanical, electrical and plumbing projects. He brings more than three decades of engineering experience to the firm.

CSE: What are some of the unique challenges regarding fire/life safety system design that you’ve encountered for such projects? How have you overcome these challenges?

Cramm: The biggest fire and life safety challenge we typically encounter is the use of large quantities of flammable materials. This may require additional protection measures. Flammable storage rooms sometimes require aqueous foam suppression or mist systems in lieu of standard water-based sprinklers. Fire sprinkler water containment may be required. Laboratories that use hydrogen or other highly flammable or pyrophoric gases present particular challenges. The designer must be familiar with applicable codes, standards and guidelines.

Another challenge in laboratory buildings is that NFPA 30 does not allow fire dampers to be installed in fume hood exhaust ductwork. This means that alternate approaches must be implemented to protect occupants in the event of a fire.

Judge: One of the biggest fire and life safety challenges is figuring out how to locate spaces within the building with appropriate adjacencies to meet the programmatic requirements for the building, while meeting maximum allowable chemical quantities set by NFPA codes. As you move up to higher floors within a building, the maximum allowable quantities reduce exponentially. We have had multiple projects that have had to employ enhanced fire suppression systems as an alternate means of compliance to enable code variances to allow laboratories on higher floors within buildings.