The science behind laboratory and research facility projects: automation and controls and codes and standards

Engineers need to consider many factors for a lab or research facility so it can perform as needed. Engineers with experience on such facilities offer advice on how to pass the test.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 28, 2017


  • Steven Graff, PE, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Kupper Engineering Inc., Ambler, Pa. 
  • Mike Lawless, PE, FPE, LEED AP, Client Executive, IMEG Corp., St. Louis
  • Gerry Williams, PE, LEED AP, CxA , Senior Mechanical Engineer, CRB, St. Louis
  • Robert Zamudio, PE, LEED AP, Senior Design Engineer, Southland Engineering, Union City, Calif.

CSE: How have you worked with the building owner or facility manager to implement the Internet of Things (IoT) into the facility management?

Zamudio: In our experience, clients prioritize information security and consider IoT an unnecessary risk.

CSE: Please explain some of the codes, standards, and guidelines you use during the design process. Which codes/standards should engineers be most aware of in their design of engineered systems in lab and research facility projects?

Graff: Codes we use include ANSI/AIHA Z9.5: American National Standard for Laboratory Ventilation concerning fume hoods as well as air-change rates and pressurization of laboratories; the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) Title 29 and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Part 1910 with regards to chemicals stored and used within the labs; and the World Health Organization’s laboratory biosafety manual for containment of biohazards. The Industrial Ventilation: A Manual of Recommended Practice for Design is also used during the design process.

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

Zamudio: Start early. Understanding applicable codes and standards at the beginning of the project is crucial to avoid going down the wrong design paths.

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

Lawless: Many of our clients place a high priority on energy efficiency and sustainability. Labs can use more than three times the amount of energy used in a typical education building. Focusing on labs for energy efficiency is, therefore, important to any campuswide energy-reduction strategy. These energy efficiency goals have a very positive impact, in my experience, because institutions that strive for these goals are able to get away from business as usual and become willing to implement new system types with new technologies. We have seen the new systems being adopted provide significant energy savings. We also have seen new technologies implemented in a new building and, as the staff becomes comfortable with it, the technology is then implemented in existing buildings to provide additional energy savings.

Graff: All aspects of the building are intertwined, from building envelope, orientation, and internal layout to the heating, cooling, plumbing, and lighting systems. If you want to design an energy-efficient building, you can’t work in a bubble. All disciplines need to be considered in the early stages of design. Within each discipline, engineers and architects need to understand how design decisions they are making affect the other systems.

Zamudio: They impact cost and time. It’s important for consultants to track trends internally to avoid underestimating either.

CSE: What new code or standard do you feel will benefit lab and research facilities? This may be a code that your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has not yet adopted, but will directly impact your work in the future.

Zamudio: In 2019, the proposed changes for California’s Title 24 have aggressive prescriptive requirements for reducing laboratory exhaust fan energy. If adopted, there will be much more focus on stack velocities, wind studies, and volatile organic compound (VOC) monitoring.

CSE: How will updated codes and standards (e.g., ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) impact decision making for new and existing facilities?

Zamudio: More stringent efficiency requirements typically increase first costs.

CSE: Give an example of a project that conflicted with what the building owner wanted and certain codes and standards. How was this situation resolved?

Graff: The existing code did not allow for geothermal wells to be installed beneath the building structure because the wells could not be inspected, but the building site was not a candidate for geothermal without the system being located beneath the structure. The building owner lobbied to have the code amended and was successful.

CSE: What is the communication process like between decision-makers to ensure that the building design is code-compliant?

Zamudio: Early in the project, the design team should educate the client of recent code changes that affect cost, use, or maintenance. This provides context for proposed designs (and associated costs) that may differ from what the owner is familiar with based on prior projects or existing facilities.